Wednesday, November 12, 2014 by
The Very Rev. Fr. Peter D. Clarke, OStJ, JP
Rector, Black River Cure and Rural Dean of St. Elizabeth
THEME: SEIZE THE MOMENT
GOSPEL READING: MARK 4: 29-34
It is certainly a pleasure and a privilege to be here again on this beautiful campus. I feel a sense of pride and hope for our nation as I stand here and realize that soon some of you will be in classrooms helping our children to be the best that they can be. What a noble profession teaching is! I know, because I have been married to a teacher for close to fifty years and I know the difference that she has made in the lives of her students.
In the Gospel story which was read earlier, we heard the story of a woman who had been sick for many years. She had spent all of her money going to doctors. She was disappointed and frustrated. She was tempted to give up. It had seemed that no one could help her. She had heard what Jesus had been doing for other people who were sick. She was determined to seek his help. She encouraged herself in faith as she came close enough to Jesus to touch the hem of his garment. She had to overcome many obstacles to get to Jesus but she seized the moment and immediately she got what she had been hoping for: she was cured, her life was changed.
Attending college is one of those events in your young lives that demand that you seize the moment, that you use every opportunity to get what you hope for and that in spite of the obstacles, you will succeed.
I am sure that you have been told that this experience will “change your life,” and this is probably at least half true but you cannot be foolish and think that while you are here that you can take a vacation from church or from your moral upbringing.
You must, at all times, be uncompromisingly moral. Life on college campuses can sometimes lead you in the direction of excess. Good kids from good families often end up using their four years at college to get drunk and throw up on one another. Too often they do so while they are on their way to buy condoms.
In a recent unpublished study which was done at one of our local tertiary institutions, students were asked about their use of marijuana. 50% of those interviewed, admitted to daily use to relieve stress, they claim. Of course that does not happen on this college campus but we know that it does happen elsewhere.
What a waste! Not only because such behavior is self-destructive but also because living this way will prevent you from doing the intellectual work that college demands of you. We, the church, need you to do well. That may sound strange, because many who represent Christian values may seem concerned primarily with how you conduct yourself while you are in college and relegate the Christian part of being in college to what is done outside the classroom.
To be a student is a calling. Your parents have set up accounts to help to pay the bills, or you may be scraping together your own resources and taking out student loans or applying for scholarship to make college possible. Whatever the source, the end result is the same. You are privileged to be here for four years during which time your main job is to attend class, listen to your lecturers, do your course work, follow the code of conduct set out by the college, read books and do well on your exams.
This is an extraordinary gift to you. In a nation of injustice and violence, people still think that it is a privilege to attend college. We need you to take seriously the calling that is yours by virtue of going to college.
You may be thinking, “What is he talking about? I am not called to be a student. None of my friends thinks he or she is called to be a student. We are in college because we are preparing to become teachers. We are attending college so we can get a job and have a better life than we would have if we did not go to college. It is not a calling.”
But you are a Christian and this means you cannot attend college just to get a better job. These days, people talk about college as an investment because they think of education as a bank account: You deposit the knowledge and expertise you have earned, and when it comes time to get a job, you make a withdrawal, putting all that stuff on a résumé and making money off the investment of your four years. We all need jobs but the years you spend as a student are like everything else in your life. They are not yours to do with as you please. They are the Lord’s.
Do not underestimate how much the Church needs your mind. The Church has been explaining and interpreting ever since it began. It takes an educated mind to do the Church’s work of thinking about and interpreting the world in light of Christ. Physics, sociology, Theories of Learning, Art, Music: all these and more—in fact, everything you study in college—is covered by the light of Christ.
It takes the eyes of faith to see that light, and it takes an educated mind to understand and articulate it so seize the moment, use the opportunity that you have been given to study in a Christian environment.
So, yes, to be a student is to be called to serve the Church and the society. But always remember who serves what. Colleges focus on learning; as they do so, they can sometimes create the illusion that being smart and well educated is the be-all and end-all of life. You do not need to be educated to be a Christian. That is obvious. After all, Christ is most visible to the world in the person who responds to his call of “Come, follow me.”
Your Christian calling as a student does not require you to become a priest. Speaking as one who is a priest, I certainly hope that you will be attracted to the work of the priesthood. But there is a wider sense of being a priest or a minister, one that simply means that you think about what you are learning in light of Christ.
You cannot do this on your own. You will need friends who are good at science, math, psychology, philosophy, literature, and every other discipline. These friends can be teachers and fellow students, of course, but, for the most part, your intellectual friendships are channeled through books.
Books are often the way in which your friendships with your fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. Read, because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. My wife is always complaining about how much her student-teachers dislike reading. As teachers, you need to be intellectual curious and books will help to develop that curiosity.
You are not likely to become buddies with your teachers. But you can become intellectual friends, and this will most likely happen if you have read some of the same books which they have read. Books are touchstones, common points of reference. They are the water in which our minds swim.
Fulfilling your calling as a student will not be easy. It is not easy for anyone who is serious about the intellectual life but you owe it to yourself, your families and to the Church not to let the incoherence, laziness, and self-critical excesses of the contemporary college life demoralize you or distract you. Remember why you are here. Seize the moment. You will not have another four years to do it all over again.
Your calling is to be a Christian student. The Christian part and the student part are inseparable. It will be hard and frustrating because you might not see how the two go together. Nobody does, at least not in the sense of having worked it all out.
But you need to remember what Jesus said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” However uncertain we are about how, we know that being a Christian goes with being a good student (and a teacher).
You are young. You need the regular discipline of worship, Bible reading, and Christian fellowship. Do not neglect them while you are college. Do not underestimate the moral temptations of the college scene. We cannot help but be influenced by the behavior of our friends, so choose wisely. Being popular may not be that important right now.
To worship God and live faithfully are necessary conditions if you are to survive in college. But as a Christian you are called to do more than survive. You are called to use the opportunity you have been given to learn to construe the world as a creature of a God who wants us to enjoy the love that has brought us into existence. God has given your mind to do good work. As members of the Church, we are counting on you. It will not be easy. It never has been. But I can testify that in the end, it can also be a source of joy.
What a wonderful adventure you have before you. Seize the moment.
I wish you well and may God bless you all.