Monday, May 4, 2015

Baccalaureate Address
By: Cathleen Flynn '13

The readings chosen for this special day are rich in wisdom and love, and that this class selected them does not surprise me. It speaks to your compassion and authentic pursuit of global service, Class of 2015. There are many “golden nugget” quotes worth remembering in each of today’s readings. I’m grateful for this opportunity to reflect on a few of the nuggets I carry with me, and I know each of you is now empowered with a liberal arts education that will allow you to make your own meaning out of these texts.

In the passage from Matthew we hear of the depth and breadth of Jesus’ empathy for those experiencing suffering in body, mind, spirit, or relationship. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…” What was the source of this boundless compassion? Perhaps Jesus’ compassion was divine, sourced in the mysterious love of the Creator. Perhaps it was Jesus’ humanness that connected him so intimately with the suffering of the masses. When we take the time to consider our own experiences with suffering, do we more clearly see those among us who are, in this moment, “harassed and helpless”? Perhaps it is by tapping into the shared human experience of suffering that we gain access to our own wellsprings of compassion and love for one another and for ourselves.

Then in Jesus’ compassionate voice we hear – “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” One commentary on this scripture highlights how impossible it would have been for Jesus to do his lifework alone. Just as you needed support and encouragement from friends, classmates, and family throughout your college years, so, too, did the Christ lean on those who journeyed with him. Matthew suggests we need only ask for help and kindred spirits will join us as we harvest what we’ve planted.   

And now, some words from our dear old Mother Theodore. The words we heard, which she wrote to her Sisters working in Jasper, IN, are probably some of the most loved and most firmly embedded within the spirits and psyches of Woods graduates, Sisters of Providence, and others devoted to Mother Theodore. She says – “You may have to wait longer than you would like, you may have to bear privations; but, bear and forbear. Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us. The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly.” Even when we have to wait longer than we like…even when life turns upside down and all possibilities seem to have withered away… “Bear and forbear”, she says. “Grope along slowly.” Providence will not fail, even when all appearances are against it.  

After writing this encouragement to her children of The Woods, Mother Theodore urges them to continue their harvest by going out. “We cannot do our work if we all stay in the nest,” she says. “As soon as the birds can fly they must be on the wing.” Not “as soon as the birds think they are ready” or “as soon as the birds have everything planned”, but “as soon as the birds can fly they must”. What a bold invitation we receive from our foundress, to risk comfort and ego by leaving the nest just as we’re getting the whole flight thing down! It is a call for the courageous and the humble-hearted, and one that Woods graduates have been accepting for 175 years. As you now continue this legacy by extending your wings, I pray you will trust in your intuition, your Woods education, and the unending support of Providence.

To those who are graduating today – it’s now your moment to leave the Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College nest, reflecting on all you’ve gained and contributed to this place that will forever be home. We’ll remember you and we hope you return often to stay connected to your roots. In the words of Mother Theodore, “Love us all at home as we love you…” 

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