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    2018 Commencement Principal Address

    May 29, 2018

    The University of Scranton
    2018 Commencement Speech
    Most Reverend George V. Murry, S.J., Bishop of Youngstown
    Delivered by Very Reverend Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J., Jesuit Conference
    May 27, 2018

    Dear Class of 2018. Some find it challenging enough to listen to a speaker who has been invited from the outside to your commencement. I suppose that some of you may be thinking thinking, “Now we have to listen to somebody else read his speech? What’s next, are they going to text us our diplomas?”

    I am honored to deliver the address of Bishop George Vance Murry, S.J., the Bishop of Youngstown. You will hear the words of a distinguished U.S. Churchman. He chairs the U.S. Bishops Committee on Higher Education and was recently appointed chair of the ad-hoc committee on racism. He has traveled the world on behalf of Catholic Relief Services, International Commissions, but even more than these — he is kind, generous and an overall great man.

    Two weeks ago I visited him in his hospital room at the Cleveland Clinic where he is being treated for acute leukemia. He’s doing well, but doctors won’t release him for at least a few more weeks while he regains his strength. As soon as I saw him he handed me the text of this speech and said, “I hope you’ve seen the movie Black Panther. Thank God I had, but I wondered, why? I playfully asked him, “Should I like . . . dress like T’Challa or something?” He rolled his eyes and said, “Unless you’re from the nation of Wakanda, I don’t see how. Just know what you’re reading.” I beg your attention now as I humbly deliver Bishop Murry’s address to the graduates.

    “Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.” This isn’t Aristotle or Shakespeare, it’s Marvel Comics, whose blockbuster film, “Black Panther,” did make its way to the third-highest-grossing film in the US. Even if you haven’t seen this movie, its message can inspire.

    As I sit in the confines of my hospital room, fighting a much smaller enemy than the world faced in “Black Panther,” I know that we are all fighting something inside of us. But regardless of our predicament, regardless of what might tear us apart, more connects than divides us, and I would like to focus on three things that connect all of us today:

    1.      Young people will lead us
    2.      We must overcome divisions
    3.      The life and ministry of Jesus shows us the way.

    Let me begin with you our graduates and how you will lead us.
    Your generation is the most racially diverse in U.S. history. I see young people living into that reality everyday. I see you reaching across differences and building inclusive community, while previous generations, like mine, struggled immensely to do so.

    I don’t like to say, “Young people are our future,” because you are our present. Young people are making great things happen right now. For example, the March for Our Lives rally this spring was created and led by passionate students articulating a vision of life without gun violence. Young people came from diverse places and perspectives, from suburban Parkland, Florida, to small-town Newton, Connecticut, to urban Chicago and Washington, D.C.

    Young people have sparked change throughout history. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago this spring, gave his first sermon at the age of 18 and became a leader of the Montgomery Bus boycott at 26. Jesus’ disciples were in their teens and early 20’s, according to scholars, and they went on to build the Church and bring Christianity to the world.

    Young people lead us. Young people change the world. You do it with your courage and you do it with your fresh eyes that envision new possibilities.

    Now, to my second point, we need that courage and vision to overcome divisions.
    What is the change, the new vision we crave right now? I think that we are looking for a way out of our divisions and separateness. The Black Panther, T’Challa, says in his speech to the UN, “Now more than ever the illusions of division threaten our very existence.” We older folks have mostly accepted our divisions as fact. Too often we have distanced ourselves from one another by race, by political beliefs, by religion, by education, and more. Politicians and media operations prey on our separateness and sow discord, gathering support by appealing to one group over and against another.

    Do not believe in these divisions. Become, as Dr. King said, maladjusted to injustice and maladjusted to division. Listen to his words:

    “Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other. It is the word ‘maladjusted.’ I say to you there are certain things in our nation and in our world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will be maladjusted. I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.”

    The future belongs to those who are maladjusted. Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” You young people, though you have shorter memories, can make us all remember what is important, remember that we are in this together, remember that we live as one human family on this earth.

    And now my third point, how does the life and ministry of Jesus show us the way?
    You will always encounter people who have almost given up on the truth that we could actually belong to one another. I say, ‘almost given up’ because there is always hope. Know that the truth of our mutual belonging is not just articulated by wise people like Dr. King and Mother Theresa, but by Jesus — the Divine Christ himself.

    The life and ministry of Jesus gives us Christians a great deal with which to reckon. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” and he clearly intends our neighbor to include the outcast and the despised. Love your Samaritan neighbor — the most despised people of all to the Jews. Love your leper neighbor. Love your immigrant neighbor. Jesus’ emphasis on the poor and the outcast sends an incredibly radical message. It always has. But I want to point to something else in Jesus’ life and ministry that may be even more radical for us today, and that is Jesus insistence on inviting and including everyone. And I mean everyone. He brought together the destitute and the wealthy, the prostitute and the pious religious observer. Somehow he brought together Matthew the tax collector — an ally of the Roman occupiers — and Simon the zealot — a freedom fighter for the Jewish resistance to the Romans.

    Before I close, I want to take a look at Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet. In the Bible, the banquet is an important symbol of God’s reign on earth and in heaven. In Jesus’ parable, the original invitees to a spectacular feast decline the invitation at the last minute. The master, representing God, then says to his servant, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Here again we have the priority for the poor that God exhibits throughout the Bible with which we have a very tough time. Imagine your graduation dinners last night and tonight and then inviting every homeless person and every person with severe disabilities that you could find.

    And then Jesus takes it a step further. The servant comes back, and says, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” The master replies, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” The poor and disadvantaged get first priority, and then it’s “here comes everybody.”

    Imagine pulling people in from every neighborhood, from every walk of life, compelling them to sit down and share a meal together. You would have black and white and brown all together, rich and poor, gay and straight, progressive and conservative. Everyone’s mind would be blown when a vegan found a way to share a meal with a carnivore rancher, when a Black Lives Matter activist chuckled at the joke told by a Confederate flag-wearing Harley rider, and when a Trump enthusiast asked an undocumented immigrant to pass the tortillas.

    Somewhere in all of the mixing and relating, the Holy Spirit moves! God’s blessed community looks like a smorgasbord of humanity, in heaven and on earth. That’s not to say that it is OK to hold onto our biases, even our moral failings, but we grow past them together. In relationship with one another, we live into what connects us while learning a great deal about one another’s life and individuality.

    In closing, I see young people moving all of us toward a more blessed and diverse community. You have always sparked change and been leaders when we needed it. The task of ending racism and poverty is not over, and we need you. The struggle to protect the environment, the unborn, and the immigrant continues and we need you. We need you in order to make progress on these issues. Perhaps most importantly, we need you to see beyond what appears to separate us and hold onto what connects us — belonging together in one human family. Congratulations class of 2018. Lead me!

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