Scott Hahn’s Commencement Address

It is so good to be back here at St. Monica Academy, where I was about a year and a half ago. It was a great honor and privilege for me to give a talk to the whole assembly of the students. But I wish to begin by expressing not only my gratitude and excitement, but also my jealousy. Because I wish that I could have gone to a school like St. Monica Academy!

I want to congratulate our eighth-grade graduates and also the senior high twelfth graders. It really is an exciting opportunity, especially here in this beautiful place. The background of the mountains, but foregrounded are your own families. In fact here at St. Monica we celebrate as the matron of this academy a mother whose prayers, whose sacrifices, indeed whose tears brought the grace of conversion to her son. And so, sons and daughters, look to your parents with gratitude. And parents, I wish to also express my congratulations to you.

 

St. Monica Academy Commencement Address

 

I also want to underscore the exquisite timing on the part of Divine Providence in having us here, in Eastertide, just a few days before Pentecost. Because Pentecost is the fulfilment of the Pascal Mystery. As John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him at the Jordan, he said, “I baptize with water for repentance, but he who comes after me will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.” And so at Pentecost, tongues of fire came descending upon Our Lady and the Apostles as they proclaimed the Gospel with Divine Power. And I believe that, right now, that same fire is ready for you, as you embark upon this lifelong journey.

Graduation is always a significant milestone, whether it is from middle school or senior high or perhaps for many of you from college and then perhaps graduate studies or doctoral work. I remember vividly how it was for me when I finally graduated with my Ph.D. and people had to call me “Dr. Hahn.” And my head was swollen, and I was on EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, and Mother Angelica was enduring me as I made sure that the screen had the proper initials: “P H dot D dot” I saw her roll her eyes. And at the commercial break, she said, “Good, Dr. Hahn. But I want to remind you of something. It doesn’t really matter how many letters you have after your name. At the end of it all, the only thing that really matters is whether you have two letters in front of your name: S.T. Because we’re here to become saints, not scholars and doctors.” And I was like, give that woman an honorary doctorate! That is true wisdom.

Here at St. Monica Academy, with classical education you have acquired an appreciation not just for subjects, but for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. And this has opened your mind, but also your heart. And I want to say to the parents and all the other family members that are here, that if this is the face of the future, we have great reason to be hopeful. The future is bright, because these young men and women who are your sons and daughters are our younger brothers and sisters in Christ, endowed with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said in Luke 12, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” This is what St. Catherine of Siena was referring to also when she said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!” Your world, your family, your friendships, where you go off to study, where you go off to work, as you prepare to raise your own family, the fire that the Holy Spirit represents is indeed the fire of Divine Love. A consuming fire, to be sure.

So you could look back at the past and see this as a significant milestone, and at the same time, as we heard from Fr. Philip, it is a commencement, because it is a new beginning. And so this is a milestone that also enables you to look far into the future.

But the thing that I would want to leave you with is this: that 33 years ago in becoming a Catholic, I discovered the truth of conversion. When I was a Protestant and a Presbyterian minister, I thought I knew what it meant to be converted. It’s what happened to me when I was 14 years of age, and I was a juvenile delinquent. And I found the Lord – or rather, He found me. And as far as my parents were concerned, it was not too soon.

My mother, about 5 years ago right before she was called home to heaven, she said to me, “I was watching you on EWTN, and you were so excited!” She said, “I was reminded of what you did back in eighth grade. You set the Bethel Park Cemetery on fire!” I’m like, “You knew it was me?” “Yes, four fire trucks it took!” And then I told her something she didn’t know. That four years later, I sort of accidentally set the high school field on fire. Two trucks were needed to put that out. And she said, “I was watching you and I realized, you are still a pyromaniac! Only you are a spiritual pyromaniac. You want to set the world on fire with the Holy Spirit.”

I want you to share with me in that glorious task. Again, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “If you are who God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire!” Conversion won’t be simply what happened to you in the grace of Baptism, or what happened to me at the age of 14, or what happened 33 years ago when I converted and entered the Catholic Church. Conversion is something for us as Catholics that is ongoing. It’s ever-deepening. It’s lifelong. But it also needs to be daily. And as Our Lord reminded His disciples, the only way to set this world ablaze is to follow Jesus. To take Him at His word. And to hear Him when He says, “If anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross daily.” That’s never going to become easy. It’s never going to be fun. It’s never really going to be something that the world applauds.

So take the education and the formation that you have received and follow Our Lord Jesus Christ. And I want to say to the parents, follow in the example of St. Monica. Continue praying, sacrificing, and at times, mingle your prayers with tears. Because these kids of yours are really God’s. They are followers of Christ. They are missionary disciples. They are the face of the future. And as I said, the future looks very bright from up here.

And so I want to give you this challenge: to open your hearts to say yes to Our Lord, to the grace of an ongoing conversion, that will bring about the fire of the Spirit on Sunday, at the Feast of Pentecost, but will also send you forth with the fire of the Gospel, with the love of God, with gratitude to your parents and, I hope, increasing gratitude and amazement at what you have received here at St. Monica Academy. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen, and thank you.