Perseverance: a Graduation Speech

The following is a brief introductory speech I gave at IHM School’s graduation this past Sunday. Readers should know that our school in rural southern New Hampshire is very small. We had one graduate this year — a fine young man who is very intelligent.

Not that I would actually do this, but I surmise that if I invited Marc to the microphone to recite Brother Francis’ definition of Wisdom, he would be able to do so. Whether or not that is the case, I will remind some of — and introduce others to — that definition, because these few opening comments of mine are intended to build on it: “Wisdom is the most perfect knowledge of the most important truths in the right order of emphasis, accompanied by a total, permanent disposition to live accordingly.”

Notice that Brother includes the will as well as the intellect with those final words, “accompanied by a total, permanent disposition to live accordingly.” (We hope that during these years at IHM, both of those faculties of our graduate — intellect and will — have been formed in Wisdom.) For a very important reason, I would like to draw your attention to that “permanent disposition” to live according to the perfect knowledge that is Wisdom. This disposition implies perseverance in the good, something horribly and, yes, scandalously missing from the world today. We see it in manifold ways, including the abandonment of ecclesiastical and religious vocations, the corrosion of marriage and family life, and the cycle of perpetual adolescence that the modern adult male is caught in, which has him going from pillar to post to couch as he wonders what he’ll be when he finally grows up.

I would like to consider perseverance for just a moment. Perseverance is a moral virtue that is part of the cardinal virtue of fortitude. It majors in assisting the other virtues because it inclines us to the continual practice of good in spite of difficulties. There is an imperfect sort of perseverance we can practice from day to day, but then give up by not completing the act. Perfect perseverance lasts to the very end. Saint Thomas, whose thinking I have so far paraphrased, says this about it: “Properly speaking it belongs to perseverance to persevere to the end of the virtuous work, for instance that a soldier persevere to the end of the fight, and the magnificent man until his work be accomplished” (ST IIa IIae, Q. 137, A. 1, ad 2).

Perhaps soldiering will not be Marc’s chosen profession, but he can still be a “magnificent man.”

Difficulties will come. And they will keep coming. Were that not the case, this life would not be a vale of tears, nor would Christ’s Mystical Body on earth be known as the “Church Militant.” To be a real Christian man especially, one must persevere in the good through difficulties, not merely work in fits and starts. Nobody whose respect we want respects a quitter. Enthusiasms, if they be genuine, must be perfected by toil and sweat. This goes for every worthy undertaking, be it in one’s academic life, or his pursuit of vocation or career, but it is especially the case in his living out of the primary vocation that we have all received in Holy Baptism: that common vocation to grace in this life and glory in the next. Concerning this last — our eternal salvation — Our Lord said this to the Apostles: “he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved” (Matt 10:22). He said this, by the way, right after telling them that they would be “hated by all men for my name’s sake.”

As I said, difficulties will come. And they will keep coming.

But even in this life, God gives us joy, such as the joy of this day. He condescends to our weakness and grants us little consolations, little glimpses of future glory — sometimes even big, luminous, panoramic visions of His own Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. We must relish such moments, but not get addicted to them, for there is more drudgery ahead, more soldiering on. Quite often, the good God gives us little encouragements — frequently through the kindness and charity of other people — to strengthen us and help us to persevere in the good we have undertaken.

And that is what we are here for today. Kindly and charitably, we’re going to encourage Marc, as we gently push him out of the safe little harbor of IHM School, bidding him to persevere as he “puts out into the deep” of academic life at Northeast Catholic College. (I hope you know what Duc in Altum means, Marc. If you don’t now, you will soon.)

My final words are to Mark, as well as to all the young men present. They constitute the last verse of Psalm twenty-six, which we pray every Monday in the office of Terse, and they pertain to this wisdom of perseverance: Expecta Dominum, viriliter age, et confortetur cor tuum, et sustine Dominum. “Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord.”