In this issue:
Transition from one phase of life to the next offers the opportunity for reflection.
After graduation, gap year volunteer experiences can expand recent graduates' worldviews and faith lives.
It's hard to believe graduation is here. Ahead lies a whole new set of tests and challenges, surprises and gifts.
By Father Geoffrey A. Brooke Jr/Catholic News Service
Objectively we use hours, days, months and years to mark time. However, in our lived experience we rely on more relative terms. Our lives are defined by various key moments, and when telling stories and recalling memories, we use these pillars to frame our lives. One of these key transitions is graduation, whether it be from high school or college.
Transition from one phase of life to the next offers the opportunity for reflection. For Catholics, reflection takes on a deeper meaning when it includes our relationship with God. We call it an examination of conscience. Here's an examination geared just for graduates:
-- What have the highlights (and lowlights) been from my time throughout this phase of my education? How was God working in those moments? How was I able to grow from that experience?
As we get older it is always fun to engage in a little bit of nostalgia and look back upon the "good times" and "happy memories" from high school or college. To engage in an examination of conscience we must go deeper than smiling and laughing.
Even some of our experiences that initially seem far from our faith life can become opportunities to contemplate God's presence in our everyday lives.
In examining the highlights, we must look for God's presence in those moments. Then we can contemplate how it was that we were able to grow.
God isn't only present in the highlights of high school and college; he's also present in the low moments. When we sin, we turn our back on God, but he's still there. He's waiting for us to come back to him. God picks us back up again from our failures.
All of us, in one way or another, experience trials and mistakes. These failures provide an opportunity for growth. In preparing for graduation we have to take a hard look at our mistakes and sins, and how it is that God has helped us to grow out of them. To be cleansed of those sins, go to confession -- graduation is the perfect time.
-- Have I made time to say goodbye to my friends? Have I let go of any lingering grudges?
Don't forget to say goodbye to your friends. Yes, you may have every intention of staying in touch in the years to come. However, even with the best of intentions, you will drift apart. Even if you do stay close, graduation still marks an undeniable change in your friendship. Be conscious about scheduling a time to say goodbye.
Some relationships ebb and flow. Events happen that drive a wedge between us. You don't want to walk away from high school or college continuing to hold on to grudges.
If that's the case you will carry an unnecessary burden and remain shackled. You don't have to become best friends again, but an offer of forgiveness can allow you to graduate in peace.
-- Have I said thanks to my family, mentors, friends and support system? God?
As you begin to gather for the graduation festivities, look around. Yes, some have gone through incredible trials and tribulations to reach this day. One thing we all have in common? No one can do it alone.
Whether it's our parents, siblings, an aunt or an uncle, a grandparent, foster parent, a coach or a teacher, a priest, sister or youth minister, there's someone who has helped you to make it this far. Thank them.
Beyond our human support system, there is a divine one: God. Maybe you've struggled seriously with doubts in the past couple of years. Maybe your faith is on fire right now. It's not enough to acknowledge the ways that God has worked in our lives in these recent years, we also must offer thanksgiving.
In spite of the hectic nature of graduation, and even if it's been a long time, make the effort to offer a holy hour of prayer in eucharistic adoration, thanking God for all the graces he has showered upon you.
-- Have I truly entered into a process of discernment about my future? Am I open to God's will in my life?
Discernment is a word unfortunately too often reserved for those contemplating the priesthood or consecrated life. Rather, discernment applies in a wide variety of contexts and can be most succinctly described as the practice of including God in our decision-making process.
So whether it's choosing a university and major, or launching a career path, have you taken time to include God in that decision?
Instead of just doing whatever is easiest or the most comfortable for you, perhaps the criterion ought to be: What does God want from me? Am I choosing my future based off what letters will be after my name, how big my paycheck will be or what God is asking of me?
How can I better use the gifts and talents I've developed in these past years to better serve Christ and the church? If we seek a deep peace and lasting happiness, then those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking to authentically discern the next phase in life.
(Father Brooke is a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. His website is http://padregeoffrey.com and his social media handle is @PadreGeoffrey.)
By Anna Capizzi/Catholic News Service
Gap year volunteer experiences can shape and expand recent graduates' worldviews and faith lives.
A gap year refers to a break that graduates can take researching, traveling or volunteering before beginning higher education or entering the workforce.
After graduating from the University of Dayton in Ohio in 2015, Abby Rieker, 25, volunteered with Mercy Corps in Savannah, Georgia, where she worked with adults with developmental and physical disabilities.
Rieker said she was looking for a volunteer organization that had both community and spirituality aspects, and would allow her to use her special education degree.
"Part of your commitment was having a spirituality night once a week," Rieker said, and "having a community night twice a week, or eating dinner together or spending time together" with the other volunteers in the community.
Describing her work, Rieker called herself a "community connector" since she connected her clients with the larger community.
One of her clients was bed-bound with cerebral palsy and scoliosis, Rieker said.
"To get him into the community," she said, "we tried to Facetime someone in all 50 states for the year. ... He loved to talk to people and in each state. He would have a list of questions."
A positive experience in Savannah prompted her to volunteer a second year with Mercy Corps, this time at St. Michaels Association for Special Education located on the Navajo Nation Reservation, where she works as an employee today.
A unique part of her volunteer experience was attending Navajo traditional ceremonies, which had an impact on her Catholic faith: Seeing "the mysteries out here really helped me to be more open and understanding toward the Catholic mysteries."
Yuko Gibson, 25, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2014, used her two years working as an assistant at L'Arche Greater Washington, D.C., in Arlington, Virginia, as a gap experience before starting medical school.
L'Arche is an interdenominational community where assistants live and work with "core members," people with developmental disabilities.
Gibson said that her time with L'Arche was one most joyful and formative experiences in her life.
"There was much less emphasis on what I was able to produce or do and much more emphasis on getting to be with people and just slow down," she said.
Although an assistant is technically not a volunteer, assistants still serve others.
Core members need help with showers, going to the doctor, Gibson said. But that service is often reciprocated as core members also support assistants in vulnerable moments like when they feel homesick or frustrated.
Faith and community are an intentional part of daily life at L'Arche, Gibson said.
"Church was an important part of our weekly rhythm and one of my favorite parts of being at L'Arche was going to Mass with core members on Sundays," she said.
And Gibson benefitted from attending core members' Episcopalian and Methodist churches. "I learned a lot about other faiths that provided some clarity in my own faith and also some questions for me," and "I was really humbled to be invited into their faith lives."
Celia Kennedy, 21, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, served with NET Ministries after graduating from high school in Minnesota.
Unsure of what she wanted to study in college, Kennedy deferred her college acceptance and spent nine months on a "12-person traveling team" in a van driving from Minnesota to the West Coast, and leading young adult retreats at Catholic schools and parishes in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.
Her experience helped her learn how to speak about her faith with others, how to share and defend it, and how to make it a part of her daily life, she said.
"I approached college at lot differently because I had a year away from school and I had gotten a bigger picture of what the world looks," Kennedy said.
"Doing a year of service just makes you more in touch with yourself and with the world around you," Rieker said. "It brings to light issues that you may have never thought about if you just went straight into the workforce."
(Capizzi is the special projects editor at Catholic News Service.)
By Effie Caldarola/Catholic News Service
It's hard to believe that I'm graduating. The years have flown by. I find myself consumed by so many different emotions: joy, fear, confusion, excitement, relief. I am at one point a bundle of self-confidence and bright hope for the future; at another moment I find myself enveloped in self-doubt and worry.
The all-night study sessions and the grueling exams are behind me. Yet ahead of me lies a whole new set of tests and challenges, surprises and gifts. I pray that, as you promised your disciples, you will go before me always.
My heart overflows with gratitude for all you have done for me and all you have given me: my family, my friends, the teachers, counselors, professors and coaches who have inspired me and stood with me.
I thank you for my successes, but also for the failures that have taught me so much and that have kept me humble and near to your cross. Let me never forget, each day in the years ahead, to thank you for your presence in all things, in all victories and in all trials.
The future is never clear, but as I prepare to leave my familiar routine, to leave those closest to me and the safety net of the way things have "always" been, the future seems to hold more questions than answers.
At one moment, I see the sun-filled skies of a brilliant tomorrow; at another moment, I feel myself approaching a cliff with the dismaying hope that my bungee cord is working well.
Lord, I need you in this time of change and challenge. I so want my life to conform to your will. I want to dream your dreams and answer your call. I want my life to mean something in the service of others. I want the world to be better for my journey here. I don't know where this desire will lead me; I only know you will be walking there with me.
I know that temptations face me, the temptation to seek wealth above other things, to aspire to prestige and honor, to fall into the rat race that uses people as things, as steppingstones to material success.
I need you by my side as I walk through the world's enticements. I need you to help me find and commit to the community of faith that will guide me.
Open my ears to hear the voices of those who will teach me your way. Open my eyes to see the need around me. Open my heart to seek you above all things.
At this great turning point in my life, I rejoice in tomorrow, confident that you are by my side, my consoler, my rock, my fortress, my friend.
For all that has been, I give you thanks. For the future that will unfold before me, I pray for your blessing and guidance and the grace to recognize your presence each day.
(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)
At The Catholic University of America's May 2017 commencement ceremony, Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street journal and former speechwriter for President Ronald Regan, gave graduates a simple piece of advice: Read books.
"I humbly urge you to embark on a lifelong relationship with a faithful companion who will always help you and sometimes delight you -- who will never desert you, who will make you smarter, and wiser, who will always be by your side and enlighten you all the days of your life," Noonan said, "I am talking about: books."
"If you seek a happy and interesting life, one of depth, meaning and accomplishment, you must read books," she continued.
Noonan commented on what she saw during the 2016 presidential campaign trail. Among the young politicians and journalists she met, "it became clear in long conversations that they've received most of what they know about history and the meaning of things through screens," she said.
"I know this: If you cannot read deeply you will not be able to think deeply. If you cannot think deeply you will not be able to lead well. And all of you deep down, in whatever areas and whatever ways, hope to lead," Noonan said.
"So, unplug and read every day," she said.
"Read and be taken away in a way that enriches, that strengthens, that makes you smarter, more serious, more worthy," she said. "Civilization depends on it."