Graduation 2018 Speech: Fr. George S. Salzmann, OSFS

by Rev. George Salzmann, OSFS | May 24, 2018

Rev-George-Salzmann-DeSales-Commencement-2018

I’m honored to join you, and humbled by your kindness.

Congratulations on all you’ve learned and done on the way to this day!

I pray for your success!  (And if ever for a moment you need someone to talk to, do know that we are now classmates and I’d be honored to be called).  

A nun was returning from a Lourdes pilgrimage and going through Customs, the inspector relentless! Finding a bottle of clear liquid, he asked, “What’s this, Sister?” “Why, it’s Lourdes Water.  I’ve just been to Lourdes.”  Unscrewing it to smell it, “Sister, this isn’t Lourdes water, this is gin!”  “Ah, thanks be to God!  Another miracle!” 

I had the luck to be in the third graduating class of DeSales University and lived up on the hill with sixty other Oblate seminarians then. 

Thus the Order’s funding for recreation was spartan and came in two monthly plans in that uninflated day - Take your pick:  $6/month for movies  Or 25¢/day for coffee with lay students. 

You, the latter, were much more fun than movies and so I stuck with plan B.  Thus I don’t now know Tom Cruise from Ted Cruz, but then, at the end of three years I was startled to be elected Student Body President!  

It was a great intro to what a Chaplain does anywhere:  spend time with people in the midst of all their concerns.  What a joy!  I was very lucky that God made me an Oblate of St Francis de Sales. ...And I still get money for coffee!  

My Mother’s favorite prayer was:   “Thank You God for Everything!!”  Spontaneous and simple but powerful in talking to God at once!  Looking out at an autumn sunset, rejoicing in God’s grandeur, seeing life and self and God, together. 

Think of St Francis of Assisi surveying with joy all the world. “Thank you God for everything!”  Think of every alum returning, grateful for all the help and good in the years spent here, seminal ever after:  “Thank you God for everything!” 

And then for this very day:   

“Thank You God, for Everything!” 

 As you move from college into life, you move from theory to experience.  “The young man/woman knows the rules, the older man/woman has learned the exceptions - which are themselves the rule!

We get Wisdom from Experience. But we get much of our Experience...from our Mistakes!   Ouch!

Question:  Do you know what they often say at Harvard Medical School graduations?  That “Half of what we’ve taught you may well prove false.  ....The only problem is....that we don’t know which half that is!!”

It is no small thing, the getting of experience! 

And its costs are no small thing!  For we also deal with other people’s mistakes.

Perhaps that’s why Sir Winston Churchill was the hero of the 2018 Oscars: Impossible burdens,
Traitorous colleagues,
Weapons lost in France, none at home,
The capital, the world’s largest port, aflame every night
Constant Bombing and nerves destroyed

And yet, amid the destruction unleashed by democracy’s greatest enemy --- an iron will questioning the lies and propaganda:

“It is courage that makes all the other virtues possible!” ---- “It is courage that makes all the other virtues possible!”

We ask you to allow yourself that courage, the courage to support you amid the getting of experience. 

Franklin Hutchinson my advisor in Molecular Biophysics at Yale, used to mock-shout a line at me passed on to him through Sir James Chadwick who discovered the neutron.  It was the constant exclamation of Lord Rutherford --who’d solved radioactivity, received the Nobel prize even before he discovered the nucleus, split it twice and produced 12 Nobel laureates:   “Any damn fool can interpret good data; what I want is lousy data!”  (Save money, fewer supplies, use statistics!)

It was almost a scientific Apostolic Succession.  

My point today would be to take that from the science into the whole of life. 

Because, life is lousy data

The race is not always to the swift.  Good people suffer, the devious get ahead. 

Life is lousy data, sometimes well-nigh Beavis & Buttheadian in its noise and scatter!

Yet, experience will teach you that “Unless you love someone, nothing makes sense!”

Thus we gather every Sunday to be loved by God and to love each other and to make sense of our experience together. 

People value experience.  Well why not take as your mentor “the greatest experiencer of all time,” St Augustine?

Bright, energetic and aware, Carthage was not big enough for him and he was determined to go to Rome.  

His Mother, St Monica, followed him to the northern shore of Africa where he left her in a chapel dedicated to St Cyprian and promised he would not leave.  

But the next line in his Confessions:  “The wind rose and filled our sails and the shores disappeared from sight, and where was she in the morning light, but on that shore, shouting into your ear that You had not listened to her prayers.  But You did more than she had ever asked or imagined, and made me a faithful Christian at long last.”

Ten years after his conversion, Augustine looked back and saw God running after him faster than Augustine was running away! 

He then wrote the Confessions, and learned to see in own life the Providence of God – as I hope you come to see it in your life as the years go on! And he then discovered the whole art of living life:

“Thou hast made us for Thyself O Lord, and our hearts shall ever be restless until they rest in Thee!” 

Indeed! “Thou hast made us for Thyself O Lord, and our hearts shall ever be restless until they rest in Thee!”

I too went to Rome, sent there by Fr Gambet for theology and ordination. My Mother died just as I was to return, my first Mass in our home parish being her funeral.  I’ve always felt so bad about that, that I was not with her when she died.  And yet, the 40th anniversary of her death is just next Saturday, the very Octave of your kind events today. They say God winks at us….Perhaps our parents do too. 

If your mother or father are gone to God already, know they are with you and with us, here, today, now.

Thankfulness is at the heart of life! May God keep them long with us. May they receive the reward of their labors!

A grad student at a supermarket in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had 25 items on the belt. 
Cashier:  “Are you at Harvard or MIT?”
Student:  “What business is that of yours?”
Pointing to overhead sign saying “Limit 8 items.”
“I’m just trying to figure out if you can’t count or you can’t read.” 

We live in an Age of Specialization!

God told the woman Doctor of the Church, St Catherine of Siena, that “I never give all the virtues to any one person, but charity to one, justice to another, humility to this one, a living faith to that one, so that you will all need each other; and can be my ministers in caring for each other!”

Fr Greenfield, always reminds us to be ourselves, citing that expert on life, St Francis de Sales: “Be who you are and be that well, to give honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork you are”

 “As the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music says to Maria, her postulant:  “You must live the life you were born to live!”  

A nun was trying to instruct her classroom on the dangers of drink. She somehow availed herself of two worms and put them separately into two tumblers, one of water, the other of neat gin. 

The one in the water swam around and throve, whereas the one in the gin shriveled up and sank like the proverbial door nail.  Triumphant, she looked up and asked, “What does this clearly demonstrate?”

A kid in the back:  “If you stick to gin....you’ll never get worms!”

The nun was right; but the kid had a point - it’s almost time for lunch.   Let’s roll!

I’d like to tell a story that might capture your lives in the years ahead, and then ask us all together to ask God to offer a blessing upon you.

I know the Royal Wedding is today - but your Commencement has quite eclipsed it in the news! With an eye to that, let us all use the shortest line from the Blessing offered at the wedding of Sir Winston and Lady Churchill over a hundred years ago. 

I’ll signal when we get there by raising my hand and pointing to God, so we ask Him as all of us offer our blessing to you. 

Now to Sir William Osler…then to the blessing.  

The most famous physician in the English-speaking world  a hundred years ago was William  Osler, founding head of medicine at Johns Hopkins, then Regius Professor at Oxford. 

Rushing down the street in Baltimore, he was asked by a young doctor he had taught where he was rushing to. “To the County Medical Meeting. In fact, why aren’t you going?” “I find I don’t get much out of them.” 
“Do you think I go because of what I can Get?  
I go because of what I can Give!”

You are surrounded by people who love you!   They and I will now ask the good Lord’s blessing upon you.  Wholeheartedly!  And with Full Voice!

“May Your Lives!   /    

Be a Blessing!   /   

Each to the Other!   /  

And All to the World!”  /


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Tom.McNamara@desales.edu
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