Sister Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
Commencement Address to the Class of 2015
St. Thomas Aquinas College
Prepared text | May 16, 2015
When I received the letter from Dr. McLean inviting me to give the Commencement Address this year, I immediately flipped the envelope over to see to whom this letter was addressed. Sure enough: Sister Regina Marie Gorman. I picked up the phone and called him.
“Dr. McLean, I think there has been a mistake. Thomas Aquinas College always has very distinguished speakers. I don’t qualify for this.”
“Sister, this is the ‘Year of Consecrated Life,’ and we want a woman religious to address our students. No, there has been no mistake.”
Our Carmelite community has always prayed for Thomas Aquinas College since its foundation. Now, for this particular graduating class, we have prayed for each of you by name. I am a consecrated woman religious and I am grateful for this honor of addressing you. I will speak to you from the very heart of Carmel. My message will be simple. I will have only one piece of advice for you, a single, straightforward challenge that I hope you will embrace and you will inform with all the graces you have received during your years of prayer, study and formation.
You are completing your undergraduate studies during the 5th Centenary of the birth of the first woman Doctor of the Church — St. Teresa of Avila. She was born on March 28, 1515. My remarks to you today are drawn from a predominant theme that runs through all of her works(1). I pray that this reflection is inspired by the same Holy Spirit Who has been forming you very carefully and very intensely for the last four years.
All through the New Testament, in all of St. Paul’s major Epistles, in all three synoptic Gospels(2), we hear about “The Mystery.” What do we know about this mystery? St. Paul tells us that it has been revealed. We can know it. He also tells us that everyone is included. No one is to be excluded. What is it?
That Almighty God, the Omnipotent One, the One who has no beginning and will never have an end, Who is the foundation for all that is, the Alpha and the Omega, the One Who holds all creation together in Himself, this God, the only God there is, has a preoccupation to be close to us; He has a Heart wide open to share His own inner life with us. This is The Mystery.
In order to fulfill His desire to be near us, when the fullness of time had come, God, the uncontainable One, the Creator of all that is, asked permission of one of His creatures if He could be contained in her virginal womb. The humility of God. This is The Mystery.
The One Who created every star of every galaxy becomes a zygote in His creature’s womb. For the next nine months His creature had control over His body, His nourishment, His oxygen, the places where He traveled. The One who can span the universe with a single thought had to learn how to walk from His creatures. The Logos was taught how to read by one of His own creatures. Do we have the proportions of This Mystery?
But this is not enough. No. This Mystery of God’s essence being love, Trinitarian relationship now taking on the form of a man, must not be kept secret. It must be shared; Jesus was impelled to make His Father known. That is what love does. Love is diffusive of itself. Love cannot be restricted nor withheld.
So the God-Man chose specific disciples to be with Him. They lived with Him. They shared life with Him. It wasn’t a tidy life. It became messy. It frequently became messy. They knew Him. They knew what He smelled like. They knew His ways. He knew their ways. They trusted Him and He trusted them. They were friends. One of His disciples, the youngest one — which means, in societal terms of the day, the most insignificant one — during the solemn Passover meal could lean back on His chest and ask Him, “Who is it?” and Jesus showed him who it was who would betray Him. The God-Man answered him. The God-Man allowed John to lean against Him. That is familiarity. That is trust. That is intimacy.
Yet, this still is not enough. This Mystery must resound throughout the world and to the end of time. Everyone must be included. No one is to be excluded from This Mystery. After the God-Man suffered on the world’s terms and before His ascension to His Father, Christ sent forth the Apostles, the ones He had specifically chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the Gospel and baptize, promising them: “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
This means The Mystery is still living. It is living no less now than at that moment when the Archangel Gabriel prostrated in adoration before the presence of the Word-made-Flesh in the womb of the humble Virgin; no less now than at that moment when Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “This is my Flesh. Take and eat.” The Mystery has not been diluted; it has not become diminished whatsoever in 2015.
At all times and in all places God draws near to us. He approaches us. He speaks to us. He wants us to know Him. He reveals His Heart to us. That is the meaning of our familiar image of the Sacred Heart: Jesus pulls back not only His garments, He pulls back the sinews of His Flesh and lays bare His Heart for all to see the love that burns there.
He turns to His disciples today whom He has specifically chosen. He turns to each one of you, beloved graduates, as He has turned to me, as He has turned to your parents, to your siblings, to your priests, to your tutors. He wants to fill us; to fill us with His love that still burns within Him — the very same love that impelled Him to bring His Father to the world and the world to His Father, at any cost.
He counts on you and me, no less than He counted on Peter and John, Mary and Martha, and in a different way, but no less than He counted on His own mother.
This is how important you and I are to His plan of salvation. This is The Mystery. Can we even come close to conceiving the extent to which the ardor and the humility of God will go?
Come face to Face
This is my one piece of advice to you; my one challenge to you, beloved graduates. Every day, every single day for the rest of your life, come face to Face with God.
Moses became holy and great, not because he led God’s chosen people to freedom. He became holy and great because he talked with God face to Face, as a man does with a friend(3). Because he spoke face to Face with God, he was able to complete his mission of leading God’s Chosen People to freedom.
In Jesus, God has irrevocably turned His Face towards us. Meet Him by consciously turning your face toward Him every day. Do not allow His gaze of love to go unmet(4).
Practically, what does this mean, how does it look?
It will look different for every one of you because you are all so unique and the Lord has developed a unique way of relating with each one of you.
It means stopping and stepping away from “business as usual” just for a few minutes.
It might be in the early hours of the morning, before the household is set in motion when you turn yourself to God, or perhaps it is during a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on the way home from work, or while you are rocking your child in the stillness of night. For certain it means coming face to Face with Him in the Sacraments.
Coming face to Face with God means simply withdrawing for a moment from the endless interior chatter of our minds; mentally stepping aside from our prized accomplishments (both those real and those imagined), taking off our masks, allowing our ego a chance to become quiet and rest. Then we can come before God as we really are. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
It means exposing our heart to Him and turning our face to His.
Adam and Eve hid themselves among the trees in the Garden. Jonah ran from God and set sail for Tarshish. The rich young would-be-disciple turned his back on Him and walked away sadly. Judas Iscariot began to distance himself and he no longer shared his heart with Jesus long before he went to Gethsemane in the stealth of that night.
The hiding that started in the Garden of Eden continues in our own hearts today. All of us suffer from the dregs of concupiscence, save she who was Immaculately Conceived. It is Her Son who reverses this hiding syndrome.
In the Gospels we see Jesus, from the time the young Adolescent stayed back in the Temple until literally His dying breath, we see Him standing in integrity before His father and His people, hiding nothing, holding nothing back. His Heart is laid bare. Pope Emeritus Benedict writes, “In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up … God has stepped out of his hiddenness.”(5)
Meet Jesus in the unveiling of His Heart. Be receptive to Him. Receive His heart. Don’t hide from Him because you feel unworthy. It is not about our worthiness. This is The Mystery.
This is Revelation: God reveals Himself to us. He wants us to know Him. Listen to the Gospel proclaimed in Mass with great attention and sensitivity. Allow Him to unveil His heart to you. Respond to Him in confidence. Confide your own heart to Him.
He invites, “Come to Me and find rest”(6) and not just for a second. He says, “Abide in My love.” He doesn’t want us to feverishly toss our burdens in His direction and then anxiously run off. No. “Come to Me and rest.”(7)
When Jesus hung exposed on Calvary, many people saw Him. They looked toward Him, but not everyone turned to Him, stood face to Face with Him. Many were just passers-by: some saw the God-man and shook their heads. Others jeered at Him.(8) Who were these people? What were their names? What did they accomplish with their lives? Who knows!
We do know for certain that on Calvary there were people who stood face to Face with God: Mary, His heart-broken mother, Mary Magdalene, John the Beloved, to name a few. Two thousand years later we all know their names. We know what they did with their lives. They are still living. They are here among us, members of the same Body. We know them. We don’t know them because of their accomplishments: one is the Immaculate One, but the other Mary is a woman with a past, and the only disciple there was the youngest one, the insignificant one.
The life they received from Him as they stood face to bruised and battered Face is what transformed them, defined them and impelled them to carry The Mystery to the ends of the earth. And for Peter, Andrew, Philip, James and the rest, who in their weakness and confusion in the Garden that awful night allowed Jesus to only see their backs and the soles of their feet as they deserted Him, Jesus sought them out. On Sunday night, when they once again stood face to Face, Jesus’s first word was “Peace,” and their response was sheer joy, not shame, not embarrassment. You will never find a trace of anything punitive in God: remedial, yes, reprisal, never. No, He then breathed on them the new Life of mission, of purpose, and of still belonging.
Stand face to Face with God, in the silence, the sincerity, the integrity of your heart, your body, your soul, your fears, your sins, your beauty and your belonging to Him. Stand face to Face with God.
There is no need to be afraid. Children stood before Him. Lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes were not afraid to turn to Him. However, the Scribes, the Pharisees who were filled with their own learning; the rich young would-be disciple and Judas Iscariot who were filled with their own ideas of how life must be lived; the demons who were filled with their ulterior motives, these are the only ones in the Gospel who wanted to take leave of Jesus.
Never allow a day to pass that you do not stop everything and turn inward, turn and be present to the God whose loves burns within you.
Allow me to finish with the parable of The Royal Birthday Celebration:
The King sent out a Proclamation in honor of his firstborn’s birthday. His son was turning 21 years of age and a worthy celebration must be held. The Proclamation, heralded by an Imperial Page, invited all citizens to a royal party. The citizens were amazed at the lavishness of the invitation. They were all invited!
As they continued hearing the full Proclamation of the Sovereign Decree, their amazement turned into consternation: Each person was to bring to the imperial celebration a vessel made of gold to present to the King’s son as a Birthday Gift.
As the Imperial Page rode away, the whirlwind of emotion began to stir into a storm: the excitement, the confusion, the resentment. In the days that followed, a few people set about gathering their gold. Most consulted their neighbors to see if they wanted to attend the celebration and how they were going to respond. One citizen, Mariana, by name, quietly set to work. She emptied her jewelry box: no piece of jewelry was spared.
For three days after the Proclamation, the country’s wise and learned people thought deeply. Then they spoke to the common people: “Why fret and vex yourself so? The King has given a simple dictate: Bring a vessel of gold to the celebration. He did not specify the size of the vessel — only that it be a vessel and it be made of gold. Govern yourself accordingly.”
Knitted brows straightened as the insight began to distill their mind. Creativity began to percolate. Jewelers began melting, bending and forging. There was a case fashioned to hold a wedding ring; a golden thimble was designed. A vessel was created to hold a sewing needle. Neighbors displayed with pride the fruit of their creativity.
Mariana was on a very different path. She scoured every drawer; she visited elderly aunts and neighbors to see if they would make any contributions to her collection. For you see, Mariana loved the King’s Son. She lay awake at night, thinking of where she could find more gold for her vessel.
Her father began to worry. Mariana was so idealistic. He wished that she were more sensible, more realistic, more objective — more mature. But his heart was not prepared for the day when she asked, “Papa, my inheritance: may I have it now?”
“Oh, Mariana, nooo, you don’t want to do that. It is true that our King is a good man and I am sure his son is as well, but, my pearl, think it through carefully. How do I tell you this, my dove? The King’s son does not even know that you exist. You have collected all your gold. Ronalde, the jeweler will fashion for you a goblet, exquisite like none other, fit to represent your heart and appropriate for the Coming-of-Age of a Prince.”
Mariana gently responded, “Papa, I must.”
The day of the Imperial Birthday dawned. As each guest arrived, a royal attendant at the door graciously received each vessel, carefully completing and attaching a nametag. One entire chamber of the palace was reserved for the display of the golden vessels. Toothpick holders, a weeping vase big enough to hold a single tear drop; wine goblets were few. But when eight attendants carried in the golden bathtub, the crowd hushed in awe, looked around to see who the donor could be. Mariana’s peaceful and modest countenance never betrayed her secret and drew no one’s attention.
The guests were directed into the Great Room. The celebration was fitting. The food was literally “fit for a king.” And there seemed to be no end to it. The music was a foretaste of heaven. The King’s son was the consummate host. He walked among his guests, personally greeted each one, spoke of current events with the men, danced with almost every lady present. When he danced with Mariana, when she stood face to face with him, she knew it was all worth it.
As the party began to move toward closure, the King’s son went to the front platform, trumpeters hailed attention. First he expressed sincere gratitude to His Father for the Feast, and then to the citizens for their good wishes and their beautiful gifts. He explained that in honor of his 21st birthday, His Father had a shipment of diamonds brought into the country. The King’s son had instructed the royal attendants to return each vessel to the proper guest, filled to the brim with diamonds.
It is not a fairy tale. It is a parable that points to The Mystery. Who is the parable of The Royal Birthday Celebration really about? It’s about the Son, Jesus. But would we have known His bountiful generosity — known His Heart — unless there had been someone with Him — Our Lady, the first disciple — who stood face to Face with Him, who loved Him without reserve, who responded to His love? Who made it possible for Him to show, to manifest, to reveal His unbounded love?
This is The Mystery: We know God is Trinity. He is relation. We know that this one God who is relation ventured into this world that we might know and love Him. But the only way He can reveal Who He is, reveal to us His heart, is if there will be those who stand face to Face with Him. Relation cannot be known without an “other.” Be that “other” to Christ.
Tapping into Your Torrent of Gifts
Today you are concluding your studies at Thomas Aquinas College. Few people have been given the opportunities and blessings you have. You are to be congratulated and celebrated for your accomplishments. Truly, they are singular.
Your intentions today are to stay faithful to the graces and formation you have received. This is the desire of your heart, isn’t it? But our world is becoming ever more feverish and agitated. The Tempter already has his plan for how he will try to divert each one of you from the plan the good Lord has for you. Human nature is weak.
Coming face to Face with God every day in the integrity of your own soul is the most simple and most specific way of daily tapping back into the torrent of gifts you have received here in this oasis of grace in Santa Paula.
When you meet Him in the solitude of your own heart, you cannot not dilate, expand, pull back the sinews of your heart to receive Him.
Our Lord said to Bl. Angela Foligno, “You make yourself a capacity, and I will make Myself a torrent.”
Remember, as disciples, we are receivers, we are givers; we are never holders. If you allow the Holy Spirit to have His way, the graces you have received will not only be preserved, they will increase and flow out to others. Our Lord said to St. Margaret Mary, “Souls have no idea what I would work in them if only they didn’t resist me.”
Then you will be credible witnesses to the world. Like Our Blessed Mother, like St. John the Beloved, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa, St. John Paul II, you will tell the world from the depths of your being that He is alive. God is here. He is here with us now, once for all, for good! There is no reason to be afraid. Go to Him. No one is excluded from His Heart. This is The Mystery.
And when that day comes when you close your eyes to this world and you open your eyes to the day of your real “final examination,” you will not be caught off guard. You will look into the Face of the One you love and you will, indeed, say with radiant confidence, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
1. St. Teresa of Avila: The Book of Her Life, Chapter 12; The Way of Perfection, Chapters 26-29; The Interior Castle, The Fourth Dwelling Place, Chapter 1, paragraph 7.
2. Eph 3:3,9 6:19 5:32; Matthew 13:11;Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Romans 16:25; Col 1:26,27 2:2 4:3; 1Cor 2:7, 3:2, 14:2; Rom 11:25;
3. Exodus 33:11
4. St. Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection, Chapter 26, Paragraph 26
5. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 48
6. Matthew 11:28
7. John 15:9
8. Mt 26:39