Grace Cotter Regan ’78
May 18, 2012
Good Evening Sr. Barbara, Members of the Corporation, Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Parents, Family and members of the Class of 2012,
I was both humbled and honored to be asked to speak to the Class of 2012 tonight. It was thirty four years ago that I sat in my white dress and gold medallion wondering where this journey was taking me. I want to give thanks to the Sisters of Notre Dame who helped shape my heart, taught me how to think and to live a life of compassion with a commitment to a faith that does justice. I was asked for a quote for the Notre Dame View book a number of years ago:
“My education and experience at Notre Dame Academy was a gift. The sisters and lay faculty introduced us to social justice issues, the humanities, and a life filled with promise and expectation. We were introduced to Victor Frankl, Dorothy Day,
James Joyce, Henry James, Aristotle and Plato. We learned about the importance of team and the concept of ‘we’. We learned about our faith and in doing so, studied other disciplines, religions and societies. We were challenged to question, dream,
Reason, evaluate and execute.” A Notre Dame education is a gift and your gratitude might not be obvious today, but trust me it will be.
When I thought about tonight, I thought about a paper I wrote a few years ago as a part of my Master’s program at BC in Pastoral Ministry. I could give all of the inspirational quotes to send you off but I thought deeper and want to share some practices for your consideration on your journey. As I speak with college students, the thing that has struck me is that they talk about being spiritual not religious and it seems to me as you begin this journey that you should think about some tools to accompany you to help you develop your faith.
I would like to share six different contemporary spiritual figures and to briefly recommend some of their profound observations of practices with you as you consider your own faith journey.
- Develop a scripturally based spirituality (Monasticism)
- Discover your talents and use them well. (Augustine)
- Develop a rule or practice. (St. Benedict)
- Don’t be afraid of the dark side of consolation and desolation. (St. Ignatius)
- Pray without Ceasing and Pursue the Object of Your Restlessness (The Way of the Pilgrim)
- Every Detail Must be Observed (St. Julie)
Develop a scripturally based spirituality (Monastic Practice)
I was introduced to a monastic practice called Lectio Divina which is described as a “divine or spiritual reading” necessary for any deliberate spiritual life. I have to be honest that I have not spent dedicated time with scripture until now.
This process is described as a meditative approach, by which you as the reader seek to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. The process of contemplative reading has the effect of rekindling in the reader contemplation for past behavior that has been less than beautiful and true. At the same time, it increases the desire to seek a realm where all that is lovely and unspoiled may be found.
There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read; next, to meditate; then to rest in the sense of God’s nearness; and ultimately, to resolve to govern one’s action in light of this new understanding. This kind of reading is an act of prayer.
I would encourage you to read scripture and consider developing a practice like Lectio Divina as it will help you to develop discipline and a practice. The benefits of spending time with scripture with a focus and intent will help enrich your life by integrating prayer and reflection into your daily life.
Discover your talents and use them well. (St. Augustine)
I hope that you have read or will St. Augustine’s Confessions. I read a few excerpts when I was in college, but never took the time to unpack the classic and I think it is one of those books that you can read again and again and find some new revelation from it as a result of each reading.
Augustine used the word ascent to describe his journey to God and his search for grace. He was a brilliant and gifted man. Augustine was influenced by Aristotle’s book on the Ten Categories. Augustine determined that the meaning of this book was to define “Substance”, specifically the substance of a person and his or her attributes. I want you to think about substance in respect to your life. What is the substance of your life and what do you want it to look like ten or twenty years from now?
Augustine unpacked the ten categories in a very logical manner. A person has a certain quality of shape and quantity of height. A person has a job and that is what he does. He or she owns certain things and those are possessions. His descriptions were very practical. Augustine tried to apply the same criteria when thinking about God and found this impossible to think about God in the same terms. He believed that God’s greatness and beauty were God’s own self. There is no comparison to humanity. However, what Augustine did surmise from this process was that all of our human gifts are from God and that our substance is illuminated by God. Augustine said, “I had turned my back to the light and my face was turned toward things which it illumined, so that my eyes by which I saw the things which stood in the light, were themselves in darkness.”
What is the value of your gifts if they are not working for a greater good? My advice to you as you approach your ascent to this deeper invitation from God is that you identify your abilities, reverence that your gifts come from God and those abilities them well to make a difference on this earth.
Develop a rule or practice. (St. Benedict)
St. Benedict developed a rule for the monks and his rule was a model for many communities to follow. If you look at any of the religious orders, you will find a rule. Regula is the Latin word for rule, but in modern times, it is referred to as a pattern or a model. Benedict’s rule is called a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.
I believe that people want a life that is regulated and has order, where there are values and boundaries. People like discipline, rules and boundaries and there is this whole matter of the formative power of this practice. We have worked hard as parents and teachers to provide a safe environment for you to grow up in. You have the privilege of a wonderful Catholic education. Your high school education and co-curricular programs have challenged you academically, spiritually, artistically, scientifically and athletically and as young women. The charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame and their foundress St. Julie Billiart has hopefully influenced you. There are systems in your life that will help you to develop your own practices or your own rule by which you will live. You have wonderful role models in your family, teachers and coaches. Pay attention to people and model the practices that make most sense.
Don’t be afraid of the dark side of consolation and desolation. (St. Ignatius)
St. Ignatius has been a guiding light for me as a young girl and now as a mature woman, who is still working on her spiritual journey. I have been blessed to have St. Ignatius serve as a guide for me through my life encouraging me to set the world on fire and to find God in all things. St. Ignatius introduced some very important methods in matters of spiritual discernment. You may have heard of the Spiritual Exercises which is the foundation of the Jesuits, which demystifies Ignatius’ method of making an election. I think that this practice will be very helpful for you as you grow and begin to have to rely on your own interior freedom to make thoughtful decisions.
Ignatius describes the process of making a decision as “making an election”. It is really quite simple; Make a decision, sit with it in consolation and desolation and then give it to God. It is actually not that simple!
I have had the experience of using consolation and desolation to reach decisions in my life. I have found this place of consolation and desolation to be the most difficult part of any discernment process. The experience of consolation and desolation is absolutely exhausting, but the process is necessary and critical for all good decisions. I have had this experience of reliving or rethinking a very painful time or living through a challenging time in the present. You have to ask yourself, where does consolation incline me? This experience has made me reflect on the life of Christ and about the myriad of experiences that were put in Christ’s way that he may not have understood, but accepted knowing that there was a greater plan for him.
Consolation draws us closer to God and to a certain direction while desolation draws us away from God. Consolation helps us widen our vision and directs us to move beyond ourselves. It can be invigorating and energizing. Desolation takes a lot of energy. It can be draining and feel like you are stuck in the negative. When you are in the stage of desolation, it is difficult to believe that consolation is around the corner. You want to be closer to God, so find your way and put your decision and you life in God’s hands. As you grow and mature, you will have many more experiences which you will draw from and you will learn to trust that there is a plan. You often can’t see it, but you will begin to trust that it is a greater plan and you will put your life in God’s hands.
Pray without Ceasing and Pursue the Object of Your Restlessness (The Way of the Pilgrim)
I read this wonderful book called “The Way of the Pilgrim” and I hope that you will make time to read this book. It is is a spiritual classic in the Russian Orthodox tradition, as related by a nineteenth-century wandering hermit. Much like Augustine’s Confessions, this is one of those classics that you will find something new in each reading.
You are embarking on a journey to find yourselves and to develop your individual relationship with God. I want you to think about what you wish to travel with on your journey. The pilgrim traveled very simply with a knapsack with some bread and a bible in his breast pocket. The pilgrim was striving for simplicity which is a noble aspiration. I encourage you to strive for simplicity in this word in which we live. Make a conscious effort to think about what you really need on this journey. There is a difference in what we need and what we want. Be authentic and feel the full sense of God’s sway in your life.
The pilgrim struggled to find solitude in the midst of life’s hustle. This is a constant challenge to find peace in the midst of life as we know it. Find a way to make time for solitude in the midst of life and your commitments. Take a day with no interruptions, no face book, I-phone, texting or social media and find the freedom and joy of silence. Or maybe write a handwritten letter or have a face to face conversation.
Find a verse or a prayer that guides you. I have always been guided by the passage in Luke, “To Whom Much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48) My father instilled that responsibility in me as a child and it stays with me each day in every aspect of life. I have been blessed and it is a responsibility to give of my time, talent and treasure. I expect you to be altruistic, compassionate and philanthropic in your lives. I expect you to be leaders and for each of you to make a difference in this world. It is important that you uncover your desire or vocation, name it and embody it. This will increase your capacity for it and your work and goals will become truly authentic.
Every Detail Must be Observed (St. Julie)
God is in the details and the inconvenient acts of kindness. Do the inconvenient. Dot your I’s and cross your T’s. Think about how you present yourself. Think about the friends you surround yourself with and the company you keep. And as my mother used to say, “if you think it is wrong, it is; trust your instincts." Remember the words of St. Julie who proclaimed: How Good is the Good God and say that once a day.
And so my friends, what does the Lord require of you? The quote from Micah 6:8 presents the challenge: “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” You just need to trust in God and follow your heart. I know that you will do great things for the greater glory of God. Be women of faith, character and integrity. Think about integrating some of these practices into your lives as you begin your journey next fall. And always remember and give thanks to Notre Dame Academy and the many gifts you have been given.