130th Annual Commencement Remarks
East portico of the Basilica of the
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
May 18, 2019
President John Garvey, fellow honorees, trustees, faculty, members of the graduating class, and families and friends of the graduates,
it is my delight and honor to address the Catholic University of America class of 2019.
When I received the unexpected request to address these words to you I thought it was a mistake. I thought that probably my name in English had caused some confusion. Something was lost in translation. What am I doing here, a Spanish journalist, who is not even able to speak English as a first grade student in elementary school would? When President Garvey confirmed the request, I had no further doubt: I now knew for sure this was a mistake, a huge one indeed. I hope this will not be held against President Garvey on Judgement Day.
I’m not worthy of addressing you on your graduation day, but nevertheless, I do have a message for you!
You are the graduates of the Catholic University of America. The Catholic University of America is one of America's best colleges. The Catholic University of America is the only university in the United States that's been visited by three popes, six US presidents … and no Kardashians (as Peggy Noonan said here, 2 years ago) .
But, let me tell you something more: the Catholic University of America is also one of the most prestigious and influential academic institutions in the entire world. In fact, Washington can be considered the capital of the world, as was the case with Rome 2000 years ago. America is the country that is leading the world, not only in politics and economy, but also in almost every other field. In front of me, I can see now some of the politicians, philosophers, theologians, artists, physicians, architects, lawyers, business men and women of the immediate future. You will be leaders in your own field of expertise, not only in America, but also in the world. I do not know if you are aware of your responsibility. But I am! Even if inadvertently, you will transform the world. How? This is the question.
I live in Rome. I love walking in the old city. I love visiting the monuments built by the Romans when they were the leaders of the world: the Imperial Forums, the Pantheon, and of course, the Colosseum... Rome was the Washington of Antiquity.
When Jesus Christ called his disciples to evangelize the whole world, to transform it, to change history, Peter, “the rock”, the apostle who received the “keys of the kingdom”, the head of the apostles, clearly knew where he would have to be: in Rome.
This was also the case for Saint Paul, the greatest evangelizer of the first century, the “Apostle of the Gentiles”. He also went to Rome, the capital of the world, to transform the world for God.
So, if Peter or Paul were alive today, which city would they choose to evangelize? Where would they give their life for Jesus? I think you know the answer. This city would probably be Washington DC. And I would be very curious to see what President Trump would tweet after meeting with them...
You, the new graduates, future politicians, artists, physicians, architects, lawyers, business men and women... you are also called to transform the world, to build a better world. It is a fact, it is history, it is your calling.
The first Christians changed history in Rome. History is divided into 2 parts: before Christ (BC) and anno Domini (AD). Like the first Christians of 2000 years ago, you, the graduates of The Catholic University of America, are called to transform the world too.
But some of you could ask: what are you saying? How can I transform the world? I’ll be busy enough just paying off my student loans in the next few years.
To answer this question you need to understand the unique gift that you have received from the Catholic University of America. Do you know what your added value is as graduates of this unique college? Do you know how you can transform the world?
I will answer by sharing my personal experience. Since I started working as a journalist, in 1991, I have asked myself: what’s the difference between a Christian/Catholic journalist and any other journalist?
Do Christian journalists have better skills? I do not think so. The rules of journalism are the same for every journalist, Christian or not. Having more talents or being smarter does not depend on one’s faith.
Do we --Christian journalists-- live by different professional ethics? I do not think so. All journalists are (or should be) committed to the truth, to the respect of people, and their sources.
So what is (or should be) the distinctive characteristic of a Christian journalist? In fact, this same distinctive characteristic should apply to a Christian lawyer, politician, physician, architect, nurse, construction worker, business man or woman...
Jesus Christ answered the question: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) You have heard this a million times, but I’ll repeat it once again: love is the answer.
And I can tell you, the commandment of love will transform your entire professional life. Let’s think, again, about the professional life of a journalist. As a journalist, you need to be faithful to the truth, even when it bothers you; you need to do serious research in order to point out, denounce, and condemn evil and corruption wherever you find it. But as a Christian journalist you will go further: you will love your enemy. You will respect your enemy, you will love even the people who are against you, against your political party, or even your football team…. Loving one’s enemies changes everything: if your “enemy” feels that you stand up for the truth and for what is good, and that you respect him, that you even love him, he will be able to listen, to read what you write, to open his mind. If the enemy feels that you are simply opposing him and nothing more, he will never entertain the idea of listening to you, much less of changing his ways.
Think of your future work in politics, in the media, in courtrooms, in hospitals... Surely, this university has provided you with exceptional skills and the best possible training. Here, you have also learned the highest ethical standards. But you have also received something else: your love for one another, and an invitation to love your enemy. This is your real added value, this is the key to transforming the world, like the first Christians did during the Roman empire.
In fact, 2000 years ago in Rome, Christians were not precisely the most powerful people of their time: in fact, they were persecuted. They did not have much money. They were not smarter than other people. So, how did they change the world? How did the Roman people come to embrace faith in Jesus and in his Gospel?
In Rome, a world of blood and hatred, the first Christians were witnesses of the greatest commandment of Jesus. “See how they love one another”, said the Romans during the Christian persecutions. “See how they are ready even to die for one another”, Tertullian wrote from the African province of the Roman Empire in the second century.
Those who give testimony of this kind of love have an incredible power of attraction. They are able to change the world. This is what happened in the Roman Empire and this could happen again. Love, your added value, will transform your world, and along with your world, the world.
And believe me, I am talking here based on what I can see every day in my work, at Aleteia.org. Every month we are in contact through social media with around 40 million people in 8 languages. Most of them are millennials.
What are they looking for? Why are they in contact with us? Some of them are at the beginning of their professional life. Some of them are thinking of getting married. Some of them are expecting a child… They are not searching for information. Nor are they looking for ideologies.
They are looking for the secret of happiness: they want to discover the secret of success in their lives. And Jesus showed us the way to become the best version of ourselves.
They are looking for Christians who are authentically happy. Christians who have experienced the encounter with Jesus Christ, a real Person. This encounter has made them joyful, confident, respectful of others, and often even really smart and funny.
So, as you can see, I only have one piece of advice for the new phase of your life that starts today. Do you want to succeed in life? Do you want to find the secret of happiness? Do you want to be the best version of yourselves? Do you want to build a better America? Do you want to transform the world? Then remember this: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
LOVE is the only bit of advice I give you.
LOVE your parents and family. They are here. Look at their faces: they are even happier than you are. This is one of the most beautiful days in their lives. Your success is their success. You are here because of them, because you have been loved. Love them in return. Love them every day of your lives.
LOVE your friends, be faithful to them. They are a great gift. They will be there for you. God has put them in your life to help you become a better person. Do not waste the exceptional grace of friendship.
LOVE your future colleagues, and business partners. This implies changing one’s hardwiring, changing one’s mind. Love every person you will find in your professional life. If you do this, your life will change and you will transform your environment. In a competitive market, in the political arena, dare to love your enemies. This is the real revolution of the Gospel.
LOVE your Church. I confess to you that sometimes I have cried reading the news of the scandals of the clergy and the suffering of the victims. But look at the whole picture: you are the Church, we are the Church. The Church is not only represented by the small number of people who have betrayed both Jesus and the most vulnerable. The people who are testimonies of real love make the Church and the Gospel credible again. Look around you, here, look at your faces. If you love others, especially the poorest, the most vulnerable, you make the Church credible again. The testimony of love of Christians like you can bring about a new springtime for the Church.
And finally, LOVE the man, the woman that God will place (or has placed) in your life to walk alongside you for Eternity in the union of marriage. LOVE him or her with all your soul and body. There will be difficult moments, as we all know, but as Jesus promised: you will “receive a hundred times more now in this present age and eternal life in the age to come”, (Mark 10:30) in spite of persecution. If you do this, you will really understand why Christian life is the secret of happiness.
So, dear graduates, now you know what makes you unique: love. If you really love, you will transform your environment, you will transform America, you will transform the world. The younger generations, those who will come after you, really need your testimony:
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love