Baccalaureate Mass Homily

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
(Fr. Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily at the Baccalaureate Mass on May 17, 2022, held at the Our Lady of Belen Chapel.)
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to one of the members of this class and mentioned how there are experiences in your life so impactful you will remember where you were and what you were doing when they happened. The first example that came to my mind was 9-11. I explained to him I remember like it was yesterday being in my office with senior Robert Sanchez when Mr. Ledesma came in to tell me a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I confess to having brushed it off as being an unfortunate accident. Then, 20 minutes later, Fr. Cartaya came running in and told me about the second plane. What followed were a series of events I will never forget.

As I was mentioning all this to the senior from this class it dawned on me that even though 9-11 seems like yesterday, he hadn’t even been born. That realization totally threw me off. The members of this class, the class of 2022, were not alive when the attacks on September 11th took place. For them, hearing me speak about 9-11 is like me as a child hearing my grandfather tell stories of the Spanish Civil War or el exilio. 

Being a product of the 20th century, more specifically, a child of the 70s and 80s, it blows my mind that the century that gave us extraordinary things like rock and roll, the Avengers, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins is completely a thing of the past. You gentlemen are what sociologists call millennials. You are children of the new and improved generation. You look back at us old people and wonder how we ever survived without cell phones or Teslas.

So let’s take a quick look at your birth century:

The 22 years that span from 2000 to 2022, while brief, have seen some extraordinary things. Some of the greatest developments in human history were invented in the 21st century. 
  •       Augmented reality has taken computer processing to the next level. Your generation is obsessed with immersing itself in an imaginary world that invented virtual reality goggles that recreate fantastic places and situations. Taken from a scene out of Star Trek, you are practically teleported to a different planet. 
  •       Cryptocurrency has taken the financial world by storm. If you fail to trust banks and other financial institutions, no problem, just create a virtual monetary system. Bitcoin, invented in 2009, has become the preferred payment option in so many industries. I have read several articles about cryptocurrency and I have yet to understand it, what sustains it, and leaves me asking if it is even real. 
Not impressive enough… 
  •       Have you heard of capsule endoscopies? You should because it was invented in your generation. It is a non-invasive monitoring system for your health. You swallow a capsule with a tiny camera and it tracks possible internal bleeding, cancer, ulcers and other pathologies. Soon will be gone the days where you fast for a day, take horrible bowel cleansing liquids and then drift off to sleep on your stomach while a doctor inserts a long tube in an area where things should come out, not in.
Bear with me, but let me give you one more: 
  •       Tesla. This seems to be on everyone’s radar. Not only because Elon Musk is buying Twitter, but because electric, self-driving cars are starting to make their way into our driveways and other car manufacturers are following suit. Recent breakthroughs in battery technology mean charging times will be much shorter and you can drive your car to cover a larger range with a single charge.
Pretty impressive if you ask me. But for me, there is a problem.

How is it possible that in just 20 years we have been able to advance technologically, scientifically, and medically so much and have continued to promulgate the idea that we are living in the most advanced, modernized and educated centuries of human history, and yet at the same time continue to go down in history as the bloodiest? 

That’s right, the bloodiest. More human blood has been violently or unjustly shed during the 20th and 21st centuries, your birth century, than any other in human history. Let me give you some numbers to understand what I’m saying: 
  •       The United Nations 2005 Human Development Report states that in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, 115 million conflict-related deaths were reported.  To put it in perspective, if you were to combine the total number of conflict-related deaths from the previous five centuries, deaths between the years 1500 and 1899 (500 years), the total would be only 35 million. 
  •       As of today, there have been 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 2,729 Ukrainian civilians, and 15,000 Russian troops that have been killed in that senseless war that has dominated our attention. How about what happened on Saturday? A domestic terrorist took the lives of 10 innocent people in Buffalo, New York simply because they were black. My God, 2022 and we still haven’t gotten past the deranged ideology of racism? 
  •       A recent study by the Gregorian University in Rome has estimated that in the last 2000 years, since the founding of Christianity, there have been over 70 million Christians who have been put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ. Here’s the shocker, 45.5 million of those Christians were killed in the 20th and 21st centuries. That’s 65% of Christian martyrs slaughtered in your birth century. 
One more… 
  •       Since 1973, when the United States Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion, there have been in this country alone 58,586,256 “legal” abortions. In other words, in the last 49 years this country has put to death 59,587,256 potential Einsteins, Mozarts, Roosevelts and Marinos (yes, as in Dan Marino). And by the way, that statistic is as of 8 a.m. this morning, because with an estimated 3,700 abortions performed daily, the number has obviously changed. 
That’s right, all this blood in yours and my medically modern, scientifically superior, technologically advanced birth century. 

How is that possible? How can it be that in the last 120 years the world has seen the likes of heroes like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope St. John Paul II, but also produced monsters like Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong? How is it possible that in a modern world, where schools are more readily available to all children, there are also schools where children are more readily bullied or killed? 

While, I am sure, there are many sociologists, politicians and theologians who can study the reality of our modern, yet violent world and give us theories as to the reasons why this is the unfortunate case, it is in today’s first reading where we discover how to resolve it. 

The answer is Pentecost. 

You know Pentecost? It’s the feast day we celebrate this year on Sunday, June 5th because it marks 50 days since Easter Sunday. It’s where we get the word Pentecost from, the Greek for fifty. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Mother as they were gathered in the upper room. It’s there in the first reading.

For three years, Jesus had been grooming his disciples in order to launch a great crusade for the salvation of the human race. Knowing that he was going to die and had to leave them, he wasn’t going to let this small band of brothers go on without empowering them to change the world. So, to assure they were ready to face all kinds of adversity and trial at the spreading of his message of love, Jesus gifted them with two very powerful things. 

First, the Holy Spirit. Acts of the Apostles tells us that it came in the form of a powerful wind that filled the room and then descended upon them like tongues of fire.  What a great image. If you kept up with the news last year you read about the fires in California. So strong were the flames and so rapidly they spread, people didn’t know what hit them. Before they knew it, they were surrounded by it. No matter how hard they tried, there wasn’t enough water to quench the flames. Strong winds only made it spread more. 

The Holy Spirit is like that. Wind and flame so powerful that it spreads throughout the world able to assimilate any language, culture, or context. It doesn’t matter that Jesus was born, died, and rose from the dead in Israel and in the first century. Two thousand years later, in every corner of the planet, the name of the risen Christ has been proclaimed because the Holy Spirit has empowered men and women to spread the Good News. Whether you go to France or Italy, the Congo or the Amazon, the name of Jesus has been professed. 

This is the same exact Spirit you have within you. It is the same exact fire that burns in your minds and in your hearts. Sealed with the Holy Spirit on the day of your baptism and awakened on the day of your confirmation, what you have learned at Belen Jesuit in every math, science, and social studies class only empowers you more to go into the world and preach like the mighty apostles. And not only in words, but especially in how you live your lives. 

The second gift is the Blessed Mother. Twice does she appear in the readings for today. In Acts of the Apostles, she is there with the disciples in prayer waiting on that same Spirit that 33 years before descended upon her to conceive Jesus. In the gospel, we read about the moment her son gifts her to us. That beautiful exchange from the cross, just before his death, Jesus looks down at his mother and introduces her to a new son, the disciple John. Then, looking at John, he says the words that today adorn the pedestal her image rests upon at the entrance of our chapel, “Ecce mater tua,” “Behold your mother.” 

Of all the gifts given to mankind by Jesus, this is one of the most precious. Mary, our mother, lives through all of eternity in constant intercession for us, her children. Only Jesus could make this possible because only Jesus had the right to gift her to us. And with the same care and courage that she cared for the Lord, she continuously cares for us to this day. 

So, let me connect the dots: you gentlemen, are like those mighty Apostles. Not 12, but 207 apostles to be exact. You sons of Ignatius, you men of Belen, you band of brothers, the class of 2022 are like those select few who have been gifted with the Spirit and the Blessed Mother to go out and change the world. 

Because of who you are, because of what you have learned, because of your formation at Belen Jesuit, there is no one on the face of the planet better equipped with the values necessary to transform our thoroughly modern, technologically savvy, medically advanced world into the place that our Creator intended it to be. Like Jesus, who after spending three years with his disciples, missioned them to go out into the world like sheep among wolves to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 10:16), you have spent seven years at Belen experiencing Jesus, sometimes without even knowing it, so that you can make disciples of all nations, setting the world on fire with peace and justice and love. 

As members of the Belen class of 2022, the future doctors and lawyers, parents and priests, of this world, you are capable of spreading love and goodness to every corner of the world because you carry within you the fire of the Holy Spirit fueled always by the love and protection of our Blessed Mother. Pentecost is not something of the past, it is alive and well today right here, right now. 

As graduates of Belen Jesuit, a great responsibility has been placed on you. Let me be abundantly clear, no one here can plead ignorance. None of you can ever say that you were unaware of this calling, none of you can ever claim to not be aware of your potential. As members of the Belen community, never underestimate your potential to transform the world, to set it on fire. Never underestimate your potential in helping to preserve the goodness of the world, your potential to enhance its greatness, and your potential to set an example that will leave men thirsting for more, thirsting for Jesus Christ. 

My brothers, if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that no scientific discovery, technological advancement, or medical breakthrough can save the world. It is only the love of Jesus Christ. Give witness to that love and help make the 21st century, the century of your present and future, the greatest century in human history.

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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.