June 1/2: “Prepare!” Baccalaureate Mass & Ascension C

“Like the lamp, you must shed light among your fellows, so that when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16.

Welcome to family and friends to this Baccalaureate Mass for our graduating class of 2019.

Most of all, we greet these young women who have prepared for this day and are ready to bring their gifts of knowledge, creativity, and service to a world that genuinely awaits them.

Today I have the privilege of relaying just a few words on this most important day, but if my own experience of college graduations is any help, it’s your graduation day and not mine.

So I’ll be brief, and my one word is “Prepare!”

When I was teaching undergraduates at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, my film course was among the most popular, and I would draw on any number of ideas about “film in motion,” and most especially how dance figures in this art form.

Typically, I would tell students that actors can fake acting and singing, but the one thing they cannot fake is dancing!

So one of my very favorite films is Stephen Daldry’s “Billy Elliott,” with Jamie Bell in the starring role of the young boy who instead of entering the boxing ring, and takes up classical ballet. Of course, this is to the everlasting astonishment of his father, brother, and the inhabitants of an English mining town.

Long before Billy goes off to his artistic destiny in London, there are the rigors of Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class, so wonderfully played by Julie Walters.

Here you witness, the one boy in the corps de ballet of twenty or so young girls.

The “pirouette” scene is a life-lesson. It takes place in the gym, as the dance teacher and class are in practice.

The film viewers also catch a glimpse of Billy in the tiny bathroom of his home, attempting to practice these dance moves, to significant comic effect, as he falls often, and even into the bathtub.


In the gym, Mrs. Wilkinson insists:

“I want you to watch carefully, girls.

First, arabesque, look forward beyond your fingertips.

Spin. Come on, spin. Now focus, look at yourself. Look at the mirror.

Prepare! One and two, strong position! Wait on those legs! And pirouette, and down and up and down.

Focus on that spot! Then, whip yourself around and come back.

Prepare. Have you got the spot? Prepare, Prepare.

Go, Go, Go, Go, Go, Billy!”

After all the spills, Billy’s innocent charm and radiant smile tell us that Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly in him is ready to explode, and he does!

Ever the teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, interrupts Billy’s self-confident gaze with her dialogue, “What have I told you about that arm?” No matter, Billy is there, finally!

Mrs. Wilkinson’s instruction is a life lesson: how to keep an eye fixed on the wall to maintain balance with rotation, and how to complete the pirouette, and return in place, so prepare!

Be aware and attentive for the coming of Christ in your life. Prepare to receive him and walk with him each day ahead!

Parents and grandparents, you have been that fixed point of love these many years. Graduates, more than a spot on the wall, your mom and dad, your granddad or aunt have been there for you — a love that’s helping you to get up, get ready for learning, and practice with balance and poise. That’s a life lesson! One of many turning points in your young lives.

So prepare, return to that starting point for the next dance ahead!

Our teachers, coaches, staff members at Santa Catalina are role models whose life lessons mean more than any specific subject, performance skill, or science experiment. Each celebrates your accomplishments in four years of high school, and for those lucky few who may have been on campus for lower and upper school education.

J.K. Rowling, once remarked that her college-friends were as “precious are rubies.”

Your friendships among your classmates made here at Santa Catalina will sustain you now and in your future. You will call on one another in times of great joy, as well as in those tricky spots in life.

Yours is a precious treasure of rubies and diamonds made in the bonds of friends created for you in your classes with teachers, on the playing fields with competitors, and in the dance or recital halls.

In the Book of Wisdom, we read, “Blessed are those who are friends of God.” In this sense, when we have the comfort of good friends, we have blessings for a lifetime, and knowledge of God’s sincere friendship and love in our lives.

You are the salt and the light according to Saint Matthew, preserve all that is good from this time at Santa Catalina and be led by the light of Christ as you take your next, most promising step.

So prepare!

An Afterward

Yesterday, May 31 marked Walt Whitman’s birth two hundred years ago.  The author of “Leaves of Grass” was born on Long Island, New York, and worked as a journalist and wrote as a reporter for the New York Times. He took his role as a citizen sincerely, having nursed those wounded during the Civil War. Afterward, he made his home in Camden, New Jersey, and died at 73 years of age, having written volumes of prose and poetry. Whitman continues to have a seminal influence on the American imagination.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of our own Santa Catalina graduates today, let us listen to a brief and edited portion of his poem, “There Was A Child Went Forth.”

There Was a Child Went Forth

By Walt Whitman

There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object she look’d upon, the object she became;

and that object became part of her for the day or a

certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,

And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, the song of the phoebe-bird.

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all become part of her.

Her own parents – they gave this child more of themselves than that they gave her afterward every day; they became part of her.

So too, the apple-trees cover’ ed with blossom…

the school teacher that pass’d on her way to the school…

the friendly boys, and the fresh-cheek’ girls, all became part of her.

The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud….

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

June 2: Ascension of the Lord

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-53)

We celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, that “in-between time” of his presence at the Resurrection, and that of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Luke’s gospel ends here, and the very same writer continues to take up the story later in the Acts of the Apostles. In effect, these two books of the New Testament are bookends.

How do we know this?

At the very beginning of Acts, Luke writes, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did…” Theophilus means “lover of God,” and, according to scholars, was a patron who sponsored the distribution of this book. Conjectures about Theophilus’s identity abound, including that of a Roman official, a high priest of the temple, or St. Paul’s lawyer, among so many others.

At the gospel’s conclusion, Luke repeats, “You are witnesses of these things.” Here the word “witness” has the meaning of “martyr.” He adds, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

This feast of the Ascension underscores the realization that the mission is now ours.

In Acts 17, Luke recounts the scene where Paul speaks to a gathering in Athens and tells them that the God who created the world and everything in it does not live in shrines made of human hands; instead, Paul assures his audience with these words, stating, “That he is never far from any of us.”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Please note: In his recent homily at the NCCL Leadership Conference, Father Chris Bazyouros, inspired my reference to the film Billy Elliott, and the theme of “Prepare.” He is the Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

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