Last year featured visiting scholar Joseph Pearce. This year, the class of 2014 chose Mr. Derek Tremblay.
Below is the text of the address he delivered on June 7th, 2014.
Headmaster Thibault, Fr. Michael, board of trustees, fellow faculty and staff, it is an honor and privilege to celebrate and affirm the efforts of these young people with you today.
To the parents, families, host families, and friends of these esteemed graduates, thank you for all of your dedication, investment, sacrifice, support, and love – sometimes painfully, but always generously and unconditionally– poured into the lives of these young men and women.
And finally, to the class of 2014, congratulations for a remarkable accomplishment. All of you collectively managed to remain sane. None of us can deny it – this is a truly unique institution. I’ve heard many of -you quip – “Oh, this is Mount Royal….” – and I won’t embarrass you with the last half of the statement.
Teachers, parents, and students together walk a fine line between familial and professional relationships. And I know it can be trying, awkward, and sometimes overwhelming at times, but I firmly believe that the closeness between teachers, parents, and students is more natural. The family is the root relationship, and families are more formative than any other social institution in the history of humanity. Why wouldn’t a school strive to emulate the environment that is most successful at preparing young people to become heroic saints?
In all seriousness, your collective accomplishments pale in comparison to the moral fiber of your hearts. Success in today’s culture is measured by superficial and fleeting signs of alleged achievement. And yes, you’ve got all those measures accounted for: presidential awards, college acceptances, merit scholarships, most valuable players, model student, and the list goes on… The real reward is the treasure within your hearts. Deep within you is the difference maker.
You see, a standard commencement address is likely going to attempt to inspire you to go out and change the world. “Make a difference in your community”; “Be the next generation of civic leaders”; “Be the best possible humanitarian you can be”, or whatever.
I want to show you a simple yet critical principle: The transformation of society cannot be achieved without the transformation of hearts. Too many young people set out on the road of selflessness without first getting their own internal house in order. And then – guess what happens – as I always say, you meet resistance. Your plans don’t go your way. Your goals are taking too long. You aren’t good enough. And then, the next likely thought becomes, “Man, that person is obnoxious. I can’t stand being around him.” Finally, your whole worldview becomes deeply pessimistic and fatalistic. Why? Because again, it is impossible to make a difference without first getting your heart in order.
Individual transformation prepares the way for cultural revolution.
I’ll go back to the greatest achievement of your lives up to this point: All of you are open to transformation. All of you are willing to change.
If you are never willing to change, then you’ve already lost your humanity. Living an authentically human life is the only ingredient required for success. And all of you know what it means to be human. Beware though, some voices out there would rather you think that human nature is ‘evolving’, or ‘always subject to change’, or even worse ‘we create what it means to be human’.
The greatest achievement of the class of 2014 at Mount Royal Academy is simply this: you know where your heart belongs. You know that it thirsts. You know that it is destined for an ultimate good. And you know that unless your heart is going in the right direction, the roads you take will lead to the loss of your humanity.
This is the greatest threat to our time: We have lost not just a sense of what it means to be human, but the sense of what it means to be human. What it means to be human is not up to us. We don’t decide the best version of ourselves. Instead, we look to one who set up the master plan. We look out instead of looking in. And if we are at least willing to let Christ do the work, our hearts will be transformed.
Again, individual transformation prepares the way for cultural revolution.
There is one maxim that applies to all young people: we sometimes don’t like ourselves. I see this as a positive. It ought to be the ignition switch that lights the transformative fire of grace.
You all know I cherish St. Thomas Aquinas. I prepared some of you for Confirmation, and there are a host of you out there in the audience who know this about me. I was the one who made fun of my Confirmation instructor for crying after she felt the transformative power of grace. I like to think my Confirmation saint is Thomas Aquinas. However, I am still a little fuzzy on the details. I was not open. I did not have a moral compass. I did not know where my heart was going. However, I do know that Thomas Aquinas steered me in the right direction.
There are two simple principles that influenced the whole of this man’s inward achievements. His outward accomplishments pale in comparison to the gift of his heart. He met serious resistance along the way. First off, his parents put him in a dungeon to prevent him from entering a revolutionary but barely established religious order, the Dominicans. The Church nearly condemned him as heretical because of his integration of Aristotelian philosophy into Christian theology. His peers called him the ‘dumb ox’. He was gravely overweight and barely verbalized a thought to anyone.
Thomas thought more truthfully and wrote more theology than any other person in the history of Christianity. At the end of it all, after a deeply transformative experience during prayer, he said “I have seen things that make my writings look like straw”. Now if you’ve ever encountered the totality of Thomas’ writings, you will certainly understand the magnitude and significance of that statement.
Alas, two principles summarize STA’s heart: ‘grace perfects nature’; and ‘as a person is, so does the end seem to him’.
Once you tread the transformative path, complacency and stagnancy become intolerable. Tolerance cannot be the supreme virtue. We should not seek to be as tolerant as possible. Instead, we ought to embrace the transformative power of the supreme being who makes all things new. Tolerating the status quo of self and society is less than human. If for a moment you think to yourself, “Wow, my life is so easy right now”, then you are settling for something less than human.
The central statement of Christianity is simply this: grace transforms, uplifts, exalts, and re-humanizes human nature. Sadly, the beauty and goodness of our original human nature is depleted and wounded. But the spark is still present, the flame is still lit, and the true mark of human nature remains deeply embedded in the recesses of the human heart. Grace ignites that spark, like an incendiary. The fire of grace consumes and restores us back to our original condition. And so grace perfects nature. God refuses to save us without us. St. Augustine once said, “pray as if everything depends upon God, and work as if everything depends on you.”
In short, self-help is impossible, but the improvement of self is not. And if for a moment we think ‘we’ve made it’, we are as ‘good as we are going to be’, or ‘we are good enough’, then we settle for something short of our ultimate destiny.
Why? “As a person is, so does the end seem to him.” Or, as St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”
In a word, joy: limitless joy; unceasing joy; true joy. That is our destiny. It is a destiny that goes beyond this world. The void can only be filled by a God whose joy is infinite.
You know, when I sat with the seniors to help them reflect on a class motto, the discussion was basically empty. They were mentally and emotionally taxed. And then, one of them piped up and said, “How about, ‘to infinity and beyond’”. And I thought, Buzz Lightyear? Come on, you’ve been exposed to the greatest thinkers of all time, and you want to quote Buzz Lightyear as the most influential thinker encountered in your education. Eh, whatever. It is a very true thought nonetheless.
Never settle for less than lasting joy. If you think your destiny is permanent joy, then that ought to influence your worldview, lifestyle, and every day affect.
The most encouraging component of Christianity is that God concedes that our lives are miserable because of ourselves. But he stoops to our level and descends downward to help us on our re-ascent.
Your hearts are ready for this truth. I know each of you is capable of acquiring that experiential knowledge whereby you live transformed, restored, and joyful. Book knowledge ought to prepare you for heart knowledge. If it doesn’t, then we fail as educators. If it does, then you’ve learned how to be human.
The challenge is this: Will you live a life transformed? Will you allow the most decisive factor in your life to change you? Or, will you accept imperfection? Will you embrace tolerance? Will you remain less than human? As St. Ireneus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive”.
Individual transformation prepares the way for cultural revolution. Now, to the second part. One of the amazing insights of St. John Paul the Great was the effect of culture. The culture of a civilization is the best indicator of heart knowledge. Do individuals within a society know where their hearts are going? If so, the culture will reflect that; if not, the culture will reduce and distract us from our true human nature.
The sad truth is that our own culture has lost a sense of direction. We don’t know where we are going. It is no accident that Jesus spent the bulk of his time journeying while on earth. Jesus understands our tendency to journey and look for the right road. All roads do not lead to the same destination, and some are faster or slower than others. The crux of the issue is that our hearts are travelling towards superficial goods. We keep stopping at McDonalds instead of eating an authentically prepared meal. Thus, the heart becomes unhealthy. Instead of walking down the path that will truly lead to a healthy, human heart, we sprint down as many paths as possible in search. Hey, at least the culture is searching. If we stop searching, then you know we’ve lost our humanity completely.
You graduates are a source of hope for all of us. I know I ask for a lot, I won’t deny that. And I am about to ask for one more lofty, seemingly pointless task. Please, we beg you: go out and revolutionize the culture. Once you’ve been transformed, enlighten others. Share the hope born of experiential knowledge; the joy that comes from pain; the love that overcomes hate; and the selflessness that squashes selfishness. This is our true humanity. Not the humanity of indulgence, consumption, and “I don’t need children. I’ve got my own things to worry about”.
I will share with you one final poem:
By the word and command, mortal man can stand, son of man is the manna manifest
In the flesh and the blood, and the bones and the rocks, in the valley of the dead
The dry bones are gonna walk and talk
To the rhythm of the saints y’all, to the rhythm of the saints
And I paint it red to remember the dead, who layed down their lives for the truth
And the seed that is buried takes root, and this ignorant world will have proof
If there’s a God I screamed, “Answer me!”
I didn’t expect an answer to be received, He said
You must die, to be set free, living in the kingdom of God eternally
Open up my eyes so that I can see, and die with a cry revolutionary
Every man and woman is a witness, and we will never forget this
Fear not the world cannot stop what must begin within you and me
A fire wind, holy hymn, beautiful diadem, hidden within positively pure prism refraction
Every colors broken down, harmonize with my eyes spectrum
In the end bleeding into the One, to the source, to the beautiful father of light
All the pressure and pain, produces perseverance
It’s purged by the flames, without interference
Produces a hope, In the glory of God
My God I am your son, and I know that you will finish the work that you’ve begun
Never settle for less than what you are, and allow your hearts to be the tools used by God to revolutionize the world. We need to build a civilization of love, not a culture of me.
Oh and in case any of you ever doubted this, I apologize. I truly love you. I love you for who you are, not because of what you’ve done, or who you will become. Instead, I love you because of where you are going. We share this path together now. I will never forget you!
This is your greatest achievement – class of 2014 – your hearts are ready! Go out and ignite!