Cardinal to Newman grads: friendship more than Facebook

Photo Caption: Cardinal George bestows blessings at the close of the Graduation Mass at St. John’s Catholic Chapel, Champaign.

By: By Tom Dermody

CHAMPAIGN — Popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace can be useful and enjoyable ways of contacting people and staying in touch, but Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago challenged college graduates to embrace a much deeper definition of friendship, especially with God through prayer.

“Friendship takes time and patience,” said Cardinal George, principal celebrant and homilist at a Graduation Mass for University of Illinois students and their families that drew an overflow crowd last Sunday to St. John’s Catholic Chapel on campus.

Christianity, the cardinal said in his homily, is first of all an encounter with the person of Jesus. As a true friend, Jesus longs to be with us and makes himself present in many ways, including the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

“A sign we are friends is that we take seriously what our friend takes seriously,” said Cardinal George, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the case of friendship with the Lord, he said, “what Jesus wants is that we obey the Father and love one another in his name.”

Congratulating the graduates, Cardinal George prayed that “your lives be a surrender to God in friendship born of prayer in the context of all you do.”

The graduation Mass was concelebrated by Msgr. Gregory Ketcham — director and head chaplain of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center — and more than a dozen area priests. It was promoted as a “legacy liturgy” because it marked the end of the Newman Center’s 80th anniversary celebration and an historic school year that began with the dedication of a $30 million expansion project.

A combined Newman Center choir featuring brass and strings under the direction of Heath Morber provided music for the Mass. A reception and dinner followed in the first floor dining hall of the new residence hall complex.

After remarks by a Newman student and a parent, Cardinal George presented medals of St. John the Evangelist to about 80 graduating seniors who were present, some in cap and gown. Msgr. Ketcham then gave Cardinal George a different kind of remembrance: a University of Illinois football jersey bearing his name.

Cardinal George said he felt at home at the university and Newman Center “because there are so many from the Archdiocese of Chicago here.”

The Gospel at the Graduation Mass included Jesus’ command to “love one another” and his use of the term “friends” to describe his relationship with his disciples. In his homily, Cardinal George said true friendships have three characteristics:

? Friends are of one mind. “There are no secrets,” said Cardinal George. “Friends face one another and are able to share what’s on their mind.”

? Friends are of one heart. “The Lord shares his heart so we might be of one heart,” he said.

? Friends share common actions. Generosity and sacrifice are hallmarks of friendship, he said. Cardinal George thanked the many friends of the Newman community at the University of Illinois who have been generous throughout its 80-year ministry.

He urged the young people not to let online social networks substitute for friendship or even lead them into destructive, sinful consequences.

Cardinal George told the assembly that he was going to start his own “blog” — an online running commentary — next week “because my communications director says I should have a blog.”

“But a blog is not friendship,” he said. “It’s a contact. Contacts need to develop into relationships, and relationships into friendships.”

Christianity is based on an encounter with Jesus, and until that happens “the faith is fairy tales” and morals are simply rules to follow, said Cardinal George.

Once an encounter happens and friendship begins to develop, we want to know everything about the other person. In the case of Jesus, “we have to find out who he is,” and Cardinal George urged the graduates to listen to the church and those who are holy. Above all, he said, develop a consistent life of prayer to be of one heart and mind with the Lord.

“Prayer is the conversation we have among friends when God and I are friends,” he said.

Speaking at the reception as grateful friends of the Newman community were Brock Perkes, a graduating senior who was a resident adviser at Newman Hall for three years, and Ned Zerwic of Glenview, whose daughter Megan is a member of the Class of 2009.

Perkes said in his sophomore year he began asking questions and looking for truth. “I learned love and truth within these walls.” said Perkes, who said the church needs “more communities like St. John’s to help build a firm foundation so they can learn and grow.”

“I am thankful and forever grateful,” he said.

Zerwic put it succinctly: “I love Newman.”

“Megan has grown in her faith journey,” he told the group. “I can’t tell you how happy I am with her wonderful group of friends. We’re blessed to have such a wonderful environment.

“The credit goes to so many people,” Zerwic continued. “We’re the beneficiaries of so many who have gone before us. Every chance I get I tell everyone, ‘I love Newman.'”

Graduating seniors and eighth-graders were prayerfully congratulated at high schools and Newman Centers throughout the diocese as the school year came to an end.

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