Father John Sheehan, S.J. and Father John Pearson, C.S.C.
Homily for Notre Dame Golden Reunion, 2018
Welcome to all of you, members of the Class of 1968 (known in all humility to ourselves and even some others as the Great 68), members of the 50-Year Club, and any other alums and connected folks who think this is a great time to attend Mass! I am Fr. John Pearson, CSC, assisted by Deacon Bob Smith, and concelebrating is Fr. John Sheehan, SJ, all members of the Class of 1968.
As a student I lived at Moreau Seminary, and when I returned to teach in the law school I lived in Sorin Hall, right above Fr. Monk Malloy. It is there that I learned that Sorin is the greatest of halls!
All of us in the Class of 1968 are in some awe that it has actually been 50 years since we were students here, 50 years since we sat out on the quad roasting in the sun at our graduation, looking ahead to what our lives would hold. Some of us may remember the wisdom given us by our Commencement Speaker or at least remember who our Commencement speaker was (I don’t). I am sure we were told to be grateful for what we had received here and to go out eagerly to change the world (those are words given by nearly all Commencement Speakers, mainly because they are true).
We’re also in awe at the alums we meet who are members of the 50-year club ahead of us and have had experiences similar to and very different from our own. I’d like to suggest that as we cross the 50-year line, we are just like we were when we graduated high school and moved on to college. We went from the being the oldest and most-experienced to being the youngest and least experienced. As we join the ranks of those gone ahead of us, we are once again the youngest and least experienced. And there’s something nice about saying we’re young again!
We’re back here now 50 years later, in part elated by the lives we’ve led, by the works we’ve done, by the friends we have made and kept, by the spouses we were fortunate to wed, by the children we may have brought into the world, and at the same time sobered by the moments when things have not gone the way we had hoped. As we share stories we see variations of ourselves in the faces of those classmates we’re meeting once again. I don’t mean taking stock of who seems to have aged better than others, or in comparing careers and works and so forth. I mean we hope to see some sort of hint to what kind of person we’ve become and they’ve become, based on the blessings we’ve received here.
We have a hint how to do that, one that involves looking into our own hearts, and it comes from our readings today, that come from the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is the symbol of the love that the Lord has for us, and it is the name given this church we pray in now. We hear from two readings, a letter from John and the Gospel of John. Both of those readings are dripping with love, the love of God for us and the love we’re called to return to God by sharing it with one another. “Everyone who loves is begotten of God,” we hear from the First Reading, and from the Gospel, “God is love and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you,” Jesus says. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain….This I command you: love one another.”
Those are comforting and challenging words. We don’t make God love us, by loving one another. We don’t win God’s love. It’s because God already and always loves us that we want to love one another, that we find the strength to love one another. It is the fruit of God’s gift to us that bears fruit. Sometimes it’s hard for us to think like that – so much of what we do is by our own efforts, individual or collective. But the Gospel tells us that what matters most, what is the foundation of everything, is God’s love for each one of us.
Remembering that is a little bit of what college reunions are for, why we come back 50 years later, or even more. Something happened to us here; something touched our hearts in a way that makes us want to relive it. The mentors we admired, the rectors who cared for us even when tried to find ways to keep the lights on at night, the friends we made, the classes we studied, the long hours of conversation where we talked of war and peace, love and the hunger for meaning, and how to change the rules at Notre Dame, the excitement at the miracle that Ara wrought. (I remember “Ara stop the snow”). All of those things and more contained enough seeds of the love God has for us that we can’t help but come back and try to touch it and feel it again.
And so, we’re back. “We love thee, Notre Dame”, Our Lady and the university bearing your name, because it was here that we had experiences and relationships that could blossom elsewhere and enrich our lives. Keep teaching us to love one another as your Son commands us!
John H. Pearson, C.S.C.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Notre Dame, Indiana
June 1, 2018