(Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily at the Baccalaureate Mass on June 15, 2020, held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Doral.)
You may have heard recently that the Arroyo Quad won an award for the best new design in the state of Florida. It’s a great recognition for such a special place. When we built the Arroyo Quad, our intention was not simply to recognize the many extraordinary Jesuits who had given their lives to serving faithfully the Belen community, the giants on whose shoulders we are standing on, it was also built to make sure that in the midst of all the buildings, there would be a green space teeming with life. Buildings are important of course, but the presence of that natural beauty created by God literally breathes life and offers a restful repose from concrete and steel.
In order to encourage nature to thrive in this beautiful setting, we placed a bird feeder that hung from a branch of one of our bald cypresses. I personally filled it with seeds to attract birds of all kinds to grace our green space. The skies around Belen are filled with all kinds of birds and I was excited to see the various colors and breeds descend and take their nourishment. But days and weeks went by and I saw nothing. Not a single dove or blue jay or mocking bird dared to swoop down and take advantage of the free food that was there for the taking.
Then, one day, walking through the park while praying my rosary, I noticed something on the ground not far from the feeder. It was a pile of feathers. I wondered what had happened, why this strange collection of plumage lay quietly on the ground. And then I heard him. A mighty shriek echoed through the quad cutting through the silence of that late Sunday afternoon. Perched on the corner of the administration building, like a king enthroned over a vast, lush kingdom, was a hawk. This red-tailed creature stared at me with interest as I made my way around the quad. He looked at me as if he was questioning my presence in his domain, wondering how I dared to tread on his property.
The hawk is a majestic, extraordinary animal. The way it glides through the air, swoops down on its prey, shrieks at the tops of its lungs breaking the eerie silence of any forest. It commands attention. I did a little research to make sure that what we had in the quad was actually a red tail hawk and what I found was not only that it was, but that there are three amazing things about these birds.
First, they own their environment. There is no other animal in its neck of the woods as impressive as the hawk. They have no enemies that prey on them; they are the predators. Hawks always have the best vantage point whether standing still or flying high above.
Second, there is no animal on the planet that has the eyes of a hawk. Their long-distance vision is second to none. They can see clearly about eight times as far as humans can, allowing them to spot and focus on their prey at a distance of about two miles. While humans can see a candle flame at that distance, a small animal camouflaged in its surroundings might be hidden from us, but not the hawk.
Third, this majestic animal can shift focus in an instant. This characteristic allows them to zoom in on their prey. They can see a wider range of colors than humans can, allowing them to differentiate small changes in coloration in their prey, as well as see UV light.
I got to thinking. Gentlemen, you have very similar qualities.
Like the hawk that perches confidentially over its domain, you have to take ownership of your lives. While there is any number of things that in the past have impacted your life and formation, and many more that will impact your future, it is you who have to own both; they are yours. I have often said, you cannot reduce man to being simply the result of past experiences and influences, with no control over his present or future. No, you always have a choice, a choice to make of your life what you believe is best. You have the choice to make the kind of decisions that will build you up and transform you daily into the best version of yourself. As graduates of Belen Jesuit, you are better equipped than most to make the right choice and take full ownership of your life. Few are the excuses that can be afforded to you.
You must remember though that with this great freedom of choice comes great responsibility. You are responsible for the consequences of your actions. You are the ones who ultimately are responsible for living out your obligation to making the world a better place. The credo which has been chiseled onto your souls throughout your many years at Belen should be the yardstick with which you measure your true success in life. Money, degrees, honor, and glory should not be the ways in which you measure true success. It’s how you impact the world and raise it up to the level of holiness and goodness in which it is meant to be that will make you successful.
Like the hawk, your vision must be great. No decision, no choice, no strategy or plan in your life should be made without remembering that your vision has to be wide, not narrow. Don’t simply look at things with the eyes in your head, but look at them also with the eyes of God. There is never an excuse for not being as compassionate and loving as the God who created you. Remember, life is not simply about you, but, more importantly, it’s about the needs of the other and the greater glory of God. These are your two indisputable reference points. While many around you will focus their attention on the “here and now,” your line of sight should be focused more importantly on the “there and later.”
Also, like the hawk, you need to adapt. As you prepare to leave the protected nest of your family and Belen, the world that you will fly into is different. It is filled with great and beautiful things but also filled with challenges, violence, and injustice. You must be prepared to face this world armed with a sense of goodwill towards all people and you must fight this battle with the values explicitly found in the gospels. Listen to the words of Jesus as he prepared to send out his disciples into the world, “be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
This shrewdness Jesus refers to entails learning to remain faithful to your moral values and goals while adapting to the environment around you. It means keeping a level head when things get muddled and confusing. There is no doubt life will get harder than it has been. It’s the nature of the beast, but you cannot lose heart or your head. Always remember that no matter how challenging life may become, you are prepared to overcome anything. God is with you and there is no question that even in the darkest of times, His light will always shine and dispel it. Understand that the challenges you will face are nothing more than opportunities to become better and stronger and more faithful. Where others see disgrace, you must look for the grace. While the world can complain because rose bushes have thorns, you should rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
My brothers, your lives have been marked by moments of tremendous upheaval. The 18 years of your existence have seen very sad times both here in our city and all over the globe. And while this reality has shaped the world you live in, they need not define you. You cannot simply become a product of this cruel reality. Instead, you should allow all this to prove to you that your Jesuit formation, your Christian vocation, your commitment to service and justice is now more necessary than ever before. The expectation that Belen, your parents, the world, and even God Himself has of you is to become the future leaders who will put an end to the cruelty and violence of the world. The expectation is that you are the solution to terrorism, illness, and racism.
This is no naive or utopian expectation. It is not a foolish pipe dream that bears no real truth in your future. It is not simply a bloated presumption Fr. Willie creatively throws out in a homily to decorate his final words to the class of 2020. No, this is the expectation Jesus Christ sets in the gospel for all those who claim to be his disciple. It is the expectation he preached and lived with his very life. It is made possible by the Jesuit education you have received. You see, the academic and spiritual tools afforded to you in the classrooms, playing fields, and hallways of Belen Jesuit have not been given to you simply for personal gain. They have been given to you for the purpose of transforming a broken and segregated world.
It is absolutely possible. If St. Ignatius of Loyola worked for it, why can’t you? If Mother Teresa worked for it, why can’t you? If Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and John Paul II worked for it, why can’t you? My brothers, don’t allow the number 2020 to simply go down in history as the calendar year that you graduated from Belen Jesuit. Let the number 2020 describe your hawk-like vision, your ability to see better and farther than any other class in the history of our alma mater. I assure you, if you take ownership of your lives, see farther than simply the present, and adapt responsibly to the changes that assuredly will come, you will soar to extraordinary heights and the world we live in will be a much better place because of it.
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