On Friday, September 9, the Regis High School community gathered at the Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the Missioning of the 23rd President. Below is a reprint of Rev. Daniel K. Lahart, SJ's homily delivered at the Mass.
It is a great honor to be here this morning and to accept the mission as president of Regis High School. Regis is a great school, with a long, proud history, and an exciting future. I don’t deserve it on so many levels. I really don't. Now, I'm not being modest (who ever heard of a modest Jesuit?). This isn’t about modesty, because I think, at least on paper, that I’m relatively well qualified. But qualifications, don’t equate with deserving.
Did you deserve to get into Regis? Any of you? Not that you aren't qualified, but did you deserve it? What do you deserve? How about your summer, brutally brought to an end this week? How was your summer? Was it as good as you deserved?
It is a question that I presume has been asked of you as often as it has been asked of me lately. How was your summer? The answers are like finger prints, each unique. There are stories of family vacations to see grandparents, to see Disney, to see America. There are stories of mission trips to Ecuador or study trips to China, of going to camp, working at camps, of camping with the Boy Scouts. There are answers of "too short," or "too boring," and the rare "too long."
How was your summer? Assuming that people don't want an actual play by play of my summer, which by the way was great, I find myself answering, "Better than I deserve." Often they respond, "No, you deserved a good break," or something along those lines. It had been a busy year finishing up in Houston, I lost both my parents in the fall, and I was ready for a long break at the end. What sort of summer did I deserve? And in the end, was it what I deserved? Not as good as I deserved? Or, indeed, was it better than I deserved?
As we start a new year, we naturally speculate what the year ahead will be like. Whether student, faculty member, or parent, we wonder what this year will have in store for us. Will it be the year you deserve? Or at the end will someone say to you, "you didn't deserve a year like that"? Or will it be a year better than you deserve?
Let’s start with a simple answer to that question.
Nothing. If we believe that all that we have is gift, then we really deserve nothing, and then we can recognize that life and all that flows from it is a gift from God and we don’t by right deserve any of it. I don’t deserve this job, and you didn’t deserve to get into Regis.
This morning's scriptures are filled with images of God's gifts to us. In the first reading from Joel we have the Lord pouring out his spirit on all of humankind. The gift of God’s Spirit. In Romans we see that Spirit helping us in our weakness and making intercession for us. And in Matthew's Gospel, we have Jesus himself giving his disciples peace, and then giving them his Holy Spirit. All gifts. None deserved.
As we together start this new year, I invite us all to recognize God’s gifts to us and respond first with gratitude and second with generosity. While some other time we can and should nuance the question of what we deserve by considering rights and responsibilities, let's begin now with the often neglected fact that all is gift.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the man who founded the Jesuits in 1540, begins his Spiritual Exercises by asking the person making retreat to reflect on the gifts in his or her life. Gifts of family and friends, of experiences and education, even life and love. During the course of the 30 days of silence, one prays over God's other gifts in our lives, and the gift of Jesus and his life, his words and examples, and eventually the gift of his death, a sacrifice beyond all others. All gifts. Beyond what we deserve.
What are the gifts in your own life? In addition to sleeping in a comfortable bed last night, and either a nice breakfast at home or hitting a food truck on the way from the subway this morning (maybe both), you’re well dressed, on your way to becoming well educated, on average healthier than others your own age from other continents. You have opportunities unknown to most of the world. Do you deserve these gifts?
Now, it's not about guilt, guilt for growing up in relative affluence. It's about gratitude. Gratitude for everything we have, both the blessings and even the difficulties. Feeling guilty about what we have doesn't work in the end. Guilt can lead us to suppress gratitude, and that can lead us to the opposite – a sense of entitlement.
The gifts you have each received are as unique as your summer vacation stories. And when we recognize them as gifts with genuine gratitude, we don't compare our gifts to the gifts of others. Gratitude overcomes jealousy (a friend with a bigger house, more extravagant vacation, a shorter commute), it also overcomes entitlement (I deserve this because… well, because I'm me).
Ignatius believed that if we develop a real sense of gratitude, the natural outcome is generosity. We all know his prayer for generosity.
There's that line: "Teach me to serve you as you deserve." Ah, what does God deserve from us? For now, let's start with gratitude and generosity.
I challenge you to become aware of your gifts. Be aware of the gifts of your families, your friends, your education, your faith. The gifts of the Holy Spirit. Become aware of these gifts and become truly grateful for them. Do you deserve these gifts? No, not really. They are gifts freely given.
It is out of true gratitude that true generosity is grounded.
Grateful for your family, be generous to your family.
Grateful for your friends, be a good and generous friend.
Grateful for your education, generously serve your school.
Grateful for your intellect, your athletic prowess, use those talents generously in the service of others.
How was your summer? Like mine, probably better than you deserved. And how about our many gifts? More than we deserve.
I am honored to serve as the president of Regis High School. I don’t deserve it, but I am grateful for it, and I'll work, I hope, with my own sense of generosity, in response.
As we celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit at the start of this new year, we realize that the Holy Spirit is God's gift of himself to us. A gift of guidance, strength, and peace. May we receive in gratitude and respond in generosity.
Blessed with the Holy Spirit, we ask, "What sort of year will this be?" As you deserve? Better than you deserve? This year will be better than any of us deserve. And for this we’re grateful. And how do we respond? Generously! We remember that to whom much is given, much is expected.
September 9, 2016 | Mass of the Holy Spirit | Regis High School