Cool temperatures and intermittent rain could not dampen the spirits of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts Class of 2018 and the entire College community on graduation day, Saturday, May 12. His Excellency James D. Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, offered the Baccalaureate Mass and two presidents–Christopher Check, President of Catholic Answers, and William Fahey, President of Thomas More College–offered valedictory exhortations to the thirty departing students.
It was Bishop Conley’s first visit to campus, though he has longstanding ties to the College. Conley converted while a student in the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas—one of the inspirations for Thomas More College. His godfather was humanities teacher John Senior, whose life and legacy are the subjects of a 2017 book from Thomas More College Press, John Senior and the Restoration of Realism. The bishop praised the intellectual eros and warmth of the TMC community.
In his homily at the Baccalaureate Mass, rooted in the Gospel passage about the Wedding Feast at Cana, Conley spoke about the mutually enriching relationship between faith and reason. Like the servants at the wedding feast, we must heed Our Lady’s injunction to do whatever Christ tells us, yet like the steward at the feast, our wonder at Christ’s actions should lead us to reflection and the search for understanding.
Like Conley, keynote speaker Christopher Check rooted his words to the graduates in the Marriage at Cana, noting how Christians are meant to emulate Christ’s enjoyment of natural goods like wine and wedding feasts. Check also urged the graduates not to delay getting married and having kids. Extended discernment, especially by young men, he said, is often an excuse for immaturity: “You’ll never have enough money to get married, or to have another kid, and you’ll never be completely sure you’ve found the one.” Instead, Check urged young men to have faith in the Creator’s words: Non est bonum esse hominem solum—“It is not good for man to be alone.”
Check structured the rest of his speech around two other Latin phrases: Nemo dabet quod non habet—“No one gives what he does not have”—and Duc in altum—“Put out into the deep.” For him, both phrases are injunctions to joy: we must be joyful if we are to bring God’s joy to others, and we must joyfully trust in God, especially when we are out of our depth.
TMC President William Fahey also exhorted the graduates to joy, while emphasizing that on earth joy comes through suffering. “Your peers are afraid of suffering,” he said. The root of their fear, Fahey explained, is attachment to temporal joys. Citing the Angelic Doctor, Dr. Fahey noted that men are unhappy when they have an inordinate attachment to the good things of this world, whether material, social or intellectual. The root of true happiness lies in enjoying all these lesser goods in Christ.
The College’s patron, St. Thomas More, provides a shining example of a man mightily gifted with good things—a fine home, a loving family, intellectual stimulation among the great minds of his day—but who did not mistake these passing joys for the lasting joy of Christ. More took on voluntary sacrifices like a hair shirt and nocturnal vigils and kept company not only with kings and philosophers, but also with a mentally impaired young man and with Christ in His Passion. More united his own passion to that of his Lord, and so shares in the Lord’s imperishable joy.
Fahey exhorted the graduates to obtain a copy of the Holbein portrait of More that hangs in the Frick Collection in New York (and, in copies, throughout campus). “In More’s eyes,” Fahey said, “there is sorrow and joy.” It is the face of her patron—obedient, probing, sorrowful, joyful—that the College bestows upon its newest alumni, just as it is this face she endeavors to impress upon all who seek her nourishment.