I was leading a Parish retreat a few years back in Clondalkin, West Dublin and the retreat began with us considering a question – the question was this: why do grandchildren love spending time with their grandparents? The parents in the congregation said things like – because they give them too many sweets – they let them do what they like – they let the stay up late. All fair points, I suppose. Then one person, a grandparent – a great grandparent in fact – hit on what I was hoping to hear: grandchildren love spending time with their grandparents because grandparents are great storytellers.
The stories that grandparents tell to their grandchildren transport them to another time and place. They let their grandchildren look at them with strange looks as Granny tells how she used to love doing this or that when she was younger or how granddad once wanted to be an astronaut or a rugby player or a deep sea diver, or whatever it might be.
Recently a grandfather figure to many died – Senator Fergeal Quinn. I found it quite touching that at his funeral Mass when his now grow up granddaughter stood up to reflect on his life she didn’t tell of his success in founding and running SuperQuinn, or his career as a senator but rather of how when she and her brother used to visit their granddad at home in his house, he used to be able to transport them to this magical place with the stories he told. How the garden, that was once ordinary, suddenly became a wonderland filled with hidden treasures that only he knew about because he has a direct line to the sweet fairy! Grandchildren love these stories and keep them safe in a sacred place inside. The stories we tell are important and hold deep meaning and value.
As we gather here tonight we are writing the next few lines in a very important story – the story of our lives and the life of the school. This is a story that will continue to be written long after this evening’s celebrations are over. We come together this evening as a family of families to look back with gratitude while looking forward with hope. We come to celebrate those who will graduate this evening but also to acknowledge and say thank you to all those who have been part of that story.
Pope Francis recently released a document addressed to young people called – Christ is Alive. In it the Pope encourages young people to listen deeply to the stories passed on to them – the stories of culture, family, society and faith. He calls on young people to take time to engage with the stories told to them by the elders of their communities – those stories that connect the present and future with what has gone before us. Pope Francis reflects on the fact that if we listen to, savour, assimilate and integrate these stories they will help us put down deep and strong roots – the kind of roots that will keep us anchored as we go through life – they will be a solid platform from which young people can assess their future and the future of the planet while drawing on the deep wisdom they have come from and are part of.
The gospel story that we have just heard – The Annunciation - is really an extraordinary one. In it we are spectators at one of the most surreal experiences we could imagine – an encounter with an Angel – not alone and angel, but in fact an Archangel! As well as encountering a messenger of God, Mary – a young and frightened girl – had to try to comprehend the message the angel was bringing to her. Her response will change the course of history forever – the world and humanity would never be the same again because of the courage of a teenage girl to take not only a leap of faith but a leap into faith. Mary’s Yes brought Jesus Christ to us – and so a new story began to unfold. This new story brought to us God in the person of Jesus Christ – God who is with us in a very real and tangible way – even today we can go to the Holy Land where the Tau Crosses, that you will receive later, were made and walk where he walked and look out on the sea of Galilea just as he did. The God brought to us by the Yes of a young person is the fullness of love, compassion and peace. Mary said Yes and in doing so the God story and the human story became one story in a very special way.
Tonight as we gather here this incredible story continues to unfold and be written. It is written in and through each of us. It is written as we look back with gratitude and look forward with joyful hope. And it will continue to be written as you leave here and make your mark in the world.
I sincerely hope and pray that as you leave this place that you listen deeply to the stories of those who have gone before you. As you write the next lines in your life story listen attentively to the words the angel spoke to Mary – Do not be afraid, you who are highly favoured in the eyes of God. Each one of you is chosen, valued and valuable - Leave here tonight assured of that. Leave here also prepared to change the face of the earth and the course of history for the better. Leave here with open hearts attuned to the needs of others and the planet. Care deeply about the important things in life. Be men who, like St Francis of Assisi, are not afraid to reach out to those most in need; in your families, amongst your friends and in society. Make space in your lives for silence and stillness and in that silence and stillness allow God speak to you as he did to Mary. And most of all embrace what the future holds for you – even the tough parts have a lot to offer us if we are prepared to see our lives and the lives of others, as an finished and unfolding story.
Like that young person in Palestine 2000 years ago – Dare to say Yes! And allow that yes transform you, your community and the world.
So, go and do good – Go and make a difference – Go and do not be afraid.