Students are back on campus this weekend, including many freshmen moving into the dorms for the first time, away from home, excited and nervous to start this new chapter of their lives. While I am certain that our father bishops did not consult the WCU academic calendar when laying out our church's three-year cycle of readings, the second reading today seems hand picked for the start of the school year.
We could sum up this reading in a few short words: "Don't act like an idiot." Or perhaps a better way to put it would be: "Act like your life matters." Some come to college with the attitude that it doesn't matter what they do while at school, because these short years of college are meant for experimenting, to be risky and care-free, and enjoy all those stupid, silly things that you can't get away with in adult life, while you still can. It is as if the college experience is like a four-year Las Vegas -- what happens in college, stays in college.Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.-Eph 5:15-20
But I have news for you. College is not your "last chance to have fun" before real life starts. College is real life. And the decisions you make in college and the things you choose to do here really do matter. So lets act like it. Some of you reading this will be away from home, out from under your parents' wings, for the first time in your life. You may see it as an opportunity to do all the crazy things mom and dad would never approve of, but it is also an opportunity to be responsible. Put simply, you are being tested.
Does this mean you need to buckle down, bury yourselves in your books, and never have any fun? Of course not! The reading says not to live "as foolish persons," and not to "get drunk on wine." And if your only idea of fun involves being a drunk fool, I feel sorry for you. But the reading also speaks of us "singing and playing for the Lord." This is what Christians ought to do -- sing and play! We should be having fun, and lots of it. The most happy, joy-filled people I have met have been Christians.
College can be a lot of fun, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it, which is what St. Paul is saying to us today. The goal of education is simple: to increase our understanding and decrease our ignorance. Whether you are studying chemistry, or nursing, or psychology, or math, that goal is the same. You are trying to increase your understanding of that subject. But returning to the "college is part of real life" theme, the most important subject in your life is your relationship with God. How well do you know your Creator? St. Paul is encouraging us to "try to understand what is the will of the Lord." You can't just put your relationship with God on hold for four years.
So how do we do this? How do we increase our understanding of God's will for us, and do those other things St. Paul is writing about; living carefully, making the most of our opportunities, singing and playing and giving thanks to God through Christ? Ok Lord, we say, I want to know you better, so how do I start?
Today's first reading from Proverbs speaks of Wisdom's invitation to us. "Wisdom has built her house... she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table... to the one who lacks understanding she says, Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live, advance in the way of understanding" (Prv 9:1-6).
If we eat of the meal Wisdom has prepared for us, we will understand. So what is this meal? Our gospel reading today ties it all up (Jn 6:51-54).
Jesus is the bread of life. He is the meal prepared for us by Wisdom (another name for the Holy Spirit). If we want to understand God's will, we need to draw close to Christ. If we want to love God more, we need to draw close to Christ. If we want to be the holy people God made us to be, we need to draw close to Christ. As Jesus says in today's gospel, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." He is speaking of the Eucharist, His very Body and Blood made present for us in the sacrament He established at the Last Supper.Jesus said to the crowds: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
We at WCU are very blessed to have the Eucharist celebrated for us on campus each Sunday during the Fall and Spring semesters. Do not miss this opportunity to commune with Our Lord. Draw close to him. Make the Eucharist your weekly refuge, the pivot around which the rest of your schedule is anchored. Let Him nourish you and strengthen you. Know, too, that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in our chapel throughout the week, available for you to come and spend a few moments in prayer any time during the day when you need a boost.
College is hard. The opportunities to fail, to fall into sin, and make bad decisions will be many. But so are the opportunities for growth, for friendship, and for blessings. The Lord is ready and waiting for you to make him your partner in all you do, to make sure you avoid the pitfalls and don't miss the wonderful opportunities this period in your life holds for you.
We can start today, at Mass, by celebrating the Eucharist in a spirit of joy, singing and playing to the Lord in our hearts, giving Him thanks always.
Don't miss it: Our FIRST MASS of the new semester will be celebrated tonight in the Catholic Student Center chapel at 7:30pm. Come half an hour early and join our Rosary prayer group at 7:00.