After having worked on this Masters degree since mid-2011, I was particularly glad to have been asked to offer some parting words on behalf of the graduates. The graduation really was a joyous occasion, and the ceremony was the most meaningful that I have to date experienced (I had my degree conferred upon me by a Bishop, in the name of the Triune God, which is pretty darn special). The joy of the occasion was met also with a tinge of sadness, not only in the fact that I will no longer be a student at the Institute that has taught me so much, but also, in the knowledge that the Institute will soon be closed.
Below are the words I was invited to speak as valedictorian at the reception after the ceremony.
It is a great honour to be asked to say some brief words on behalf of the graduating class of 2017. This is the penultimate (or perhaps third to last) graduation ceremony before the Institute is closed. There is a great sadness surrounding the events which have seen the decision made to close this fine institution.
While this is, in fact, my third University graduation ceremony, I can honestly say that it is the one that has to date meant the most to me. To measure an institution such as this solely on the basis of the sheer number of graduates seems to be folly. The closure of this institute is a tremendous blow to the Church, and to our efforts to evangelise in Australia in the twenty-first century.
Those of us who can now proudly call ourselves graduates know of the great privilege it has been to have been able to study here in this centre of academic excellence, founded by one of the Greatest Saints of the twentieth century. The formation that we have received in and through our studies is now the source of responsibility that we all now bear, to ensure that what we have learned is able to be lived out and effectively communicated to others. Those to whom much is given, much is expected, (Lk 12:48).
Reflecting on my time here under the tutelage of some very fine scholars and excellent teachers, I am reminded of a wonderful essay by Hans Urs von Balthasar entitled, ‘Theology and Sanctity.’ If there is one thing that I have learned here, it is that the life of the mind must be dynamically integrated with the life of the soul. I feel this has been witnessed in the lives of our teachers here, perhaps more than it has been explicitly taught. What we have sought after in our studies here has been more than mere cognitive intimacy with ‘the LORD’. The studies which we have been so blessed to undertake at the Institute have provided us with much more than an intellectual understanding of the Church’s rich Tradition, they have taught us that theological thinking cannot be separated from a life of prayer and self-gift. I have witnessed this in my teachers, in the staff, and in the students of the Institute. I’d like to specifically mention here the late, and much loved Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, who many of us were privileged to study under, or work alongside. His is an ongoing example of an integrated life of prayer, a wholehearted striving for sanctity, and an incredible academic rigor that I believe to be idiosyncratic of the staff and faculty here.
My studies here have been perhaps different to many others, travelling intermittently as I have from Perth to Melbourne each time there has been an intensive unit of study offered. As a result, there are many who are active members of the student body whom I unfortunately do not know all that well. What I have found though, is that having been a student at the Institute makes one a member of what seems to be a vibrant community of faith and of learning.
This is something that I have experienced, not only in my home town of Perth where there are a number of alumni and people that I would call ‘friends’ of the Institute, but wherever I am fortunate enough to meet a fellow student or graduate of the Institute. Students, graduates, and friends of the institute in my experience, seem to share, amongst other things, a profound understanding of the implications of the universal call to holiness. Taking solace in the words of St John Paul II, this call to holiness is seen, not as a burden or something which one should be afraid of, but is instead seen as the ultimate adventure. Their lives are marked by an ongoing encounter with an event, a person, which gives their lives a new horizon and decisive direction, (DCE, 1).
I am sure that I can speak for everyone who is graduating here, when I say that the achievements which are symbolised by this graduation ceremony are not merely the achievements of us as individuals, but of the families and of the communities to which we belong. We have learned here that no man is an island, that we are constitutively related to one another – but in the process of this learning we have experienced this fundamental relationality in deep and profound ways. To my family, my beautiful wife Elizabeth, our little Anastasia, my parents Ray and Lori, who have made the journey with us to be here for this occasion, I thank you for all your love and support over the years.