Trust and Strength

Ave Maria University Celebrates Its Largest Graduating Class

Throughout life, as one season or time yields to the next, much like the heat of a Florida summer follows the cool mornings of the winter, the Lord may give a word or a theme for that time and upon which we can ponder. For the 2024 graduates of Ave Maria University as they enter a new season in their lives, the two words were trust and strength.  

In his homily at the baccalaureate Mass, Bishop Dewane from the Diocese of Venice in Florida recalled the faith of Abraham, saying, “Abraham … did not know where he was going. Abraham put himself in God’s hands. We need to place ourselves in God’s hands.”  

Fr. Rick Martignetti, OFM, in his remarks prior the conclusion of Mass, likened AMU to a greenhouse, a nurturing environment for shoots and growing plants “until they are strong enough for replanting.”

“The replanting is now,” he said. “We’ve provided an environment here, hopefully,” he continued, “where you have grown and are not just little saplings anymore but are strong. And ready for the next step. Ready to be replanted to wherever the Lord needs you.”

On the next day, during the Commencement exercises, President Mark Middendorf exhorted the graduates, “You were made to walk uphill, made to swim upstream.” He concluded, “You are the world’s future saints.”

In his commencement address, podcaster and renowned speaker Fr. Mike Schmitz united even more deeply the trust we should have in God and God’s desire for us to be strong. Reflecting on his experiences in a wilderness survival program after his own graduation, Fr. Schmitz described taking a bus to the trailhead and then hiking increasingly more rugged and more narrow trails. He and the other hikers then broke off into smaller teams, left even the faded, rough tracks, and bushwhacked their way through the wilderness to a meeting point.

“This is your bushwhacking moment,” Fr. Schmitz said to the graduates. “You got to this day, and the track runs out. This is the day you enter the wilderness. You might know the name of your vocation, but you don’t know where it will lead you.”

“God wants you to live in the wilderness, to find your way through it,” Fr. Schmitz continued. He referenced Acts of the Apostles (Acts 14:22), when Paul and Barnabas strengthened the souls of the disciples, by saying that it is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.  

Fr. Schmitz then talked about how young people can question the goodness of God when faced with grief, tragedy, and challenges. “How can God be a good Father if He leaves me in so much pain?”, Fr. Schmitz asked. “God doesn’t rescue us. God wants more for us than we want for ourselves. God wants you to become stronger. Your faith doesn’t grow in a place without opposition.”

Then Fr. Schmitz told the graduates that they are called to be “anti-fragile” and to follow the Lord in trust one step at a time. To be “anti-fragile” is to grow through adversity and opposition (rather than to just experience it), and to become stronger step by step, even when they may want the future planned out before them.

Fr. Schmitz emphasized a daily trust in God, saying, “God says: Trust me today. God only gives us enough light for one more step.”  

Trust and strength. But how does one maintain the strength to trust and endure trials and hardship? In their respective remarks, Fr. Martignetti, President Mark Middendorf, and Founder and Chancellor Thomas S. Monaghan reminded the graduates and all present of the simple key to growth and trust: the sacraments and Eucharistic adoration.  

With the strength of the sacraments, the grace of adoration, our graduates can become the future saints they are called to be. And our imperfections should not deter us from trying to grow or trust. To conclude with the words of Fr. Schmitz, “Sometimes love is just showing up to the people that need you. God needs you.”  

Congratulations to Ave Maria University’s 2024 graduates! May God bless you and Mary our Blessed Mother watch over you and surround you with her love, as you are planted in new places and grow.