'Look to the horizon'
“Look to the horizon.” That is what Pope Francis told young people in anticipation of this year’s World Youth Day planned for August in Lisbon. I can think of a no more fitting message for our Catholic school graduates, who have shown through their diligence and commitment that they are, in fact, looking to the horizon — and beyond.
Graduation season is just behind us, and the young men and women who recently celebrated this milestone give me confidence and hope. In them I see the inspiration and motivation to bring much-needed change to our ever-changing world. It seems to me that this generation of young people is more willing and better equipped than most adults to handle the challenging landscape before them, something I witnessed firsthand at a recent visit to a local coffee shop.
As I stood in line waiting to place my order, an impatient customer at the front of the line rudely addressed the barista. Preoccupied by my own business and staying out of the fray, I witnessed the teenager in front of me staunchly come to the aid of the barista. I learned something in that moment. My own Catholic school experience taught me to mind my manners and stay out of other people’s business, but today’s young people have been taught — and are willing — to rise up and speak out rather than retreat to the background. They are not willing to turn a blind eye when they see an injustice; they seize each day, each moment as an opportunity to make a positive difference in a society desperately in need of kindness, compassion and solidarity.
Our young Catholic school graduates are courageous disciples who have internalized the Gospel message that was woven into their academic and spiritual life, from the classroom to the lunchroom to sports and clubs. They learned early on that the message of love and mercy taught to us by Jesus is not something to reserve only for Sundays but to live out in even the smallest interactions of our days.
Pope Francis reminds all of us that we are called to “encounter,” meaning our faith is not a private matter but something we bring into every relationship. In his World Youth Day message, he stressed that today’s Catholic young people “represent a new beginning … for humanity as a whole,” and called on young Catholics to look to Mary, who rushed to her cousin Elizabeth in her time of need, as a model of how they are to go with haste to all those places where there is a need for compassion, truth and love.
“Dear young people, now is the time to set out in haste toward concrete encounters, toward genuine acceptance of those different from ourselves,” the pope wrote. “… Only thus will we bridge distances — between generations, social classes, ethnic and other groups — and even put an end to wars. Young people always represent the hope for new unity within our fragmented and divided human family.” And I’ve observed just that each time I walk through the halls of one of our schools, and even as I waited in line for my latte that day.
At the start of this school year, I tasked our students, faculty, staff and school families to “seize each day,” which was meant to be so much more than a pithy quote or catchy hashtag. It was a call to do exactly what Pope Francis is asking our young people to do, to move toward others, toward unity and justice, and away from injustice, fear or friction. It was a call to do exactly what that teenager in Starbucks did when she saw someone else being unjustly mistreated, reminding us again that we do not have to travel around the world to make a difference. We can begin right where we are. No interaction is too small, no injustice too insignificant.
Dear Class of 2023, as you head into the next chapter of your lives, I urge you again to “seize each day,” but more than that I urge you to embrace every moment as an opportunity to spread love, to do good, and to be the kind and courageous disciples we know you to be.
Congratulations graduates! We are all so proud of you, and we can’t wait to see how the next chapter in your story unfolds. We know you will do good things for your communities and our world. We know you will continue to seize each day!