My dear graduates,
In 1848, a man named LaMarcus Thompson was born in Licking County, Ohio. He did not like the name of his birthplace. So he moved to French Lick. He opened a grocery store in Elkhart when he was 25. He loved science and mechanics and eventually created something wicked awesome. He invented what he called the “Gravity Ride.” It was a roller coaster, and you rode it sideways. It only went six miles an hour, but it was an immediate sensation.
Today, the fastest roller coaster goes 149 mph. The tallest one is in New Jersey, and it’s over 450 ft tall. The steepest is in Japan and has a 121 degree drop. The longest one is in Japan and it’s the Steel Dragon. The oldest one is in Pennsylvania and was built in 1904. A man named Richard Rodriguez has the record for longest time on a coaster. He rode one for 401 hours. He needs a job. The largest nudist roller coaster is just outside London. I didn’t know that was a thing. We are not going there on Monday.
But I share all this because this week has been something of an emotional roller coaster for our graduates. I also share this because last night, as I was reviewing my calendar, I noticed that I have about five trips to amusement parks planned in the next few months. I really do work sometimes.
I also share it all because of this. It has been said that life is like a roller coaster. I don’t like that saying. I think it is better to say that life with Christ, it is actually an entire amusement park. (Note: never leave the amusement park, which means never leave Christ.) God is so good that he gives us countless roller coasters in our lives. By the time we die, we will have ridden hundreds of them. There is the roller coaster of this or that job, this or that sports season. There’s the roller coaster of married life and of parenthood, and for me there was a roller coaster of seminary and now a roller coaster at OLG.
Each roller coaster in our lives has its ups and downs, there are moments we feel sick and afraid, and moments our hands are in the air in excitement…even when the signs tell us to keep them in the cab. There are times we’re tempted to sit on the sidelines and eat fried oreos and elephant ears, there are times our heads hurt, there are times we throw up and times somebody else throws up on us.
Life with Christ is like that: it is sometimes crazy and sometimes you don’t know where you’re going or when it will finally stop. Sometimes is goes in the dark. Sometimes you can’t see the curves. Sometimes it’s so great you feel like you’re flying. Sometimes you don’t feel well. But it’s always an adventure.
And then God tells you to get off that coaster and get on the next.
That’s the story with our readings today. In our first reading, Paul is saying goodbye. He says, “I’ve never wanted silver or gold. I’ve only wanted you all.” Now, for Paul, it’s time to say farewell. It is a touching moment at the end, when all of his friends gather around him and hug him and kiss him. It will be like tonight. Paul had been on a great journey with these folks, they’d had triumphs and failures, ups and downs, but now it was time to move forward to the next coaster. In our Gospel, we see Jesus about ready to leave his disciples. The roller coaster of his earthly life was about to finish, and he is preparing for the ultimate ride up to heaven in the Ascension.
You, too, have been on a remarkable roller coaster for the last several years here at OLG. As you say, you’ve been in this together. Some for ten years. There have been ups and there have been downs. There have been throw up moments. There have been lots of hands in the air moments.
I can speak only to this year since that’s when God blessed me by putting you all in my life. Just this year, I know of many different ups and downs. I remember our March for Life trip to DC and how we had a great time, despite the blizzard, at the biggest laser lite joint in the world that just happened to be on our way home. I remember the basketball games and track meets. I remember the day Josh had his surgery at 7:30am and how everybody in the class came to Mass that morning to pray for him. I remember doing the funeral for Conner’s great-grandmother, the woman who picked him up and dropped him off at school all his life, and I remember how this class surrounded him with support. I remember the time I beat Anthony in basketball. I remember the DAB. I remember the Jesus and Donuts and the stupid Youtube videos. I remember Confirmation day and the day so many of you came to St. Meinrad on our pilgrimage during your Spring Break. I remember when Cullen and Anthony dressed up as priests and how happy that made me. I remember the Lion King and Gretchen’s Pumba. I remember the nights I spent praying for you all in our chapel.
Now it’s time to get off this roller coaster. It is not goodbye; we will still see you at church and youth group–we better see you at church and youth group–but it is the end of this ride that you’ve been on together.
And it is time to board the next one.
But as you do, I want you to promise us some things as you go.
Promise us that in all of the challenging and exciting places that life will take you in the coming years, you will from time to time remember Edna’s cookies, Jesus and Donuts, rosary checks, the Angelus, Hot Dog Day, the Liturgy of the Hours, and how Mr. Clady would tell you to be kind to one another each morning.
Promise us that as you walk the hallways and classrooms of your high schools and future colleges, that you will bring Christ there, even in small ways…and that you will remember the classrooms of OLG school that were built by the hands of nuns some 80 years ago, and that you will remember where everyone sat your 8th grade year.
Promise us that when you are thinking about doing something stupid, something you know you will later regret, that you will remember Mrs. Schultz’s favorite word— which is “no”—and make a better decision.
Promise us that when you think of your days at OLG, you will remember the love of God and the love of people and not the boring homilies or impossible rules.
Promise us that when you are having a bad go, when you are feeling sorry for yourself, when you are sad or crying or doubting, you will remember that God is good all the time, and that all the time God is good, and that you will remember the love and support of your parents and teachers and your priests and your friends here and be comforted.
Promise us that whenever you are awake at 2:30 in the morning attending to a broken heart, or worrying about the future, or drafting a difficult paper for the third time you will remember the lessons Mrs. Samuelson taught you and the Bible verse she had you pick out and commit to memory.
Promise us that you will be faithful to the Sunday Mass, that you will continue to read your Bibles and mark them, that you will still use your rosaries to pray for each other, and that you will pray each night before you go to bed.
Promise us that You will remember your days at OLG for years and years to come.
My brothers and sisters, you are ready for the next ride. OLG has prepared you. You are an incredible group of young men and women and I am fiercely proud of you. And we love you with all we everything we’ve got. You are incredible because you know that you cannot be incredible without the Lord. The fourth graders are right to be asking for your autographs as you leave this roller coaster ride.
And as you go, I want you to enjoy the next ride as much as you’ve enjoyed this one. And I want you to know that our prayers and our love go with you.