The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Commencement Address 2014

Jun 2, 2014

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.

Bishop of Scranton


The University of Scranton

June 1, 2014


            Father Quinn, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the administration, faculty and staff of  The University of Scranton, families and guests of our graduates and members of the Class of 2014:

            One hundred and twenty five years ago, The University of Scranton was founded as Saint Thomas College by my predecessor, Bishop William O’Hara, the first Bishop of Scranton. Today, as the ninth successor of Bishop O’Hara, I wish to thank the Board of Trustees and the University community for acknowledging the long, blessed and interwoven history of the local Church of the Diocese of Scranton and this great Catholic university that bears the same name. In bestowing upon me this degree as well as the privilege of sharing a few thoughts with the Class of 2014, you not only honor me, but Bishop O’Hara and the countless number of faithful souls who have been and are the Church of Scranton. For this, I am especially grateful.

            Somebody recently told me that giving the commencement address at a college graduation is like being the body at a wake. Think about that image. They stick you in the middle of a big room, everybody looks at you, but deep down they really don't want to hear a whole lot out of you. With that as a bit of a disclaimer, here we go!

             Four years ago, in 2010, a number of us in this arena began a new chapter in our lives. In late August of that year, most of you, our graduates, embarked upon what – at that point in your lives – was likely the most challenging experience and incredible opportunity that you had ever known as you took your place in the freshman class at The University of Scranton. In the spring of that same year, at about the same time that many of you were receiving your acceptance letters to the University, I too embarked upon the most challenging experience and incredible opportunity that I had ever known up to that point in my life when I was asked to serve as the tenth Bishop of Scranton.

            Living in downtown Scranton, just a few blocks from each other, whether we realized it or not, we started out on a journey together. Over the past four years, I’ve heard a great deal about you and your experiences at the University! You may have heard a bit about me. And a few of us have had the opportunity to come to know each other a bit more personally over the years.

            While I doubt that most you would ever envision yourselves embracing my work and ministry, with great respect to you – our graduates – I’m not so certain that I’d want to step back in time 35 years to be where you are today. I did it once, and that was about all I could handle. Yet, the fact remains that you and I and all of us in this arena today share a great deal in common. We are ALL on this wonderful journey of life – a journey that’s really not unique to you, graduates, even at this milestone moment in your lives – a journey that is never complete – that is always new – a journey that is filled with opportunities that challenge us to grow, no matter how old or young we may be – a journey that has the power to stretch our imaginations, that can unsettle our peace, and that ultimately has the power to bring meaning and fulfillment to our hopes, our dreams and to our lives.

            As someone, then, who shares this wonderful journey with each of you – and has been on the journey for a considerably longer period of time, I’d like to spend the next few minutes sharing with you a few things that I have learned along the way. They have nothing to do with how to best enter the job market, how to successfully write a resume, or what kind of investment plan you will need to set up right now in order to provide for your daughters or sons when they enroll in college twenty-five years from now. The thoughts I will share with you have to do with life – and what kind of person you are and have the power to become. For when all is said and done, at some point in your journey, graduates, you will realize that for as significant as this moment is in your life as you prepare to establish a career, it really doesn’t matter so much what profession you engage in life. What matters is who you are as person – the quality of your character – the depth of your compassion – and how you live your lives in relationship to others who accompany you throughout life’s journey.

            With great respect to my colleagues in ministry, many have said that for centuries, the Jesuits believed that they were the ones really leading the Church. Whether you ascribe to that belief or not, the fact of the matter is that now they are – in the person of our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis. So, far be it from me to land on the wrong side of history at this moment by making no reference to his message and vision for us as the People of God.

             Not long before his ordination as a priest, Pope Francis wrote a short credo for his life and his ministry – something that he continues to embrace right up to the present day. Three dominant themes emerge in the Pope’s personal creed:  I am flawed. …  I am a good and gifted person. …  and I am called to offer my gifts. I’d like to use these themes from Pope Francis’ personal creed as a framework for the thoughts that I wish to share.

             I’m flawed. These are probably not the three words that you would expect to hear on the day of your graduation from college. Yet, the reality of life is that most of us are very much aware of our flaws – our shortcomings – our inabilities. Frankly, we often know them better than anything else about ourselves.

             Unfortunately, for many of us, these flaws can consume us and can weigh us down. And they shouldn’t. Instead, we need to own the imperfect reality of our lives to direct us on the path that can be most fulfilling. Contrary to the common held belief that we can do anything we want in life, I’m not so sure about that. I had an Organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh in 1976 helped me come to this realization. Yet, this reality notwithstanding, our flaws and limitations ought not to be an excuse for settling for less than what we are truly capable of giving back to life. We are all called to live with integrity and can only truly do so when we recognize our limitations yet also understand that we have value and worth.

              In short, graduates, you must believe in yourself. Despite the fact that each of us has limitations, our worth and value is beyond what any of us can imagine or understand. And that is so because of the simple fact that you have been loved into existence by a family and a God who has given you life. No one knows what tomorrow will bring for you, but if you believe in yourself, if you’re wise enough to learn from your shortcomings and to become stronger because of the adversities that you’ve experienced in life, you will be ready to face whatever comes your way.

             So, yes, I’m flawed. I’m not perfect --- But, as Pope Francis reminds us, I am also a good and gifted person. …  We’re good and gifted. When you first arrived at The University of Scranton, you brought with you a suitcase full of hopes and dreams. During your time here, you met extraordinary people: great professors who helped shape your world view – and classmates with whom you shared some of the best years of your life and established friendships that will last for the rest of your years. During your time here, you experienced things that opened your mind and stretched your horizons. Your values were challenged; perhaps your own faith was tested.

            Now, on your graduation day four years later, it’s time for you to re-pack that suitcase and move on. Whether you realize it or not, that suitcase is now filled with far more valuable gifts, skills, experiences and opportunities than you could have ever imagined four years ago.

           So graduates, accept those gifts, treasure them, and be grateful for all that you’ve received. Nurture the gift of your relationships with others. Use your talents well, wisely and generously. Be good stewards of all that you have earned and been given. And everyday – especially today – say “thank you” again and again – to your parents, your family, your friends, your teachers – and your God. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with all that we have been give by others.

           Also, recognize that with the gifts that you have been given, there is a unique contribution that each of you is called to make in life. Set goals in your life. Work to fulfill your dreams. But be prudent and wise enough to realize that we are not ultimately the ones who determine our own destiny, as much as we try and as hard as we work. That is given over to a power bigger than ourselves – a power we call God. So, what does that mean? Be willing to adapt, to adjust and to embrace the unexpected in life. In the 1970’s, I began my college career at the University of Pittsburgh, determined to be a dentist. Instead, I wound up as a priest. And much to my surprise, in the midst of a very fulfilling life as a pastor, four years ago, I received a telephone call informing me that I was being asked to serve the Church as a bishop.

            So, expect the unexpected. If you think that it is a bit unnerving to embrace the unexpected, talk to me later on. I’m living proof that, while challenging and life altering, it is possible to face the unexpected – and to survive – reasonably well.

            Again, I’m flawed. I’m a good and gifted person. …  and, finally, I’m called to offer my gifts. …  We’re called to offer our gifts and use them for others. …  As you leave this great university, you carry with you many gifts. Yet, for all that you’ve received from this uniquely Catholic and Jesuit university, it is vital that you recall what lies at the heart of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit higher education. As Father Malloy said earlier, The University of Scranton hopes to graduate “men and women for others.” Dedication to service, a concern for the common good, and a commitment to promoting justice have always been implicit goals of your alma mater. As such, the gifts that you carry with you from this great institution – knowledge, wisdom, ability and the capacity for good – will only fulfill your deepest longings as a person when they are offered in service of the common good – when you give them away generously.

           Offer the gift of respect for others. Recognize the dignity of the human person, embracing the reality that as you desire to be treated with respect, others deserve that same respect.

           Selfishness and self-centeredness are terminal diseases. They are the cancer that kills relationships. They destroy opportunities. So, offer the gift of yourself for the wellbeing of others and don’t be afraid to put the needs of others before your own.   

            Offer the gift of your faith and live it boldly. You chose to study at The University of Scranton – a Catholic university. No matter what your religious affiliation might be, The University of Scranton is a college shaped by Catholic vision and Catholic values that recognize that there is something good and purposeful in every life … that there is a right and a wrong way to live in this world and that our choices and our freedom are not arbitrary things …  that, while differences exist among us as individuals, there is a common good that is accessible to the mind and heart, that is noble and worth pursuing. Indeed, the greatest accomplishment for a Catholic college is that your education moves you to embrace this vision and live these values day in and day out – without apology or compromise.

            Finally, graduates, offer the gift of all you have learned to make a difference for good in our world.

            As you know, commencement literally means beginning, not end. If you reach out for your diploma believing that, while flawed and somewhat imperfect, you are gifted and called to use your gifts for the betterment of our world. If you reach out for your diploma believing in yourself – grateful for all that you’ve been given – and willing to respect others, to serve them generously, to accept life as it unfolds, while maintaining the values of your faith – then your years at The University of Scranton will not only have been a success but the occasion for you to begin to make a difference.

            Graduates, there is an incredible potential within each one of you. Because of what you have learned and the person you have become, have the courage to tap that potential today and everyday, and to use it for good in our world.

            Congratulations, graduates. May God bless you and sustain on the incredible journey that you continue today. We are all very proud of you.

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