Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.Graduation Homily
Homily by Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.

Class of 2007
Saint Augustine College Preparatory School
Richland, New Jersey
May 20, 2007

This past week we celebrated the one month anniversary of what the press has come to call the Massacre at Virginia Tech. This event has been described as the single most horrible day in the world of education. It was indeed a day of darkness. Yet, even from this horrific tragedy we can learn.

I am going to make a statement that to many of you may seem nonsensical and to others just simply a contradiction. However, I ask you to give me a moment of your time to explain myself and I think you will come to agree with the veracity of what I say. The statement is this: The massacre at Virginia Tech took place because love exists in the world. I say it again: The massacre at Virginia Tech took place because love exists in the world.

For this statement to make any sense, the first thing we need to do is understand Love. Love, in its most basic form, is freedom. There is no Love without freedom. You cannot demand that someone love you. If there is an obligation to love, it breeds resentment. The freer the Love, the more profound it is. Since Love is freedom this means that we are also free not to choose it.

In all the world there is no better description of love than the one that exists in the Bible. The classic definition of love is found in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it does not put on airs. It does not brood over injuries. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. This description is recognized the world over as inspired and divine. The sacred scriptures also tell us that God is love. The more we love, the more we know God; the more we become like God. Love is the closest we can come to knowing the mind of God.

Thirdly, Love is also about sacrifice. Because we love someone we do things for that person that we would not do for another. There is no love without sacrifice; in fact, sacrifice renews love. In a relationship, be it a marriage or a friendship, when one will not sacrifice for the other, the love is at an end. That love requires sacrifice is true not only of people, but also of ideas. If we love freedom, we fight for it. If we love our faith, we take time out of weekly routine to attend Church. If we love the earth we do without luxuries that might otherwise harm the environment. When we love, we sacrifice.

Lastly, we need to realize that if we love it does not make us immune to the workings of the world. Because we love God, because we pray it does not mean that bad things will never happen to us. In fact, it seems almost that the exact opposite is true. In the Gospel we read where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter is questioned because Jesus knows that Peter’s love of Jesus will mean that Peter will suffer persecution, prosecution, imprisonment, beatings and death. All this happened because Peter loved.

It is this comprehension of love that helps understand what happened at Virginia Tech. What the killer did is he chose not to love. The killings at Virginia Tech took place because love exists and the gunman freely chose not to accept it and in doing so he turned away from God. What was true for him is also true for us. When we choose not to forgive we become less like God and more like the killer at Virginia Tech. When we refuse to heal and to reconcile we turn away from God and therefore away from love and become more like the assassin. When we become jealous and self-seeking we are less like God and more like the lone gunman.

There is much to be learned here. We must love. We must forgive. We must heal and reconcile and maybe we should start by forgiving the campus killer. If we don’t forgive we become like him and not like God. We have much to learn from the Amish in Pennsylvania who forgave the killer of their school children.

You, the members of the Class of 2007, have learned about and been the beneficiaries of the power of love. When you freely sacrificed you accomplished great things. Who will ever forget the achievements of this past winter? In awarding our swim team the rank of number one in the state, the Newark Star Ledger said that the Hermits were motivated by revenge. I beg to differ. If you know our men and what they did, it was not revenge, but love. Mike Joyce was quoted as saying, “Last year, St. Joe swam with more heart and this year that was the ingredient for us.” The championship was not about revenge, but about heart and we had that in spades this year. The swimmers and the hockey players acted out of love for the school, out of love for the team, out of love for their families, out of love for honor. Revenge could never have accomplished what love did. The accomplishments of revenge are transitory; those of love last forever. When you look back on what was great and good in all that you have done in these four years, you will see love. The Brotherhood is built upon only one thing and that is love. I think you will come to see as I have that the accomplishments of your class are not many, but one and only one. Yours is the accomplishment of brotherhood. Everything that you have done, everything that you accomplished that has meaning was done for others, with others and because of others. You are a shining example to all of us of the power of the bond of unity. The prayer that Jesus utters in today’s Gospel, “I pray that they may be one? that their unity may be complete;” these words are more than just a prayer among you; you have made it into a living, breathing reality.

In our world, the headlines are stolen by people like the campus killer at Virginia Tech or the man who killed the Amish children. The stories that deserve our attention, however, are not these, but the ones that weave the fabric of our lives; these are the stories about brotherhood and unity; the stories about people in action doing good for each other. These are the stories that heal our world and make the lives of others better. While people may be inclined to be titillated by stories of death and destruction, they are most at home with the accounts of brotherhood and bravery, friends and companions, volunteers and victors. The ones who deserve our attention are those who live the life of service, the life of friendship and the life of brotherhood. As you drove onto the campus today you saw the sign you have read everyday this year: Enter as boys to learn. When you leave here today be sure to read the other sign one more time: Exit as men to serve. Heed what you read.

The power of love helps to appreciate the great sacrifice of both Fr. Steve LaRosa and Deacon Rocky Mangino who sacrificed for us; they loved us and we them.

Love is the most powerful force at work among human beings. When we reject it and deny it we sew unthinkable destruction and loss. When we choose love we bring profound healing and goodness to our world. The scriptures tell us that we are made in God’s image. When we love, we become like God.

Gentlemen, remember these days; cherish them. You have something great here; something that others can only imagine or hope for. You have love. In the not-too-distant future, you will be talking to others about your days here in Richland’s proud and peaceful glen and when they ask you, “What did you learn in high school?”; the greatest, the best and the most complete answer is to say: I learned how to love. God bless you.