The Honorable Henry Hyde, in a speech to the National Right to Life Committee, reminded the Committee of something I hope you will never forget. He said that we are not “playing to the gallery, but to the angels, and to Him who made the angels.”
Ponder that for a moment.
If there is one insidious idea that we have worked to inoculate you against during your time with us, it is this tendency, all too prevalent, to play to the gallery. Its lure and seduction are understandable enough: one likes to hear the cheers and affirmation; the benefits from networking opportunities are exciting, and the potential promotions and awards are palpable.
Besides, angels are all too often quiet, and when they do speak, they frequently remind us of uncomfortable truths about how we might have to relocate here, or undertake some inconvenient calling there. They rarely guarantee applause or success.
You will find in the gallery many of those counted among the NONES, that is the growing number of young people in your age demographic, who do not identify themselves with any religious affiliation. You will share dorms with them, play on sports teams with them, and you will share meals and classrooms with them. You may be even taught by them.
Your pastors and parents who have invested so much hope in your future may see this as cause for anxiety. But we have reason to trust.
The first thing to remember is that what many of the NONES are rejecting is not the understanding of Christianity you have come to know; what they are rejecting is not Christianity at all, and the reason they are rejecting it is not because they have found it false; what they have come upon is inadequate, desiccated, and weak. On this matter our friend Chesterton weighs in:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
All this is sad, of course, but in another sense, it is hopeful, if for no other reason than that nature abhors a vacuum. In the face of such an ineffective and timid profession, you have a way to live out an effective and confident witness within the contexts to which you will be called. You have been equipped with the capacity to propose and to live thereal thing in the coming years, and in doing this, you will help our world to come to its senses.
I have been intrigued by a simple passage from the document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, which clarifies what it is we are really doing. It tells us that “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself …” (22:1). Our task, then, is to simply help people better comprehend their own authenticity. It is to help them to answer that primordial and ubiquitous yearning found in every human heart, which is the admonition inscribed above the portico of the Oracle at Delphi: “Know Thyself.”
This task, this mission, will take humility, but if you understand that this humility is simply the love of truth above all else, you will also have the strength to be confident. You will not be seduced by the gallery. You will not be foolhardy or frivolous, but neither will you be risk-averse. Hold on to the idealism you now feel. As St. John Paul the Great used to encourage, “Never settle for mediocrity.”
Adapted from Sacred Heart Academy Commencement Address, June 13, 2021