St Comhghall’s College,
40th Anniversary Mass
1 October 2010
My dear pupils,
Once upon a time there was an old man who lived on the outskirts of a town. No one seemed to know who he was or where he had come from. Some said he had once been wealthy. Others said no, he was once wise and influential, some said he was holy.
Many young people in the area just thought he was a stupid old man, and they made his life miserable. They threw stones at his windows, left dead cats on his doorstep, defaced his garden and shouted and cat-called at him every chance they got.
One day one of the older boys came up with an idea that he thought would prove that the old man was stupid. He knew how to snare a bird and that was all he needed to do the trick. He would lure the old man into a snare and leave him with no option but to appear stupid whatever way he turned.
The older boy snared a bird and off they went to the old man’s house and rudely knocked on the door. The old man came to the door, looked around at the children’s faces and could see they were up to something. The older boy spoke up and asked ‘Old man, do you know what I have hidden in my closed fist? The old man had noticed a white feather fall to the ground, so after hesitating a moment he answered “Yes, I do. It’s a bird, a white bird”.
The children were surprised and impressed. But the older boy was not deterred and he went on to his killer second question “is the bird alive or dead?” If the old man said ‘dead’ the older boy would open his fist and let the bird fly away; if he said ‘alive’ he would clench his fist firmly and kill the bird in his hand. He repeated the question “is the bird alive or dead?” The old men said “that depends on you; the answer is in your hands”.
The Old Testament writer of the first reading chosen for your anniversary Mass said : “When I was still young, before I started out on my travels, I boldly prayed for wisdom. I have always been a learner and am grateful to everyone who has been my teacher. I have no regrets. I have grown in wisdom since I first found her, and I will never be without her”. In the second reading of your Mass Paul said to the people of Corinth, “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ”.
Can I put a few questions to you? Do you think the most precious gift your parents and teachers can give you is wisdom of mind and heart, eyes that can see and understand, a heart that can be compassionate and show love to others? Do you believe that the Mass we are about to celebrate is one of the graces you have received through Jesus Christ, a meal that draws the community together around a common table and helps us to love each other in the way Christ loved us?
Do you greet God’s word as a gift, a light to guide us through the darkness, directions to show us the way to a fuller and more satisfying way of living? Do you sense the presence of God during the Mass, offering us the capacity to think less of our selfish needs and more of the needs of others, giving us the grace to understand that humble and generous service of others brings a happiness that cannot be bought?
In the Gospel reading we find Jesus reminding his followers that they can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, living in such a way that they can be an inspiration to others and a reason for people to give thanks to God for what his grace can do.
My dear young people, you may feel you are living in difficult times and you may often find yourself in conflict with your parents and your teachers. Take care. Don’t mess things up. Your parents and your teachers are still your best friends, the people most concerned for your welfare, concerned enough to correct and advise you if they think you are going astray.
You will have a happier and better journey through adolescence if you can hold your love for your parents and your respect for your teachers. Don’t try to replace God; you will injure yourself in the process. When we are teenagers, we often act as if we know it all and could sort out the world if given a chance. Life quickly sobers us. We come around to the conviction that God is God, the creator and that we are cutting off our own noses if we arrogantly turn our backs on the sacrament of forgiveness, the gift of the Eucharist and the grace of all the instructions for living which Jesus has left us.
You have loving parents, dedicated teachers and very good facilities. The community of which you are a part has provided you with an excellent school. Return with gratitude the love and service you have been given. Develop your talents. Treasure wisdom and search for her in the Word of God. Let the love which God has shown in action in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ be the foundation of your living. The world in which you are growing up is by no means a perfect world, but you are young and strong. You have the time and you will have the opportunity to build a better world. To achieve this, all you have to do is to make the right choices. As the old man said to the older boy with the bird in his fist – “Alive or dead? That depends on you; the answer is in your hands”.