Last night, I was blessed to celebrate the baccalaureate Mass for Seton Keough High School's graduates, among whom is my cousin, Katy. Congratulations, young ladies!
High school is often presented to us as a time of a journey. It’s a journey from childhood into young adulthood; a journey from naïveté to knowledge; a journey from elementary school to college. What it is not is a journey “away” from anything. In two short days, your careers at Seton Keough will come to an end. You will make that last journey of high school: from student to alumna, and yet something will always remain. The memories of your years here, your struggles and triumphs, your bonds of friendship – all those will always be a part of who you are, and this is why we gather – one last time – to celebrate this Eucharist. And it is that friendship that I want to focus on for a few moments here.
Our readings present us with images of friendship that can help you (and all of us) make this transition well. Joshua, Moses’ protégé and friend, has now been charged with a task of leadership. He has “graduated” from a follower to someone placed at the head of his people to guide them to God’s promise. Naturally, he would be scared. I imagine many of you look ahead to the future with some mixture of excitement as well as fear.
There is a lot waiting for you out there: college, jobs, families, adventure – it is at the same time exciting, challenging and life-changing. Just as you are not the same person who walked through those doors at Seton Keough two, three or four years ago, so you will change in the years to come. That is life – that is the journey. However, as Joshua, listen to what God says to you: "I will be with you ... I will not leave you nor forsake you . . . . The LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go."
In times of difficulty and challenge – in times of change – it can be easy to forget this basic yet very important fact. God is with you. The two friends we encounter on that road to Emmaus had this same trouble. After the incredible challenge and apparent defeat of Good Friday, they were walking, clinging to their friendship, but also feeling rather lost as their expectations and comforts had been dashed.
Even as Jesus comes to walk with them, their crushed spirits and fears prevented them from recognizing that presence with them. It’s easy for us to become wrapped up in ourselves – in our dreams and failures, in our hopes and defeats, in our excitement and fears. The world will offer plenty of replacements for them too – just turn on your iPod, log onto Facebook, go watch a movie, or even worse. The remedy for these things is not in self pity or in escapism. Rather, it is what those friends – those disciples – found “in the breaking of the bread.” Jesus was there! Jesus is here! And Jesus will be there – “at your side…to give you courage,” as the psalm tells us. Never forget that presence – never forget that Jesus is your friend too, who walks with you even in the toughest of roads. That road to Emmaus begins and continues here.
So, young women of this Class of 2009, this journey of yours is not over. This part of it may be coming to an end, and for that reason we gather and celebrate and pray together now. But the road continues to stretch out in front of you. This one particular leg of the journey has prepared you for the next, as you go on with endurance, proven character, and hope – always hope – that can only be rooted and fulfilled in God.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Sam a bit of advice that his Uncle Bilbo gave him once: "It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Friends, you are about to go out the door and step into the Road. But you have been grounded – set on your feet. Your friendships forged here, and the most important Friendship of all – with Jesus – will help you remain grounded and full of hope, even as your families and friends are hopeful for you.
The journey continues, and you will always have the memories, the friendships, and most important, God, who is with you wherever you go.