As I sit on my sofa, taking in the fact that my first year of university is now complete, the state of emergency in Ontario possibly extended to July and churches throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto will open their doors for Sunday Mass this week, the members of the Class of 2020 from Chaminade College School and other Class of 2020 graduates from their respective schools (my sister and her friends from St. Joseph’s College School included) are fresh in my mind and are in my thoughts and prayers during this time. It is for that reason that as the school year winds down for students in secondary school, I want to deliver a few words of advice and encouragement. More in-depth advice can be found in my post about my first-year U of T experience and the Class of 2019 Valedictory speech.
Life will not always go the way you intend it to be. I think many of you have heard this countless times throughout your lifetime and me saying that is like you hearing a broken record. I get it. But that is reality – sometimes you have everything planned from first day of school, sports, extra-curriculars, parish activities throughout the year, prom, graduation… I am a guy who likes to have dates on hand and everything should go as planned. Yet, is life all about hitting those dates, bam, bam, bam, done? While some people may go through life like that, I don’t think life should merely be checklist.
“There is only one beautiful moment: the present moment, totally living in the love of God; my life would be beautiful if it is made up of each of the beautiful moments.” (Road of Hope, 997) Those are my direct translation of the words of the Venerable Francis Cardinal Thuận Nguyễn in his book Road of Hope (Đường Hy Vọng). Does it sound like a quote that sounds so ‘saintly’, those “framed” inspirational quotes in calendars or something you might hear from motivational speakers? Maybe? To truly understand this quote, we need to understand the spirituality of Venerable Thuận. The book Road of Hope was one of many books written by the late Cardinal. However, this specific one was written during his time in prison. Thuận was a gifted Church leader in Vietnam but unfortunately, the circumstances did not seem to allow him fully exercise his ministry. His family’s history was deeply tied to the history of a democratic South-Vietnam as he was the nephew of its first president, Mr. Diệm Đình Ngô. Therefore, just months after Vietnam was “reunited” in 1975, this time, under the communist, bishop Thuận was captured and lived 13-years in prison – nine of those years in solitary confinement. I never really understood how tough those 13-years were until I read the biography of the late Cardinal, The Miracle of Hope: Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận; Political Prisoner, Prophet Of Peace, by André Châu Nguyễn just before almost everything shut down in Ontario this past March. Life in communist prison, and especially for one associated with both the Catholic Church and South Vietnam was brutal. Yet, bishop Thuận persevered through all of this. Some days were just so long for him but he really understood the present moment one day while being a bit irritated with the fact the he could no longer exercise his episcopal ministry in the way that he was used to. However, Thuận found a sense of liberation in living the present moment. With everything he had, he dedicated his time, his work to God. His interactions with others, even his enemies, were done with love.
The figure of Cardinal Thuận has been brought up so many times by many priests and bishops throughout the world during this time because truly, Cardinal Thuận is the model of sanctity for our times. Sainthood is not founded in the result of our lives, but rather the process of how we live our lives – much of which composed of the smallest of tasks in our lives.
I remember sitting in my chair up in my room after completing a Zoom meeting with a youth ministry a couple weeks ago and I just felt a sense of deprivation. However, I really used that moment to look carefully at all the stuff on my desk from things given from my friends to me, pictures of family and friends, souvenirs from my time in Europe, books upon books… just so much stuff. I thought of the many moments I spent with family and friends and believe that God has given me so much and yet I have not been able to love fully and sometimes, I leave time to go to waste just dipping myself in moments of being ungrateful, of anger and of darkness. However, thinking of Cardinal Thuận, he had those moments too but knew how to turn things around.
I think that is challenge for all of us. How do you respond to times like this? The only solution I think to that is to live in the present moment. While being stuck inside your house sucks, know that these dark times will soon pass and that we will return to “joy and to feasting after this time of trial.”
A lot of people had plans, you had plans, I had plans… all the way until the end of 2020 – everything cancelled and/or placed on hold. However, I wish to say – use this time and spend it with family and friends. Use this time to cook, film, foster some new transferable skills. You might not have the chance to do this type of stuff again down the road. I myself never thought that I would be cooking any time soon. I often made the excuse of, “I’m too busy!” or “Too tired, too much work…”
Life is never going to go the way you want it – that is a fact of life and it will be so no matter how hard you work. I know many of you have worked very hard towards Graduation Day this year. I have seen much of the work myself, especially during my years of study at Chaminade College School in which some members of this Graduating Class I have been blessed to have as classmates, and I have seen it with my own sister as well. I know these days and months have been tough. These last months of high school should have been memorable in the fact that you guys would spend more time with each other, cherishing those moments and later on next week, you guys would be gathering for Graduation.
Some of you are bothered by what is happening right now. I have seen it with the U of T Class of 2020 myself. However, you should not let that fact bother you. I know for sure all of you will be able to gather in some form either virtually or in-person later on, or even both. However, you will look back at those surprises in life and one day, when you guys have graduated university and have your own kids, you will be telling your children about what happened during the past months and possibly what you did.
I am so proud of the Gryphon Class of 2020. Even with the doors of the school building closed, I have seen a lot of great work being done showcased all over social media from Cham voices being featured on the Toronto Star, being NASA champs, Town Halls, producing a 30 minute drama production, supported a fellow gryphon through a video message going through tough times, and interesting and fun ways of celebrating Graduates. The school community is still very much alive. You did not let these “unprecedented times” get the best of you but rather, used this time to fill it with love and took part in initiatives that fostered the life of the school community. That is what people who are “Fortes in Fide – Strong in Faith” should be doing – “igniting hope” in the lives of others no matter what the circumstances are.
Know, these times are just one in many trials we will face in our lives. In order to face these trials though, we must be “Fortes in Fide” for it is only with a strong firm faith in God will we be able to truly live the present moment like Cardinal Thuận and like so many of the saints who faced many trials. That is what Catholic Education should be geared toward – forming people of faith through the frame work of the Catholic Graduate Expectations. By forming young people who are “Strong in Faith”, the Catholic Education is arming young people with the tools necessary to face trials not only academically but also spiritually. With that in mind, know that God is good, and do not let evil convince you otherwise.
Dear friends, know that I and many, many people are celebrating your achievements and your hard work. Keep your heads high and know that you are graduating though under irregular circumstances, but everything will be okay. Go on with life, taking in every moment because you will never be able to redo any moment of your life. Once it is over, it is over and it is etched in history. Fill your time with love and passion so that the world will shine bright like stars in the sky and in that love and passion, all things will bring glory to God.
Cham Gryphon, “19
B.A. student, U of T “23