Oberstar, Brenberg give speeches at commencement; Cardinal Dulles gives homily

If you couldn’t attend the commencement Mass, May 17, or the commencement exercises May 18, here’s a chance to read the homily and speeches that were given. You may also view photos of graduation.

Cardinal Avery Dulles gave the homily at the commencement Mass in the Cathedral of St. Paul Friday evening.  He also delivered the invocation and received an honorary degree at undergraduate ceremonies on Saturday afternoon, May 18.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D. Minn., gave the commencement address at both the graduate and undergraduate ceremonies and received an honorary degree during the graduate exercises.

Christ’s commission to Peter is set forth in different forms in different Gospels.  Matthew is the most explicit on Peter as the rock on which Christ builds his church.  Luke gives us the assurance that Christ prayed that Peter would not fail in faith but would strengthen his colleagues.  And John in the present passage sets forth the nature of Peter’s pastoral office and the indispensable requirements for its exercise.  He is commissioned to feed the whole flock of Christ with the solid nourishment of word and sacrament.  In order to do so, Peter must be motivated by love for Jesus the supreme shepherd.  And he must be ready to follow Jesus even to death on the cross, and he was to do some 35 years later in Rome.

This parting commission to Peter is a kind of graduation.  Until now Peter, like the other members of the 12, has been a disciple, a pupil, learning from the words and example of the master and being corrected when he errs.  Jesus has been the good shepherd, and Peter one of the sheep.  But now the time has come for Peter to take full responsibility for his own actions, and to do for others what Jesus has done for him.  To "tend the flock of God" is an awesome responsibility, especially for a man as unstable and impulsive as Peter was by temperament.

Tomorrow many of you will be passing from a stage of discipleship to one of mastery.  The degrees you receive on various levels will mark an advancement to a kind of academic adulthood.  You will become responsible agents in society, no longer under the supervision of pedagogues. 

The three lessons that Jesus gave to Peter can guide you in this transition.

First, Jesus appointed Peter to be a pastor, charged with guarding and feeding the flock of Christ.  Most of you will not be pastors in the church but some of you will be teachers and most of you will, as citizens and parents, have some degree of authority over others.  Consider what kind of influence you will radiate.  Will you pass on worthless pabulum that does not nourish or the rich and pure food of abiding truth?  Your teachers, according to their abilities, have tried to form you in the truth that leads to life.  You will have to take responsibility for your share in the maintenance and transmission of life and truth.  Just as Jesus sent the Spirit to guide the apostles interiorly, so your university counts on you to be faithful to its spirit and to exemplify its values in the choices you make.

Second, establish order in your loves.  Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him more than others.  If Peter was to be a shepherd, love for Jesus would have to be the controlling element in his life.  Love is a wonderful and blessed thing, but if it is turned toward the wrong objects it can wreak havoc.  Disordered love is the source of untold pain and conflict in the world.  Love, therefore, must accept discipline.  A well-ordered love goes out to God above all else, and to one’s neighbor as much as to oneself.  Love for Jesus involves obedience to his commands.  If you love me, he says, you will act as I have told you.

As I am sure you have already experienced, there are competing loves that can draw you away from the love that should rule your lives.  Your love for God, nourished by prayer and worship, must be stronger than death.  No university can impart that love, but I am sure that yours has sought to instill in you a passion for truth and thereby dispose you to love Him who alone could say, "I am the truth."  Be true to that love.

Third, Jesus admonishes Peter: Follow me.  In other words, even though I am gone, you must still be my disciple.  You must follow my example and govern your life according to the teaching I have given you.  Until the day he died, Peter’s life would be indelibly marked by the three years of his companionship with Jesus.

The Lord’s words to Peter have special pertinence to you these days.  The Latin words "alumnus" and "alumna" mean pupil or disciple, one who has been nourished as by a parent.  In being called alumni and alumnae, you are being reminded of your abiding relationship to your alma mater.  The relationship must be permanent because your formation here has placed an indelible mark upon your minds.  No other education will or can replace the one you have already received.  You will continue to rest upon it as much as a house rests on its foundations.

Just as Peter was deprived of the external supervision of Jesus, so you, upon graduation, will become independent.  Your degree means that your university puts a vote of confidence in you to be faithful on your own.  Do not forget or set aside the learning and truth that have been entrusted to you.  You are to be guardians and heralds of that truth.  Truth, while it can be enriched, can never perish.  It cannot be contradicted except by error.  Hold fast, therefore, to what you have learned.  Let it be your guide through life.

Note also the path along which Peter is personally called to follow Jesus.  By telling him
that he will be carried where he does not wish to go, that he will have to stretch out his hands and be girded by another, Jesus means, according to the evangelist, that Peter is to be crucified.  Jesus is preparing him for martyrdom.  Few if any of you will be called to that extreme, but there will surely be a share of the cross in your lives.  If you stay close to Christ, you will meet opposition.  Accept it as a way of showing your love for your divine Master, who has suffered so much for the redemption of each and every one of us.  Only those who are willing to suffer with Jesus are fit to enter into the glory of his kingdom.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, commencement speaker

You came to the University of St. Thomas from many different communities-rural, suburban, urban; from many countries; from different faiths. You came in a common quest: education — advanced education — education informed by a value system founded in faith.

As you complete this journey and begin another, I’d like to reflect with you on what this value-informed educational experience may mean for you in the future. The knowledge you’ve absorbed, the grades you’ve earned, the honors you may have won, the degree conferred today are yardsticks of your intellectual growth.

What about your values? How has education at a Catholic institution of higher learning changed you? More pointedly, as you pursue your career, will colleagues and associates notice that you are a professional who is grounded in and informed by faith.

Will you make a difference in the workplace … or will you check your values in the closet with your cap and gown?

From my own experience, I can tell you that time and again, you will be transported to the mountaintop, shown the splendors and riches of the world — or your slice of it — and will have to choose. Will you be able to discern: is this just the start? Does the slow erosion begin here? Where does it end?

When you arrive at your workplace, do not expect the Holy Spirit to meet you at the door pointing the way toward right choices over wrong.  We often find it difficult to take Sunday into the weekday unassisted; to distinguish the relationship between our human purpose and God’s purpose; to make a relationship between the Scriptures we read, and the life we lead, and the work we perform.

Let me express it in the words of one who was transported to the mountaintop:

“No one forced me or the others to break the law.  Instead … we ignored our better judgment out of a combination of ambition, loyalty, and partisan passion.

“If we consider how many people broke the law in the Watergate affair, men who were usually model citizens in their private lives, we must ask if our failures do not somehow reflect larger failures in the values of our society.

“I, and many members of my generation, placed far too much emphasis on our personal ambition, on achieving success as measured in materialistic terms, and far too little emphasis on moral and humanistic values.

“We had private morality, but not a sense of public morality.” Jeb Magruder, a Watergate “plumber,” in his book, An American Life.

There are few arenas as pressure-filled and laden with temptation as the highest reaches of the Washington scene, but whatever your chosen arena, you, too, will eventually be confronted with the beckoning finger of ambition, the call to beat the competition at all costs; success, serenaded by a Nuremberg-style amorality.

To maintain a proper perspective, it would be well to start each day with a question: “How will my faith influence my decision-making today?” — and, similarly, end the day asking: “How did my faith influence my decision-making?” Did I make the right decision under great pressure, in a threatening environment, irrespective of the group’s approval or disapproval?

I pray that St. Thomas has shaped you to make decisions based on what you believe in; that you appreciate the importance of vigilance against letting your faith-life drift into a kind of insurance policy state, something that’s there in case your own effort fails.  There is an ancient Chippewa Indian saying: “Pray to the Great Spirit, but paddle away from the rocks.”

Consider also that, with education comes responsibility: what you have received through your academic experience, you should return to society through some measure of public service. Thomas Jefferson said: “Sir, I prefer to be known for what I have done for others than for what others have done for me.” The University of St. Thomas community service programs have invited you to reinvest in society.  I hope you have taken advantage of that opportunity to serve others, and that you will make service to others a consistent practice in your life.

As you pursue your career, with the obvious urgency of earning at least enough to pay off your student loans, keep in mind the Catholic bishops’ pastoral message, Economic Justice for All: “The Christian ethic is incompatible with a primary, or exclusionary, focus on maximization of profit.  That so many people are poor in a nation as rich as ours is a social and moral scandal that we cannot ignore.”  Keep always in mind the obligation of a preferential option for the poor, as we are admonished to do by the prophets of the Old Testament, and Christ in the New Testament.

Cardinal Newman said that is the proper task of the university to nourish a ̶
0;clash of mind with mind.” If you have “clashed” well within these walls, you will be prepared for critique and challenge in the larger arena of public discourse.

Newman also counseled us to “discern the end in every beginning and the origin in every end.”

In more contemporary words, Adlai Stevenson told a college graduating class: “As you leave remember why you came."

Go forth in peace and fidelity.

Brian Brenberg, Tommy Award winner:

Half a century ago, six marines stood at the foot of a mountain.  Transplanted to a tiny island in the South Pacific, these young men were but a fraction of the thousands dutifully answering their country’s call to serve the cause of freedom in World War II.  Many came from the finest military academies the world has known.  Far more hailed from family farms, mills, docks, and rail yards; the backbone of the finest country the world has ever known.  Some were trained to save lives, others to end lives.  Some were trained to operate the machinery of battle, others to direct its use. Great was the diversity of their intellect, abilities and backgrounds.  Even greater was their concerted effort.  Amidst the impossible onslaught of a fierce and determined enemy, these soldiers captured a beach, scaled a mountain, and finally conquered an island that would prove pivotal in the South Pacific campaign. 

The trek up Mount Suribachi by those six marines some 50 years ago was a small tactical, but hugely symbolic victory that would forever remain etched in the minds of our countrymen.  Every one of us here today has seen the photograph of those six marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima.  We have marveled at the courageous determination exerted in hoisting that flag.  We have come to understand how that moment frozen in time was preceded by three days of equally courageous and determined fighting, and in many ways overshadows the 30 following days it took to claim victory.

Half a century later, most young Americans find themselves in a markedly different situation. At 22, my days are spent in a lecture hall debating and dissecting business ethics, political theory and religious doctrine.  My WWII counterpart, on the other hand, was learning first-hand about the brutal business of war brought on by the perverse politics of fascism. And I can only imagine the practical meaning religion takes on as one burrows into a trench under the cover of night, silently awaiting the peril of daybreak.

I ask myself, “How is it that one generation can be expected to sacrifice so much — their childhood, their education, their careers, their families, their lives?”  I want to know the fear of sitting on a transport as it approaches what is certain to be my final destination.  I want to feel the sting of the salty water in my wounds and the weight of my exhausted muscles clawing their way across rocky, bullet-riddled soil. I want to know the anguish of sleepless nights waiting in anticipation of the fighting sure to erupt at daybreak.  I want to know these burdens because they did.  I want to justify my being here, in their presence, in this world forged with their blood.

But I do not want war, and I do not want to feel the fear, the pain, and the anguish they felt. They took up these burdens hoping that you and I would not have to.  I think many of us today, in some way or another, have dealt with these conflicting emotions.  Our bestsellers and academy award winners have tried to satiate our hunger to become a part of the reality our parents and grandparents knew.  We say, “Give it to me straight, all three hours, all 500 pages, all the special effects you can muster to make this scene, this feeling as real as possible.”  And we put in the time, read the books, watch the movies, visit the memorials.  But when we put the book back on the bookshelf or press the eject button, we know that it is, and ever will be, their heartache, their triumph, their reality.

What, then, is our reality?  Or put another way, as we look at ourselves in relation to the landscape of this world, where are we standing at this very moment?  Looking back, it must have been clear to those six marines standing at the foot of Mount Suribachi.   They were in a foreign land, isolated from the comfort and familiarity of their home, their culture, their day-to-day life.  They faced a declared, uniformed enemy prepared to inflict immediate physical harm.  And as they gazed upon that towering mass of rock, there was no mistaking where the road to victory lay.

I don’t think our roles are as clearly laid out as theirs were.  Like them, we’ve witnessed a horrific attack on our people, our soil and our livelihood.  However, the majority of us will not be asked to take up arms, and we may never encounter those who perpetrate such destruction.  Chances are they will remain for most of us an anonymous, distant threat buried below the radar screen of work, children and marriage.   But are those terrorists any less a part of our reality because they are hidden?  Is our duty to defend freedom diminished because we are not on the front line?   I think not.

Four years ago our parents packed us up and dropped us off at an unfamiliar place, sort of like those marines hopping off that transport into the Pacific waters.  We looked at the road ahead, and were met with the sight of what seemed insurmountable obstacles.  Not cement pillboxes or artillery shells, mind you, but philosophy, theology, the ups and downs of living with someone who sees the world through a different set of lenses, expectations for a major,
for grades, for a career, and the responsibility of work and grown-up relationships, having a good time and having too much of a good time.  Somehow we made it through those obstacles to reach this point, probably a little wiser, a little more mature.  And we ought to take pride in our accomplishment. 

But our journey does not end here.  In fact, these last four years have shed only the first rays of light on the individual paths we will take over the course of our lives.  Some of us will travel the road of education we’ve begun in the Twin Cities, others the road of science paved at Owens Hall.  Those of us who ride our bikes across Summit Avenue may one day find ourselves riding the bulls and bears of a more famous street.  Each additional step, every new role we assume in life affords us an ever-greater opportunity to shape the fabric of our society.

Herein lies our duty.  Herein lies the task for our generation, a generation whose heroism will not be defined on a foreign battlefield, but whose indelible mark will be etched on the social and moral fabric of our own country, the vitality of which our world looks to for guidance and leadership in times such as these.   In college we are supplied with the needle of theory and knowledge, and in our educational and career and social pursuits we acquire the thread of experience.  In bright, bold letters we must stitch the emblems of capitalism and democracy using the thread of equal representation, speech, assembly, religion and property.  In our careers we must understand that the effectiveness of one needle stroke depends upon another; our businesses and our religious institutions have evidenced how ethical shortcuts can ultimately cause the entire garment to unravel.  At home we must recognize that strong families are not patchwork in a quilt of social programs, but in fact strong families are the yarn of which all social progress is made.

Those who seek to destroy our people and our livelihood do so out of a hatred for this intricate weave of rights, freedoms, and understandings they have never known, or have long since destroyed in their own society.  I am convinced that our unique and varied learning experiences at St. Thomas supply us for the task of reaching these people.  The question is, “When the world looks at the fabric of our society, what will they see?”  Will they encounter the fabric of a nation unwavering in its defense of the truths upon which it was established?   I believe we must strive for this.  Will we overcome the hatred and violence of terror by holding fast to this banner of freedom and individual liberty?  I believe it is the only way.

This is not the book or movie of an old and great generation.  We cannot skip to the ending nor turn down the volume.  This is us, literally, standing at the foot of a mountain, brought here by a determined effort over the past several years.  As we say our farewells and pose for the camera this event will become just one moment frozen in time, as it was for the marines atop Suribachi.   They went on to fulfill their duty, and so will we, because in our hands we hold their flag: the flag of our fathers, our mothers, our grandparents and all who came before them.  Its fabric the sacrifice of past generations, the hope of future generations.  We cling to it now, raise it before us and brace for the climb.  It is our reality.  It is our duty.  Thank you, and God bless.