Simple Gifts at Graduation
This is my 15th Baccalaureate and Commencement at Benedictine College. I have had the privilege of both welcoming new students, working with them in the academic and personal lives, and shared their joy at completing the daunting task of obtaining a college degree.
Given the opportunity to address these young men and women, I would look to the story of Our Lady and the Juggler.
I attended a high school in suburban Chicago, Notre Dame, operated by the Holy Cross Fathers. Our high school drama group was called The Jugglers. After checking with some of its members, I learned its origins and its application in our daily lives. The story was originally composed by Anatole France, first printed in a newspaper in Paris in 1890, and published in a short story collection a couple of years later.
The story revolves around a traveling juggler (most commonly named Barnaby) who makes his living by entertaining crowds of people in the streets. One day he grows weary of his lifestyle and decides to enter a monastery. Although he tries to be as pious and devout as the other monks, deep down he feels guilty that he can’t pray or read or write like they do. He doubts whether or not he is cut out to be a monk after all. Upon discovering a statue of Mary in the crypt below the monastery, Barnaby decides to perform his devotions to her in the only way he knows how — juggling! Every day he goes to visit her and jumps and dances, flips and twirls, until he exhausts himself by entertaining her. Eventually, some of the monks get suspicious of his absences and decide to follow him. As they watch him perform, they become angry because they find his behavior to be sacrilegious. But just as they are about to burst down the door and punish him, a miracle happens.
Barnaby faints from exhaustion, and as he does, the statue of the Virgin comes to life! Glowing and radiant, she descends from her niche to wipe the sweat from his face and cradle him in her arms. The monks, stunned and speechless, immediately regret their ways and see Barnaby as a true saint and holy man of God.
From Melanie Zambrowski at the University of Dayton Libraries:
You are about to embark on the next phase of your journey. It may be continuing in academics, the military, or it may be your first “real world” position, perhaps far from your friends and families in a distant city. There may be some trepidation as you move out of “the bubble” and into whatever your work or academic life will look like in 2022.
Whatever the circumstances, you likely will find euphoria as you start in your new role. You’ll meet new people, make new friends in the workplace and, hopefully, in your faith life. You will learn whom to trust, and who to avoid. You’ll see weaknesses in others and, for sure, in yourself. There likely will be more than a few mornings when you drag yourself out of bed, look in the mirror, and say to yourself, and to God, “I can’t do this..I am lost!”. But, you HAVE to do something, and that’s the time you set aside moments to ask God’s guidance in a very uncertain world.
You have your God-given talents, your creativity, your enthusiasm, the essence of who you are, which will carry you to who you CAN be. They are your “simple gifts”, which permeate throughout your life.
Perhaps those moments will be perfect for you to pray to Our Blessed Mother, and show Her your talent, whatever it may be. It’s your’s, no one else’s, and Our Lady wants to see it, hear it, and celebrate it with you.
You may be exhausted, as was the juggler Barnaby, but I’m certain Our Lady will smile, and embrace you in Her arms as she did Her son.
Don’t be afraid. All will be well.
Our Blessed Mother is walking with you, always.