2016 Baccalaureate Mass Homily

A thought came to me while I was praying over this homily. Thinking about the class of 2016 and what I would want to say to you at your baccalaureate mass, I realized that I would be addressing the last class in Belen history to have had all its members born in the 20th century.

Being a product of the 20th century myself and, 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 will be officially a thing of the past.

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

The 100 years that span from 1900 to 1999 saw extraordinary things. Some of the greatest developments in human history were invented in the 20th century. 
  • The Wright brothers flew the first airplane in 1903 sparking a whirlwind of change that would make the world a much smaller place because you could get to anywhere in the world in half the time it would take you to walk or drive or sail there.
  • In 1928 Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and all of a sudden a whole myriad of diseases and illness were eradicated from the face of the planet and literally billions of lives were saved. 
Not impressive enough… 
  • In 1959 the Soviets put a man-made object on the moon only to be surpassed 10 years later by the United States when Apollo 11 carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their way on to the lunar surface claiming that they were taking, "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." 
Bear with me, but let me give you one more: 
  • In the 1960s the United States government began to experiment with creating networks of communication via computers. You see where this is going right. Over the years they began to realize that they could not only get these computers to talk to each other, but that they could make it accessible to the common man and that the accessibility would be as convenient as a small phone in your pocket. You would be hard pressed to find an invention that has had a more substantial impact in human history than the internet. And it was invented in the 20th century. 
Pretty impressive. But for me there is a problem. 

How is it possible that arguably one of the greatest 100 years of human existence, with all its technological, scientific, and medical breakthroughs; arguably the most advanced, modernized and educated centuries of human history, also goes down as the bloodiest? 

That’s right, the bloodiest. More human blood has been violently or unjustly shed during the 20th century, 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 there were reported 110 million conflict-related deaths. 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.
  • 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 century. 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 43 years this country has put to death 58,586,256 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 your medically modern, scientifically superior, technologically advanced birth century. 

How is that possible? How can it be that the very century that can produce heroes like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope St. John Paul II, can also produce monsters like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong? How is it possible that in a modern world where schools are more readily available to all children, also produce schools where children are more readily bullied or killed?

And while I am sure that 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 gospel that we discover how to resolve it.

The answer, believe it or not, is… salt. Yes, you heard me… salt.

I know that sounds weird, but the fact is that in the fifth chapter of the gospel of St. Matthew (v.13) when Jesus begins to groom his disciples for launching the great crusade for the salvation of mankind, he tells this small band of brothers that they are the “salt of the earth.”

I confess that I have often wondered why Jesus would refer to his disciples as being the salt of the earth. I mean, light I understand… it dispels the darkness, it shows you the way, it can be placed on a hill and serves as a reference point. But salt, what good is that for other than putting it on your eggs in the morning?

A little research tells us that in the time of Jesus, salt was an incredibly valuable commodity. So valuable in fact that the Roman Empire would pay their soldiers in salt instead of money, thus giving rise to the Latin term salarium or salary to refer to your end of the week or bimonthly pay.

But why was it so valuable, what is it about salt that made it so special that even the Son of God compared his disciples to it. Three things:
  1. Preservation: salt has the unique quality of keeping things from going bad. Before the time of refrigeration, salt was used to keep meat from spoiling. Fishermen would carry it on their boats and bury their fish in it so the hot sun wouldn’t spoil their catch. As a matter of fact, in the world of archaeology, human bodies and antiquities have been preserved in almost perfect state because they happen to have been buried in areas of high salt content.
  2. Taste: there is nothing like salt for enhancing the flavor of food. I have never watched a single cooking show that does not at one-point use salt for the preparation of a great meal. But what is most special about salt in food is that it doesn’t rob the food of its original flavor, but enhances it, brings out the best in meat or fish or chicken.
  3. Thirst: ever have salty food and feel the need to drink water. That’s because salt absorbs water, it causes dehydration. Your body reacts to the salts presence by demanding water. In other words, you get thirsty. 
So let me connect the dots: you gentlemen, are the salt of the earth, 227 grains of salt to be exact. You sons of Ignatius, you men of Belen, my brothers, the class of 2016 are the salt of the earth.

And here’s why…

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.

I want to remind each and every one of you that no matter how bad it may seem when you go out there, the beauty of the world is present, God’s grace is present, and it is your responsibility to preserve it. With the thoughts that you think, the words that you speak, and the actions that you take, you are called to keep the world from going bad.

As members of the Belen class of 2016, the future doctors and lawyers and parents and priests of this world, you are capable of enhancing what is great in the world by selflessly giving of yourselves to others. This is how you will provide for mankind the opportunity to taste the goodness of the Lord in an all too often insipid world that tries to bland His presence with attractive, yet tasteless proposals. You gentlemen are the necessary ingredient that can make any business, church community, or family better.

My brothers, I assure you that if you set this example, if you live up to this standard, then you will leave the world thirsting for more. You will leave the world thirsting for a better understanding of what makes you tick, what makes you good, what sets you apart. The world in which you move and live will thirst for the secret that you carry within you that identify you as graduates of Belen Jesuit.
Now, let me be abundantly clear, no one here can plead ignorance. None of you can every say that you were unaware of this calling, none of you can every 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, 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 of 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.