This reflection was originally presented during the Class of 2021 Baccalaureate Mass
May 15, 2021
Good evening Prep seniors! And good evening Prep senior parents. Just take that greeting in for a minute. Unless you have another son coming to Prep, you’re probably not going to hear that again. But just for a minute—before the journey of college or paying for it, before the journey of finding a job or supporting him if he doesn’t get one, before the journey of maybe getting married and being a father—before the rest of your life, gentlemen, let’s just take the moment in…
Enjoy this beautiful, and dare I say, sacred setting. You are literally gathered on the corner of Grand and Warren—the crossroads where young men from over 150 communities from Connecticut to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, converge to form one Prep Family. Prep Magic.
And it is literally a spectacular corner. When you stand on that iconic corner, with Prep at your back and you look east down Grand Street, you see the NYC skyline, with all its possibilities, and then you look south down Warren Street to see the Statue of Liberty, with all its hope.
This location of Grand and Warren is so vitally important to Prep’s story. And there were times in our history when we almost left this area. Can you imagine that? During World War I, when we were sharing a campus with Saint Peter’s College, the college had to shut down. When it reopened 12 years later, they decided to move to Kennedy Blvd…but we stayed right here.
Then, in the 1960s, there were serious discussions at the Province level regarding Prep moving out to what is now Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, where we, admittedly, could have occupied a larger campus. But we stayed right here, remaining true to our urban roots. Another time in the ’70s, with Prep experiencing declining enrollment, folks said the area was too rough and was hindering our ability to grow. But we stayed.
Now these days, obviously, it’s a little different. Now this area has become known nationally as “the gold coast,” we get offers to buy parts of our campus. But we hold tight. We stay. We stay because this is our home, because this rock, this literal rock known as Paulus Hook, the most solid ground in the once-marshy area of downtown Jersey City—is the rock upon which we literally have built our identity, our mission, our tradition. Upon this rock.
Upon this rock. It’s difficult to think about that phrase without thinking about Jesus staring at Peter and saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”
Saint Peter’s Prep, or said another way “The Prep School of Saint Peter.”
Of course we look up to him, but just like all of us, he was imperfect. He’s so imperfect, Peter is like Mr. Imperfect. He was so afraid sometimes. He was so afraid he denies even knowing his best friend, Jesus. He falls asleep when Jesus asks him to pray with him in the garden; he’s afraid of high winds and some waves, despite being a professional fisherman and having the creator of the universe in the boat with him; he’s afraid. He’s impulsive—whether he tries to attack a group of armed soldiers or when he witnesses the miracle of the Transfiguration. Instead of just marveling in seeing Christ and Elijah and Moses, he gets all giddy about his role in the story and offers to build three tents. This is the same guy that Jesus looked in the eye and said, “Get behind me Satan…”
He fails at his faith almost just as much as he gets it right. But this is our guy, our namesake. He shows us what we can be, despite who we think we are, with all of our limitations and faults. He shows us the answer to the question, “Who am I to change the world?” with the answer “Who am I not to?”
When Jesus called this youthful, enthusiastic, sometimes foolish, sometimes quick-mouthed, sometimes impulsive fisherman, it certainly wasn’t because he was perfect. But maybe it was because he always, always got up, every time he fell. You couldn’t break him. He was a rock.
Maybe he’s not Mr. Imperfect after all. Of course, Peter wasn’t lucky enough to go to a Jesuit high school, but maybe he is Mr. Open to Growth. I’m glad that you all are intellectually competent, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice–or at least well on your way. But none of that happens unless you are open to growth, like Peter—with a great desire to not just learn but to learnmore, a desire to not just live a faith-filled life, but a desire to have a soul-filled life with boundless faith, a desire to not just be strong in mind and heart and body, but a desire to have the confidence to be someone’s rock. And of course, humble enough to ask questions like, “Can you help me?” “Will you walk the road with me?” and “Can you forgive me?”
I know that sometimes, like Peter you might fall asleep when you should be working on a project, or your anger might get the best of you and you send a nasty text or let the volume control your voice, or sometimes you might just be really, really afraid. But just keep growing—not just going, but growing. Remember, as Addison tells us, we are not human beings, we are humans becoming. And you are becoming a man, a good man, and in a few days a Prep grad, who can and must change the world. I expect nothing less from you! I love you. Let’s go Prep.
Sub Umbra Petri,
Michael A. Gomez, Ed.D., ’91