Reflections at the Baccalaureate Mass

McDonough Arena
Georgetown University
May 19, 2013

From time to time I have the privilege of delivering one of the readings at Mass. No text terrifies me more than today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.1

“We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia….”2 I am always afraid I will mispronounce the words. But this is such an appropriate text for us—for this university community.

We, too, reflect the diversity of humanity in our community. And the Spirit is here, with us. Bringing us together in all of our diversity. In the words of one of the banners that captures the Spirit of Georgetown—a Community in Diversity.

Our readings in recent days have led us to this day—Pentecost Sunday—as Father Madigan has so beautifully captured in his homily—we honor that moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon us. Nothing could ever be the same. The Spirit is present—forever—always present—animating us, consoling us, guiding us, protecting us.

The Spirit is a gift; a gift to us. And we celebrate this gift, here, in this last act we share together on this hilltop. Can you imagine a more appropriate day in the life of the Church to celebrate a Baccalaureate Mass? 

In Thursday’s reading, we are reminded of another gift. Jesus is praying to his Father:

And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me…3

“Father, they are your gift to me….”

Us, all of us, are a gift from God.

It can be so challenging to understand what all of this means. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, God, present, here, right here, among us. And we are a gift—a gift of the Father to Jesus. We are each a gift to each other.

The very idea of “gift” requires our imaginations. It requires a different way of thinking than that which guides our work and days in our classroom and libraries, laboratories and archives.

The work of the university is perhaps best captured in a Greek word—logos—best understood as reason and logic.

To understand the nature of gift, we need another Greek word—eros—which is best understood as “attraction, union, involvement that binds together”4 … “shaping into one.”5

When we gather together like this we remind one another, we are a witness to one another that we are a community. We are bound together. We are gifts to one another.

And we have a responsibility to one another.

You now begin—your commencement—taking your first steps together away from the Hilltop. Remember the words of one of our own, just this past Thursday at Senior Convocation, Brit Marling: “If I can tell you anything of value, it is that the most important thing you do from here is to hold onto one another….”6

In his homily offered at his Inaugural Mass on March 19, Pope Francis, preaching on the Feast of St. Joseph—Joseph the “protector”—calls all of us to “the vocation of being a protector.” This vocation, quote,

means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families…It means building sincere friendship in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness….

He said: “In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”7

We have been given the gift of the Spirit and we, too, are sent.

And we ourselves are gifts.

We are bound together forever. Lets “hold onto one another…” Let’s protect one another.

Let us never forget what we experienced here together, on this Hilltop, always in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

1 Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Acts 2: 1-11,

2 Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Acts 2: 9-10,

3 Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, John 17: 22-24,

4 Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), xx.

5 Hyde, 201.

6 Brit Marling, Convocation Address, Georgetown University Senior Convocation (Washington, DC), May 16, 2013,

7 Pope Francis, “Homily of Pope Francis,” Mass of the Imposition of the Pallium and Bestowal of the Fisherman’s Ring for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome (Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, Italy) March 19, 2013,