Archbishop to Graduates: Be Not Afraid of the ‘Curse of Living in Interesting Times’

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City-Kansas was the principal celebrant and homilist at the 2024 Baccalaureate Mass for graduates of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His words follow.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Baccalaureate Mass
Benedictine College
May 10, 2024

It is a joy and an honor to celebrate Benedictine College’s Baccalaureate Mass.

​Benedictine College is a very special place, not primarily because of its beautiful setting on the bluffs of the Missouri River, but because the people who lead it are great men and women of faith and learning who have created a culture at this Institution where truth is pursued as vigorously in the chapel as in the classroom.

The late President John F. Kennedy, in his January 1961, inaugural address (I am old enough to recall watching it on a black and white television screen), noted that he and his fellow Americans lived in interesting times. He observed that an ancient Chinese curse was to wish for someone to live in interesting times. Dear 2024 graduates, you are living in interesting times.

​On one hand, you have grown up in an age of great scientific and technological advancement. Thanks to modern technology, through your laptop computer or your cell phone, you have an incredible library at your

fingertips. You can easily travel the world in a way that was unimaginable 75 years ago when I was born. You have the ability to communicate easily with people on the other side of the world. The variety and quality of food choices that you enjoy are vastly superior to what was available to royalty in previous centuries. Similarly, you can access hundreds of entertainment choices anytime and anywhere.

​On the other hand, you have come of age at a time of great cultural confusion. You are living in what some have termed a post-truth era. Sadly, many of your contemporaries have been taught that there is no such thing as objective and eternal truth. In the post-truth era, we can all have our own truths, even if they contradict each other. You can have your truth and I can have my truth. In reality, this means there is no truth!

​We know that embryos in their mothers’ wombs possess a unique DNA, different from that of their biological mothers and fathers. We can even watch through advanced ultrasound technology unborn children in their mothers’ wombs. Physicians can perform in utero surgery on preborn children. Yet, we claim not to know when human life begins.

​We have redefined something as fundamental to society as marriage. We deny that gender is something given to us and assert that we can defy biology by an act of the will claiming to be a different gender or even a different species. These young people deserve not only our compassion but also our respect because they are created in the image of God and are of such worth that Jesus gave His life on Calvary. However, it is neither respectful nor compassionate to affirm them in what are delusions.

During your college years, public health officials have sounded alarms about epidemics afflicting young people. They are not speaking about the Covid pandemic that caused most of you not to experience a high school graduation ceremony. They are talking about epidemics of loneliness, anxiety, depression and even despair.

​Dear graduates, you are indeed living the Chinese curse much more than when I came of age in the 1960’s. You are living in very interesting times, that can be quite frightening.

Spiritual and Moral Recession

​During this era of remarkable scientific and technological advancement, we have experienced a time of spiritual and moral recession. Many of your contemporaries identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious. A significant number identify as agnostics. If there is a god, they are indifferent to God’s existence. For them, God has no relevance. Many even identify as atheists. They deny the very existence of God.

​These are not human advancements. In many ways, we are returning to a pagan past. Many do not believe in a God of revelation. The spiritual who are non-religious, place their Faith in gods that are no greater than what their minds and imaginations can conceive. God is only what they determine god to be. When we fashion god in our image rather than understand ourselves to be created in the Divine image, we have become our own gods.

​Our value and the value of other human beings is no longer innate but depends on our productivity. When, because of disability or illness or eventually age, we are no longer able to be productive, then our life and the lives of others are considered burdens. When we push God out, the world becomes very dark and bleak.

The Christian Gospel: Guardian of Truth and Human Dignity

​At Benedictine, you have been formed in an environment that honors the existence of truth and human dignity. The scientific method and modern science is the fruit of a Christian culture.

​It takes much more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. An atheist must believe that the cosmos and our world are the results of pure chance. Science only make sense if we believe there is intelligible order in the physical world, an order that can be discovered through observation and study. This means there must be an intelligence that brought the physical universe into being and existence. This is much more reasonable and plausible than the atheist alternative of a cosmos that is result of chance.

​Christianity offers us something even more beautiful and powerful than just there must be a Creator of the Cosmos. We believe this Creator has sought to reveal Himself to us. We believe the Creator of the Cosmos desires to be in relationship with us. We have been created and built for communion with God.

​This God has not only revealed Himself, but has also revealed the infinite dignity of human beings. We are made in the divine image. God’s ultimate revelation is His Word, the Logos – Jesus Christ. Our Lord revealed on Calvary the infinite value that God has placed on human life. We are of such worth that our Lord died for us, so that we would know the depth of His love, so that He could vanquish death and allow us to share in His Divine and Eternal life.

A New Pentecost

​For the Baccalaureate Mass, we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. The readings that have been proclaimed are a set that can be used for Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church. It is the Feast that celebrates the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians.

​Jesus had given to the Apostles and the larger community of disciples an impossible mission – to make disciples of all nations. How could this tiny band of disciples who had no earthly power or authority, no buildings, no books, no political influence, no money, no programs, no power point presentations, transform the world? Yet, in their lifetime, they spread the Gospel to the east as far as India and to the west as far as Spain.

​If each one of us reconstructed our spiritual family tree, our spiritual genealogy, we would all ultimately wind up in the same place – the Upper Room of Pentecost. We are all spiritual descendants of that tiny band of disciples.

​What those first disciples did have was their witness of their own experience of Jesus Christ – their witness to His life, ministry, teaching, humiliating passion and death and His Resurrection, His Victory of Life. In a relatively short time, they planted the seeds for the transformation of the pagan Roman culture into a Christian culture.

​My dear graduates, you have been educated and formed here at Benedictine College to be part of a New Pentecost. You have been equipped to bring the truth, beauty and hope of the Christian Gospel to an era that desperately needs it.

Transforming Culture in America

​During your time at Benedictine College, the Board of Directors issued a new challenge to the College to: Transform the Culture of America!

The vision statement of Benedictine College is to “build one of the great Catholic Colleges of America” in order to educate students “who will transform the world through their commitment to intellectual, personal and spiritual greatness.”

​The strategic plan commits “the College to the same transformative work of the first Benedictines who saved civilization from darkness and set the world ablaze.” Dear 2024 graduates, you have been formed to be agents of change in culture and society. You have been prepared to model community in an age of incivility, to spread Faith in an age of disbelief that leads to hopelessness, and to be scholars who relentlessly pursue truth in a post-truth era!

​The early Christians transformed the world by the witness of their love for each other. The pagan culture marveled at how the early Christians loved one another. The pagan world was drawn to the beauty and joy of Christian marriage and the Christian family.

​A non-believing world was stunned by the courage of the early Christians who would die rather than deny Jesus and the truth of His Resurrection. The Christian culture that emerged from the heroism of martyrs created the modern university, great centers of learning where knowledge was pursued and the reality of Truth celebrated. This same Christian culture generated the most beautiful works of art, architecture, painting, music and literature.

​Dear graduates, we are not expecting much from you. Just to help transform culture, society and the world! You can do this by knowing who you are: Beloved Daughters and Sons of God; by knowing your mission is to bring the love of Jesus to others; by realizing that you are never alone and that the Holy Spirit is with you and in the reach of prayer; by striving to use your gifts and talents to glorify God and to serve others; and by infecting the world with the Joy and Hope that comes from knowing the truth that you are God’s beloved!

Dear Graduates, you are living in interesting times. You have been given a challenging mission. Our Blessed Mother, Mary, also lived in interesting times. She was given the most daunting of all missions – to be the Mother of the Messiah. When Mary embraced her call, the Archangel Gabriel counseled her that all things are possible with God.

Embrace your call. Allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow you! Be not afraid! All things are possible with God! Come Holy Spirit, come. Enkindle the fire of your love in the hearts of these graduates, so that they can set the world ablaze with the Truth of the Gospel of Life, the Gospel of Joy, the Gospel of Love! Amen!​

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.