We are firmly in the midst of high school and college graduation season. And sadly, this year, the rites of passage and mark of accomplishment is required to find new ways to celebrate. Ways that honor the women and men and salute their efforts…but in 2020 these events are not the joyful celebration that we had hoped for. So, all graduates, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers as you celebrate and consider your next steps. Because pageantry aside, the next steps are key, defining, and part of the sea change you will experience in the next few years…. it has me thinking about my college graduation and my “next steps.”
Every institution has their own traditions and ways to celebrate – including my alma mater, the United States Naval Academy. Every May, the seniors march on to the field at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium for graduation. The women and men are dressed in their “choker” whites (future Naval Officers) and blues (future Marine Corp officers). Theses graduating midshipmen take their places, listen to the speakers of the day, walk across the stage to receive their diploma, take the oath of office, and then it happens…
All at once, more than 1,000 caps fly into the air, signifying the end of school for these young men and women and the beginning of military service to our nation for these now-commissioned officers. It is an iconic moment captured by photographers, amateur and professional, for more than 100 years. It is a poetic picture. The young people who hurled their caps skyward – so young, in ways the same good folk who just four years before donned the cap and gown of their high schools. But 4 years later, when those caps fall to earth, they will still be so young, but in ways so different. Adults now – the teenager no longer – disciplined, steadfast, certain, and committed to serve their nation even at the price of their own lives.
I can look at the pictures and recall my own graduation. The whole moment passed in the blink of an eye. There was no interlude, no quiet moment, no moment of the Ascension with an angel asking “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?…” We weren’t standing around – we had orders to ships, flight training, The Basic School at Quantico, submarines, and all manner of assignments. We were young, invincible, and ready – not a one of us grazing at the sky. But I wished that we had.
I wish that moment could be frozen – 1000 caps in the sky – a whole lifetime ahead – a moment of quiet and solitude to consider the gravity of the “sea change” that would begin when those caps fell to earth. A change began when that high school senior I was first stepped foot on the Academy grounds; a change that had been formed and molded during my four years at the Naval Academy; a change that begin anew when I would report to my first submarine – when I showed up to my first day at work in the private sector – when I set one career aside to become a lay missionary – when I joined the Franciscans – when I was ordained – and last evening sitting betwixt and between all the change knowing where I have been. Knowing I am now even more prepared to meet whatever God has planned for me around that next bend in the road.
So much potential, so much future in one moment of time. As long as it took for a simple cap to rise and fall. As long as it took for Jesus to ascend to heaven.
We are not told of the immediate reaction of the apostles. They too were newly commissioned – take the gospel to the ends of the earth – but where we had written orders in our hands and scheduled transportation pre-paid, and established commands ready to receive us – the apostles just had each other.
“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?…” I have always wondered of it was one of those moments of silence which quickly became a bit uncomfortable. Maybe they looked around at each other, waiting to see who would say something or move. Maybe all eyes turned to Peter who was desperately trying to think of something to do or say. Finally someone cannot endure the silence, “So guys, what do you think we should do?” “I don’t know, what do you think?” “Maybe we should go back to Galilee” “I think we are supposed to go back to Jerusalem” “Jerusalem? And do what?” “Wait.” “For what?” “For the power of the Holy Spirit.” “I don’t know…..” And then there is another period of silence…until someone finally begins to move off towards Jerusalem. I do not think it would be too much of a stretch to imagine one of the disciples trying to say joyfully, “He is risen, alleluia…,” only to have the following alleluia kinda’ fall off into a question mark, not of doubt, but of what’s next.
This year’s newly commissioned naval and marine corps officers will figure it out. Just like the apostles figured it out. So too our new graduate parishioners will figure it out. May all gradiates, with the grace of God, and with the Power of the Holy Spirit, be open to the future unfolding. You are prepared.
Graced with the experience of commissioning and mission, if that moment could be “revisited, would the angel’s “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?…” be answered with, “Hold your horses, I am looking at the sky, because I taking this all in.” A lifetime of experience is a great teacher. Maybe one of the disciples could have spoken up, “Look at that! Humanity has entered Heaven. Jesus, true God and true man, now sits at the right hand of the Father. We have been shown our destiny. We have been shown the desire and hope of the Father in heaven, that all people will come to their inheritance, to their home.”
It is in some of the briefest of moments, held in the mind’s eye, contemplated, and considered that can reveal the depth of what we have been called to do. Maybe if we just took the moment earlier and let the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” show us what needs to be pondered and considered, and to sat with , so that
“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
what are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones” (Eph 1)
This year the moments marking change are different. For so many the road ahead is uncertain. Those moments of sea change, uncertain as they are, can be awkward or welcomed. But I would offer that the wisdom and revelation of God is best served by taking a moment to ponder and reflect. We don’t have enough of it in our lives. So, be it life or angels, don’t let anyone rush you past the moment. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?…” Because from time to time, we are supposed to pause and reflect – it is a gift of God. It is the beginning of the next step