Editor’s note: On May 6, Archbishop Gomez accepted an Honorary Doctorate and delivered the commencement address at Marymount California University in Los Angeles. The following is adapted from his remarks. His complete address is available at ArchbishopGomez.com.
My friends, you are graduating from a great Catholic university in a city that is named for God’s holy angels. That gives you some sense of your identity and mission after you graduate.
I like to think about Los Angeles as “a city of saints.” It is amazing how many saints have walked these same streets that we do, and watched the sunrise and the sunset from these same beaches and mountains. How many saints have served the poor here and done works of mercy and works of love?
You are now a part of this legacy. You are called to build a city of saints in the midst of the secular city of humanity.
The reason for every Catholic university is to prepare students for life. But as Christians we define the meaning of “life” differently than others.
We know that God does not grade our lives on a curve. The test of life has only a one-word answer — and that word is love.
The saints teach us that in the evening of our lives, we will be judged by our love. Did we love God and love our neighbor? Did we use our gifts and talents to spread God’s mercy and compassion in the world? Did we love kindness and do justice?
This is how a Christian defines what it means to be a “success.”
You are graduating at a challenging moment in history. You are about to enter a world where one Christian is being killed every hour, every day — just for the “crime” of believing in Jesus. So never take your faith for granted.
You are entering an American society where every day you are going to be meeting and working with people who do not share your values, people who do not agree with you about how to live or what is right and wrong.
How are you going to carry out your mission to be Christians — to love God, to build his kingdom of mercy and compassion? How are you going to be saints in the heart of the secular city?
Sometimes I think we ask the wrong questions. We ask: What do I want out of my life? But life is not about us. The right question is: What does God want out of my life? Why did he make me?
And the answer is that we are all born for greater things. We are made for God. We are made for love.
The truth is that, before God made the sun and the moon, before he placed the first star in the sky or started to fill the oceans with water, before the foundation of the world, God had a dream for your life and mine: a dream of love.
This is not some beautiful idea that I thought up. This is what Jesus taught. This is the Gospel.
Do you know the story of St. Josephine Bakhita? She was from Sudan, Africa. At the age of 9 she was kidnapped by human traffickers and sold into slavery.
But in her suffering, St. Josephine discovered Jesus. And once she did she was truly free. It took years before she was physically set free. But in those years, she knew hope and joy — even in suffering. She knew where her life was going. And this made all the difference.
She once wrote: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me — I am awaited by this love. And so my life is good.”
No matter what happens to you in life or wherever you find yourself — remember that you are loved. Remember that your life matters to God.
God made you so that you can make a difference in the world. Ask him every day in your prayers, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Then follow his path with all your heart. Love what you do, and do what you do, all for love. All for God.
Earlier this year, I took a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C. The driver who took me to town from the airport was from Pakistan and we had a good conversation.
And this gentleman told me something that his father used to tell him all the time: “Do good and life will be good.”
What a beautiful thought. In every moment we have the chance to serve God and to love God, in the people we meet, in the things that happen to us every day. In every moment we can do good — and our life will be good.
Jesus said we find our lives by losing our lives. The road to happiness always leaves selfishness behind. We gain everything — when we give everything away.
It is a beautiful way to live. And you should make it your way, my friends.
Let me finish with a brief story about one of the many saints who once ministered in Los Angeles — St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
There is a mountain in Denver, where she also worked. And one day, she took some of her orphan children up that mountain and they gathered hundreds of white stones of all different sizes. They worked all day to arrange them into the shape of a large Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mother Cabrini once said this prayer: “O Jesus, I love you very much. … Give me a heart as big as the universe. … Tell me what you wish that I do, and do with me as you will.”
Let us ask God to give each of us a heart as big as the universe.
So that we can love God and do good for others. So that God may use our lives — what we have learned and all our talents and passions — to spread the love of God. To build the city of saints, in the heart of the secular city of humanity.