Class of 2016 Baccalaureate Mass Homily “High Standards”

Kasey Gallagher, Crown Adviser

On June 2, 2016, Fr. Thomas Doyle presents the graduating class of 2016 with their last homily for their time at Marian Central.  In speaking to the graduates, he focuses his message on the past, but also the bright future for our graduates as they embark on the next great adventure.  In using Memorial Day and his continuous thirst for knowledge of the Civil War, Fr. Doyle uses the discovery of John. S Mullen, a Corporal for the Union buried in his parish cemetery, as a transition for the exceptionally high standards Marian graduates had expected of them, and proudly met in their goals.  Through his love and notable proudness of the Class of 2016, Fr. Doyle touches upon what lies ahead in the future in the graduates setting high standards for themselves as they venture out from the Marian Central community:

“…Tonight, we all gather to celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass—to praise and thank God for you, our graduates and their families; to thank Him for your time here at Marian Central; to thank Him for the successes you have achieved and the lessons you have learned; and to pray for you as you leave us—some families for the last time, as this is your last student to finish here. We do all of this because, tomorrow, we will gather once again, to celebrate graduation. You will hear it often in the coming weeks, but I now offer to you all my hearty congratulations.

But, that is tomorrow’s celebration. At tonight’s celebration, my mind turns back to the celebration we all commemorated this past weekend: Memorial Day. It is the day on which we honor those soldiers who have fallen in defense of our country. To mark Memorial Day, I walked out into my own parish cemetery to make note of the soldiers buried there, and especially to see if we had any soldiers from the Civil War (a topic of personal interest to me). I found ten Union soldiers in my little cemetery…and my “history nerd” juices began to flow. So, I plopped down at Panera with a sandwich and my tablet, and began to see what I could find out about these men. For most of them, I found nothing; their stories are lost to history. Some of them had a little more information available. But, one of those soldiers stood out to me.

His name was John S. Mullen. He was born in Ireland and, like many Irish folk, came to the United States and settled in Minnesota—itself an incredible feat: he left behind all he knew to come to a new country and a new state, with no guarantee of success and no possibility of ever seeing his family or homeland again. There he lived until 5 July 1861, when he signed up to fight for the Union, not three months after the first shots at Fort Sumter. He joined the Second Minnesota Infantry—not the artillery (with the big cannons) or the cavalry (with the horseys), but the infantry…a foot soldier on the front lines. He started as a Private, but would end his time in service as a Corporal.

For the next three years, he fought in some of the Western Theater’s most famous battles: Mill Springs, the siege at Corinth, Perryville, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, and the siege of Atlanta with General William Sherman. He was wounded at Missionary Ridge during the Battle of Chattanooga, but he survived and would fight almost seven more months. At that point, having fulfilled his three-year tour of duty, he was discharged honorably on 4 July 1864. For some reason, he then ended up settling in Northern Illinois, and eventually died here in 1911, where he was then buried in my little cemetery.

His is an interesting story, but maybe not all that different from the stories of other soldiers. Still, his story grabbed me because of how he received his wound. During the battle on Missionary Ridge, Corporal Mullen took up his regiment’s flag and led his fellow soldiers into the fight. If you do not know, that kind of action is a dangerous thing to do: carrying the flag and holding it up for others to follow makes you an easy target for shooters. You are always in the front of the group. But Mullen did it, and he was shot for doing so.

That is courage; that is bravery. Taking up the flag; flying the colors; holding the standard high for all to see and follow takes genuine courage and strength. Doing so put Corporal Mullen at risk, but holding his standard high inspired others and led them to victory. In my mind, that image is worthy of our celebration and our reflection tonight: holding our standards high. So, let us look at little deeper at that image of courage and bravery.

“High standards” are something you soon-to-be-graduates know lots about and have learned about during your time here. In fact, like it did for Corporal Mullen, those high standards have often been embodied in the flags that you have seen throughout your time here.

For example, we have the school’s flag. We have the one here by the stage, which is sometimes seen around the school. There is also the more popular Hurricane Fan Flag, which I have asked Mr. Nemtuda to bring—wave that flag, Mr. Nemtuda! Both of these flags have symbolized the high standards that the school has set for you: academically, socially, and athletically. Think about it: we wave the Fan Flag to get our teams pumped up to play their best. On the fields or in the classrooms, coaches and teachers have demanded your best efforts in practice and study, telling you not to quit. Even our theme this past year set a high standard for you: “Chosen for Greatness.” Not “Chosen for Mediocrity” or “Chosen for Just Alright,” but “Chosen for Greatness.” Our flags and our school family have pushed you to set high standards and to strive for them.

Our American flag stands as another example. It represents our nation, for sure; but it also symbolizes the high standards and core values of our country, like human dignity, self-sacrifice, and genuine freedom. In addition, it also represents your individual families and the standards that your parents, grandparents, and ancestors have laid out for you. Now, some of you may be thinking, “You don’t have to tell me twice, Father! My mom was always harpin’ on me to do something…” Trust me, I know. When I went to college, one of my aunts came to me and said, half-jokingly, “You’re the best chance this family has to succeed…”

Sure, there has been lots of pressure and stress about studying, exams, the ACT, sports, college, scholarships, etc. from Mom and Dad. But ask yourselves, “Why did they do it? Why did they set those high standards for me?” The answer is, truly, love. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but it is as true as a straight line. They want you to succeed, to learn, and to grow…they want you to thrive! Were those standards sometimes difficult? Yes, but think of the payoff.

Think, for example, of the time when you were learning to walk. I do not know about you, but, for me, that time sucked. Everything was fine when I was crawling around on all-fours. Then, here comes Mom and Dad, demanding that I stand up on two…just two!…limbs. You all know what happened next; it is the same for all of us. We tried, we fell flat on our rumps, and we cried. It’s like we were crying, “Man! This standard is too high!” But, our parents kept at it, and we eventually got it. Setting goals high, having high standards, brought out the best in us.

In addition to the high standards set by exterior sources like the school, the nation, and your families, there are high standards that you placed on yourself interiorly. These are those goals that you strived to achieve on your own. I recall one such high standard that I placed on myself in high school. As a sophomore, I took a Trig class. Another sophomore was in my class—I will never forget her name: Jennifer Cooper—and I told myself that, on each quiz, I was going to beat her score. Not only was I going to beat her score, but I was going to crush her with my Math genius (I later found out that she wanted to do the same to me).

Every quiz was an event. I would do one point better than her on one quiz. Then, she would two points better on the next one. Then, we would tie on the next quiz. It was all very dramatic. Before either of us knew it, we were blowing away the scores, not of each other but of the juniors taking the course. We had brought out the best in each other by our high standards. I am sure that you have had something similar; the goals that you set for yourself, not because of what someone else wanted for you, but because of what you wanted for you. These were sometimes the most rewarding, and yet most difficult, standards to uphold.

So, as we have seen, lots of standards—lots of high standards—have been set for you. They have all brought you to this point: graduation, college, scholarships, the future…adulthood.

But, tonight, there is one more standard for you, one that is being given to you as you set out into that adulthood. Definitely, it is the most important standard. It is the standard that Jesus sets for you in the Gospel tonight. Above all others, it is the highest standard; not because it will get you into college or guarantee you a $1 million salary or buy you a mansion, but because it will bring you to something far greater.

What is this highest of high standards? “Love God…love your neighbor.” That is it. “Wait, Father,” you may be thinking, “I’ve heard that before! I’ve been hearing that forever!” Yes, you have, but it is truly the highest standard we can use to form our lives. What makes it so demanding is that it will take everything you have to do it and do it well. You cannot do this commandment half-heartedly or partially. As Jesus says, you have to do it with your entire “heart…soul…mind…and strength.” It will take your entire life to meet this high standard.

“Love God…love your neighbor”: this is the high standard you are invited to take with you as you walk out of those doors for the last time tomorrow. Sure, lots of other standards and priorities will come along as you get older: expectations of bosses and career; expectations of spouses and children; etc. But, this is the gold standard; the highest flag possible.

So, dear students…“students,” at least, for one more night…“Love God.” Believe in Him. Keep going to church. Do not let it slide until, one day, you realize that the last time you went to church was…tonight. Keep your faith alive. And pray…pray, pray, pray! “Love your Neighbor.” Show mercy and compassion to others, and especially to the poor. Protect the weak, from the unborn to the elderly. Do not be selfish, but think of others. Live justly and at peace as best as you can. As St. Paul put it to Timothy (and to you) in the reading tonight, “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace.” Work hard at what you do, and especially work hard at loving.

Setting this as your highest standard will bring you the ultimate fulfillment. In the Gospel tonight we heard, when the scribe recognized that love of God and neighbor was the highest standard, Jesus say, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”   The “Kingdom of God”…that means eternal glory. Undoubtedly, the highest standard gets the highest reward.

You may be wounded and you may fall down when you try to hold this high standard in front of you. You will be tempted to lower your flag or your standards. There are lots of temptations in college to do so. There are lots of temptations to screw around the first semester, thinking “I’ll be alright.” I have heard more stories than I care to know about students who give into this temptation and do not end up “alright.” There are lots of temptations to stop living out your faith. Consider the fact that 70-80% of students stop going to church in the first years after leaving home.

But, I implore you, do not lower your standards. Do not give into the temptations. Do not become the statistic, or one of those people whose stories are lost to history. Instead, be the standard bearer. Be the one who picks up the flag and leads others forward to victory. Keep your eyes up; don’t look at the ground. Look where you are going, Look to the horizon, to the Son. Keeping your eyes on that highest standard will keep you balanced and get you where you are going, now and forever.

When you walk into this gym tomorrow for the final time as students, see the flags. Remember to keep your standards high, to keep the highest standards: academic, athletic, social, and—above all—spiritual. May our God and Father lead you in a life that is not “mediocre” or “just alright,” but great and worth memorializing—a life made for the history books.” -Fr. Thomas Doyle

For all of the graduates, the Marian Family wishes you the best of luck.  If you ever fell the need for support, this Homily is here to remind you of all of the amazing things you have accomplished, and the many more to come in your futures.