Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Moments We Remember

“The Moments We Remember”
Graduation Homily by
Father Manny Alvarez
St. Gregory Catholic Church & School
May 24, 2012

I’ll never forget the first day of school with all of you back in August.  I have to admit that I was missing my last school because the faces were familiar and I actually knew the names of all the incoming 8th graders.  But because I trust in God’s loving design, I knew that these new faces that were politely saying hello to their new priest were faces that I too would grow to love because as Jesus says in today’s gospel you were God’s gift to this new priest. So on that first day of school, as has been my custom for the last 10 years, I went to have lunch with you even though I didn’t know any of you.  Many of you may disagree with me, but I am a genuinely shy person.   I took my tray and I must confess I felt like the new kid in school that didn’t have anybody to sit with.  Immediately, I noticed that the girls were sitting at the tables very well mannered and proper as is expected of young ladies at St. Gregory’s.  And then I looked over to the boys’ side and…no comment.  I randomly selected the first of the girls’ tables primarily because it was closest to the doors and I was hungry.  I immediately made a joke about one of their lunch bags to break the ice.  Since they were laughing at my lame joke, I sat down with these young ladies much to their astonishment.  In time I would migrate from table to table making friends, learning names (slowly), getting asked repeatedly “what’s my name?” during my first two months, and gradually starting to realize what a gift each of you are to this school.  Every day you brought joy to these hallways with your smiles, your crazy faces, your melodrama, your infectious laughs, and the love that you have for each other.

There are two distinct memories that I will remember about this Class of 2012.  One of them happened two weeks ago at your banquet.  When the last song was going to be played, all of you were undecided as to what it should be.  I gambled and asked the D.J. to play “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey.  You guys starting singing with one loud voice, hugging each other in a circle and jumping up and down even though that song came out before some of your parents were even in high school.  And there I was in the middle of that chaos, the priest version of Peter Pan who refuses to grow up because I firmly believe in the saying I shared with your teachers a week before you started school:  “in the heart of a child is the kingdom of God.”  That is why all of us, both parents and children, must never lose our child-like exuberance because Christ himself told us that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of God.  So we all jumped around, danced, and sang like if we were little kids, and how fitting since this is where you lived out your childhood.  This is where you grew up.  This is where you learned your ABCs.  And this is where you met a man named Jesus.

The second memory I will always hold close to my heart is our shared experience of Spirit Day before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  All of you were very much aware that you were in the presence of the Divine.  You cried like little children because isn’t that what we all are in the eyes of God?  That night you were one with Jesus and with each other just as the Lord prays in the gospel.  You were so very close to Him.  You embraced Him as your friend.  As you transition to the challenges of high school, stay close to Him.  Stay friends with him.  We toss around the phrase “friends forever” very casually and it may not always be the case, but stay close to this Friend you met called Jesus for he will never leave your side.  He becomes a gift for you in this Eucharist and in turn he showers us with abundant gifts and blessings.

A year ago, I didn’t know any of you.  And now I can’t think of what this priest’s life would be like without any of you.  Like Jesus, I thank the Father for the gift he gave us in each and every one of you.  As your time in this school comes to an end, remember that you are a gift to your parents, to your teachers, to this parish, and to this priest whose heart you won over.   I always pray that this prayer of Jesus in today’s gospel be my prayer for it is the prayer of Jesus our High Priest.  And my prayer for you is that you stay close to him for you will face tough choices ahead, but with Him at your side you will make the right choices.  Now we must let you go so that you can share your joy with the world, but never forget that true joy, lasting joy can only be found here in this sacred space where each of you first met our Lord.  I love each and every one of you.  I will never forget you.  I will always be right here behind the altar ready to give you the one necessary thing:  the love and presence of Jesus.  Remember the good times that you shared here at St. Gregory’s and remember this friend you met here called Jesus.  May God bless you all as you begin your next great adventure knowing that Christ will always be at your side.