Columnists Mark my words

Hey, graduates: Lighten up!

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Imagine for a moment that you’ve just settled down in your favorite easy chair and put your feet up. As you let out a contented sigh, your cellphone lights up. The message is urgent: The speaker for graduation at the local school was forced to cancel and you are now to take his or her place. What words of wisdom would you have to share?

This scenario would be a no-brainer for me. Of course, I’d start with this story:

There was once a professor who taught an ethics class. Toward the end of the course, one of the students asked a question about how to deal with all the evil in the world.

The professor said, “Essentially, the problem of evil is a problem of darkness. So, if we can find a way to combat the darkness, we’ll find a solution to evil.”

He invited the students to his home and lined them up in front of his basement door. Opening it, he had the students descend the steps into the dark space. As each one went by, he handed them a small megaphone. Closing the door, the professor said, “I want you to shout out the darkness.”

There followed a thunderous din for a minute or two. Emerging from the basement, the kids held their throats and their ears, but the darkness remained in the basement.

Again, the professor lined them up and had them descend into the cellar. This time, he handed each of them a broom. Closing the door, he said, “I want you to sweep out the darkness.” He opened the door after a moment and a huge cloud of dust followed the students as they ascended the steps, coughing. But the darkness remained in the basement.

A third time the students lined up and went into the basement. As they passed the professor, he handed each a stick. Closing the door, he said, “I want you to beat out the darkness.” Hearing yelps of pain as the students pummeled each other in the dark, he opened the door and out they came, cradling their heads and bodies from the blows. But the darkness remained in the basement.

One last time, the students trooped by the professor into the basement. Now, he handed each a small, lighted candle. He needed to say nothing as he closed the door, for the students now saw what it is that drives out the darkness. (Adapted from a rabbinic tale found in Father Paul Wharton’s “Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers.”)

I suspect that many of you graduates today are dealing with a burden of anxiety — not only about the uncertainty of the new phase of life you’re entering, but also about the craziness of the world we live in.

As that wise professor in the story knew, problems of evil, darkness and sin are not solved by loudly arguing about them. Nor are those problems eliminated by pretending they’re not there, sweeping them under the rug. Nor is evil defeated by violence; that only leaves everyone hurting.

It’s only light that can effectively drive away the darkness. In our often stress-filled world, you’re called to be lighthearted, apostles of joy and hope. To people on the fringes of life or ostracized, your smiles are to be beacons of welcome and compassion.

As an invitation to the “nones,” those who have no religious affiliation, you shine as people of faith, living out the words of Pope Francis: “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.”

 So, in a nutshell, graduates: “Lighten up!”

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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