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The hundreds of high school students from across the archdiocese kept streaming toward Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, wanting to shake his hand and stopping for photos that included selfies and group pictures.
Through it all, Cardinal Tobin seemed to savor every second of the nearly 25-minute scene that unfolded at the back of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis—the setting where he had celebrated a Mass for the high school seniors on Nov. 30.
While the students left the cathedral with smiles and snapshots, Cardinal Tobin also used his homily to leave them with some guidance and inspiration for their future.
He began his homily by talking about his favorite American writer, E. L. Doctorow.
“What I liked was the way he described the experience of writing,” Cardinal Tobin noted. “He described writing a novel as like driving a car at night. You can follow your headlights. You only see a portion of the road. But what you see is enough to tell you whether you’re lost or whether you’re on your way home.
“When he sat down to write a novel, he didn’t always know how it was going to end. But throughout the whole experience, he could see enough to let him know he was on the way home.
“I thought about that image, and I wonder if it doesn’t describe our lives—wonder if it doesn’t describe your life right now. You’re seniors. Being seniors means, among other things, that you’re looking forward to a date in late May or early June. Maybe you see a little beyond that. Maybe you see university or a job or time in the military. And beyond that, it gets a little fuzzy, doesn’t it?”
Cardinal Tobin told the students he could sympathize with that feeling because of the transition he is making from being the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.
“On January 6, I’ve got to start a new job in a city I’ve been to twice in my life—a place called Newark, New Jersey. Driving in there last month, the lights on the police car that was driving me showed in the distance the skyline of Newark. A priest in the backseat said, ‘Does that look familiar?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ He said, ‘This is the opening scene of “The Sopranos.” I said, ‘Great. I’ll probably get whacked on my first night.’
“The word of God can be like that, if you’re a person of faith. It can be like headlights. Not that it illuminates all of your life, but it can show you enough to say, ‘Yes, I’m on the way home,’ or ‘Maybe I’m going to a place I don’t want to go.’ ”
Cardinal Tobin then drew a connection to St. Andrew the Apostle, whose feast day is on Nov. 30, the day the cardinal celebrated Mass for the high school seniors.
“Andrew, we know, was one of the 12, one of the 12 who were the closest friends and partners of Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist who introduced him to Jesus, saying, ‘This is the lamb of God’ [Jn 1:36]. That piqued Andrew’s curiosity. He began following him.
“There’s that wonderful scene in John’s Gospel. Andrew is kind of tagging along. At one point, Jesus turns around, and he asks a simple question. ‘What are you looking for?’ (Jn 1:38)
“He came and stayed that afternoon. And whatever he heard that afternoon convinced him that this was the Messiah. He goes back to his brother Peter, and the first thing he says is, ‘We found him. We found the one we’ve been looking for. His name is Jesus of Nazareth’ ” (Jn 1:41)
What makes Andrew special in that moment is that he told someone about Jesus, the cardinal said. He also noted that’s what all Catholics are called to do, by virtue of their confirmation.
“I understand following and being a disciple occurs in simple ways,” Cardinal Tobin told the high school students. “First, I kind of know Jesus, who he is. So I read about his life and his teachings in Scripture. I pray about it, to Jesus, as my risen Lord. And I hang out with others who are obviously motivated by their own faith.
“For Catholics, that means we gather at least once a week on Saturday evening or Sunday to share the Eucharist, to listen to the word of God, to learn more about this one who has called us to follow him.
“When these ways of following and being with Jesus begin to focus our lives on serving others like Jesus did, well guess what happens? People notice. ‘What are you so happy about? What secrets do you know?’ ”
In those moments, Cardinal Tobin said, he doesn’t talk about himself. Instead, he talks about Jesus.
“My brothers and sisters, if we let the word of God illuminate your senior year or my impending departure for a city I really don’t know, I think any of us who experience anxiety, maybe exhilaration, impatience and probably some uncertainty, if we believe because the headlights of our faith let us see enough that these events will be part of our following of Christ, it’s all we really need to know.
“Because we’ll know that whatever the road is ahead, we’re on our way home.” †