Commencement Days — a shout out for faculty, deans, and all other mentors . . . . and for their students and their families

Friday, May 13  — Gerard Manly Hopkins, sj  —  beauty & courage

Today and tomorrow our university holds three commencements  (School of Dentistry at 9:30 today,  School of Law at 5:00 this afternoon,  the Main Campus  1:30 tomorrow).  It’s important to taste the courage within the excitement and wonder in people across many ages, dressed to the nines as they watch their graduate walk, and shake the President’s hand, and receive their diploma from him.   Gerard Manly Hopkins sj captured courage-beauty as well as any poet I know.  I’m posting “The Windhover” this morning as an homage to years of bravery.

Early this week I came across the notes I wrote when the university asked me to celebrate the McNichols Campus Baccalaureate Mass on Saturday morning May 10, 2014.  The words limp but they may remind us of what we do these two days.


john sj

Baccalaureate Homily notes   2014

Some of my fellow graduates used to call it the years of fraud, as in “People think I know some important things, that I am competent now that I have a PhD, but . . . they probably see through me and my degree and suspect what I suspect,  that I am a fraud.  Pretending to know things worth saying.”    Little by little that goes away, the fear that I didn’t really didn’t learn anything at my university.

It is one of the strong emotions at commencement.  It requires courage and perceptive remembering of what I did in that time of learning that my degree records.  One set of allies are still there for me, my teachers who mentored me,  kicked my butt when I wasn’t meeting their standards, wasn’t meeting mine either.  And who kept mentoring and challenging and encouraging me to stretch, to not be overwhelmed by my fears of inadequacy.  Who, finally, at the end of a semester, recorded a grade about my accomplishment and that grade is a public statement about me during that time of challenge and courage and stretching.   The grade sticks around as a marker of me and my mentor.  Remembering all my challenges and all my mentors is remembering the beauty and courage of the process of learning.

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits understood the need for remembering.  In his great teaching about how to pray, The Spiritual Exercises, he says we should approach our future by remembering our past with respect and affection.  Affection for my consolations and my desolations, respect for my life as one whole human grace.   He suggests that I spend pieces of time paying attention to the specific life-events that led me to where I am now, and to trust them as worth my reverence and deep affection.

Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, lived this same wisdom while leading an astonishingly brave group of women who risked joining her in taking on the brutal poverty of Ireland in the 1800s.   Deep poverty is always brutal, today and in the 1830s.  Reading her new biography by Mary Sullivan I kept meeting Catherine at someone’s death bed,   too young to die, heartbroken to let her people down by dying, recognizing that the one keeping her company was heartbroken too.  Catherine’s signature graces in the face of seemingly endless death and poverty, famously offered over and over at hard times?  Playful jokes and strong tea.

Today’s Post  –  “The Windhover”  To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj

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