The Reverend Brian Linnane, S.J.
May 16, 2009
I offer my sincere congratulations to the members of the Class of 2009. I know that I speak for the entire Loyola College community when I say that I am very proud of each and every one of you. Your achievement on this sixteenth day of May, 2009, represents the culmination of many years of study and hard work. You have given yourselves wholeheartedly to a rigorous program of study at Loyola College and I pray that you will enjoy the fruits of those labors for many, many years to come.
I want to thank Ron Hansen for his presence with us today and for his thoughtful and inspiring remarks. Mr. Hansen’s life and career reflect the highest artistic and literary standards. His beautifully written novels and essays which explore the human condition in such a sensitive manner represent the Jesuit ideal of eloquentia perfecta. I am delighted to welcome Ron Hansen into the honored ranks of Loyola alumni.
I want to extend my congratulations and thanks to Carl Julio, Dr. Thomas Landy, and our friends at Gallagher Services. In them we see abiding commitments to philanthropy, civic leadership, the Catholic intellectual tradition and service to vulnerable and under-served persons. In all three, as well as in Mr. Hansen, we see outstanding examples of religious faith in action. I commend them to the Class of 2009 as persons you would do well to emulate and honor.
Before we part I hope that you will permit me one final reflection. I have been thinking a great deal about the tragedy that touched our campus during the final weeks of this academic year and its meaning for our students. In addition to the tragic and senseless loss of life, I think that a foundational belief of many of our students has been shaken. For unlike the deaths of other young persons I have known, this one was murder in that place many of us believe to be the safest environment of all—within the family. It is common for parents and their children to express this belief as unconditional love; that mutual and selfless love, protection, and safety can never put into question. It is guaranteed. This belief in unconditional love from other persons is a very comforting one and to have it called into question is no small matter. However, I have come to see that examining the notion of interpersonal unconditional love is probably a good thing that will lead us to a deeper understanding of the reality of the human condition. For, in fact, there cannot be unconditional love between persons. Only God offers us unconditional love. The love of humans which is an extraordinary force in our lives as individuals and communities is necessarily conditioned because persons are finite. We cannot be infinitely attentive to another person, we are limited by time and affected by human weakness. This is not to say that we cannot love deeply and profoundly, we just cannot love unconditionally. Only God does that. It is also not to deny that the desire for and openness to unconditional love is at the very heart of the human condition. Whatever else we want or need we long to be accepted for exactly who we are, to know that we are loved absolutely even when we ourselves act in ways that are less than loving. This it seems to me describes the inescapable human drive toward transcendence, toward something that is more and greater than ourselves. It is the fundamental yearning for God that is at the very center of the human spirit.
Your Jesuit, Catholic education at Loyola College in Maryland has positioned you—whether you know it or not—to know and encounter this unconditional love you so desperately seek. And I am not speaking only of the philosophy and theology that we marched the undergraduates through. Today’s graduates are surely aware that as we testify to their wisdom and advanced learning that they do not know everything and that indeed our esteemed faculty combined does not know everything. We must acknowledge the limits of our learning and the limits of our capacity to fully understand the human spirit. We remain a mystery to ourselves. And this is not a mystery that we can ever solve. This is the case because it is in this mystery that we encounter God. Indeed, as the great Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner (some members of the Class of 2009 have recently lived under his patronage in Rahner Village) put it, God is simply the name “for the unfathomable mystery which lies behind all accessible and definable reality.” Further, we know that this mystery which lies behind all that is accessible and definable is gracious and loving. Again, our graduates testify to this fact today as they have educated themselves for the future, that is, face the future and their lives with hope. We invest ourselves in the mystery of our lives because we trust in the essential goodness of our lives.
I hope that my theologizing has helped restore some faith in the possibility of unconditional love and how we might think about it and so find it. The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich has defined faith as “the courage to accept acceptance.” I hope and pray that your education at Loyola College in all its dimensions inside and outside of the classroom has given you that courage. It will make all the difference.
Finally, I want to thank the Loyola College graduates of 2009. We arrived at Loyola College together and you will always have a special place in my heart. Like many of you, I was unsure back in the late summer of 2005 of whether I was up to the challenges of the next four years and as we have grown together I am deeply, deeply grateful for the trust, respect, and dare I say it, affection that you have shown me—even in those times when I made decisions that did not, at first, sit easily with you. I am fiercely proud of the Class of 2009.
Francois Mauriac once wrote, “we are, all of us, molded and remolded by those who have loved us, and although that love may pass, we remain, nonetheless their work….” You have invested your love and your talent into this community of scholars and we are better for your presence among us. We are committed to keeping Loyola College a university that you will be proud of, just as we are confident that you make this college proud of your accomplishments in the journey ahead of you.
I pray that you will experience every blessing, and I wish you Godspeed.