Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The spirit of graduation"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the June 12, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

This is the season of graduations. Yesterday, as I write this, I returned from a weekend visit to Walla Walla for the celebrations of Confirmations/First Eucharist, graduations, and a baccalaureate Mass. These celebrations are not only meaningful for the confirmed and graduates, they are special for all of us – families, faith communities and schools. The spirit of such events demonstrates gratitude, joy, and hopeful expectation.

The root meaning of graduation means a “step.” More and more we are coming to the realization in our society that learning never really stops. In a sense graduation is a milestone, a marker on the way of life. The “graduation” ceremony for Assumption Grade School in Walla Walla is aptly called a promotion. Many students after high school move on to college for further study. Even after the usual four years of college, there can be graduate studies and, in many professions, mandated continuing education.

As we celebrate the completion of the Sacraments of Initiation, these moments are not the “end times,” but truly a new beginning. The Sacrament of Confirmation seals us with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit continues to mold and form us. If we are open to the power of the Spirit, we will experience transformations and change throughout life. Holy Eucharist also continues to touch us as we receive the Bread of Life and process our life’s journey. A faith community provides us support and opportunities of growth. Like a family, a community of faith is always very human, in every sense of the word.

In the last two days, I have heard comments that all members of the two senior classes in high school were going on to college. That spirit of desire to learn is a very healthy quality. Not long ago I heard a former public school administrator speak of the increasing complexity of the world in which we live. His comment was that no longer can we look to the completion of the high school and /or college years as sufficient for the human journey. Continued learning must become part of our psyche as we interface with all of life. St. Paul speaks of putting on the new person. We all change, and we change with learning.

Knowledge in the last few decades has increased exponentially. We used to talk about knowledge doubling every so many years. That comparison is almost meaningless now, because we are exposed to so much. The internet age has assisted us tremendously. Some children, preparing for Confirmation, find their favorite saint on the Internet, and use their name for Confirmation. Yet with the complexity of the world in which we live, we must stand firm, grounded as it were, with appropriate outlook on life that speaks of being rooted in the Gospel and staying balanced on our journey of faith.

Complex decisions demand wisdom. The pressure of an individualistic culture calls us to be sensitive to others, not only in my own little world, but in the entire world community. The Word of God in Sacred Scripture and the rich tradition of the teaching of the Church invite us to reflect and to be informed. The documents of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclicals of the popes, the Catholic Catechism for Adults, Scripture study, the statements of bishops’ conferences: all of these, and more, provide a rich opportunity for continued learning and growth. Again and again I have heard sponsors for candidates in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) comment on how enriched they felt in participating in the formation process. Continued learning gives it own sense of reward as people feel good and energized about what they have learned.

As they look toward the future, our young people today face may challenges. As gasoline prices go above $4 a gallon, as downsizing has become and continues to be a significant reality in the workplace, as we become more and more an aging population, as demographic shifts take place, as industry continues to evolve, it is not easy to sort all of that out and discern well what would be a good occupation or job. As with so many things in life, we pray for wisdom in making decisions and in supporting one another as we try to sort it all out.

That is why our faith and community of faith are so important. Our call to holiness of life helps us keep a sense of balance and perspective. Relationship with Jesus and his teaching gives us direction and a foundation for decision-making. Our tradition gives us values that are long and lasting, not subjected to the whims of the moment or the situation.

Graduates, congratulations! May God bless you. May you always be grateful for many blessings, and may the Wisdom of God be in your heart as you journey into the future. We are with you in prayer on that journey.

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