Our two graduates, Luke Bednar and Lucia Bosonetto, and faculty and friends of Immaculate Heart of Mary School, were honored with a commencement address by Professor Ryan Topping, D.Phil. (Oxon.), of Saint Thomas More College in Merrimack, NH. A native of Saskatoon, Canada, Dr. Topping earned an MA in Philosophy from the University of Manitoba and a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Oxford. He is currently a Fellow at Thomas More. Our speaker has authored several books and has written extensively on Catholic themes and luminaries, from Saint Augustine, to Dante, to G.K. Chesterton.
Dr. Topping peppered his incisive talk with just the right amount of humor to keep a counseling exhortation from being overly admonitory. Presenting his theme of life “as a story,” he stressed that the story of one’s life can “end well or badly.”
Culling from the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, our speaker said that every life will have its Saint George, a princess, and a dragon. That may seem a bit fairy-tale-ish, but, he explained to the graduates that, later on, when they are enduring the mundane routine of the daily grind, they will do well to remember where they have come from and consider where they are going. The martyr Saint George slew a dragon to save a city and its princess, who was about to be devoured by the dragon. The dragon was the devil. And the princess symbolized the Church about to be born in that part of the Crimea then known as Trebizond. That city converted to Christianity from paganism.
Like Saint George, our speaker said, we must be fighters and lovers, for we will have dragons in our lives. This cannot be, Dr. Topping said, if we have a “weak love.” And, our society today is swimming in a fetid sea of weak love. What is this weak love? Dr. Topping laid down a few statistics that are indicative of the post-Christian lazy, self-ingratiating, and epicurean culture.
The average American is $8000 in credit card debt. Rampant consumerism is pandemic.
The average American male spends two hours and forty-three minutes a day on video entertainment web sites.
The average age of video addicts is thirty-five. I found that fact astonishing.
There are more people in their twenties and thirties living with their parents than ever before.
If we are to “love well,” like Saint George,” what then,” our speaker asked the graduates, “are we supposed to love?” And, more importantly, “how do we love the right way?” And, in “what order and proportion”? Dr. Topping’s expertise in philosophy was most manifest at this point.
To illustrate the lesson he was advocating, our speaker evoked Saint Augustine. Do not imitate him in wasting your youth, was the doctor’s obvious, if subtle, admonition, but imitate him in his “strong love,” in loving good things “in the right way.”
Quoting the immemorial words from The Confessions: “Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new,” and, highlighting the higher love that is supernatural, a gift of grace, from the allure of created beauty, the professor noted that the African doctor grieved that “lovely things kept me far from you, my God,” for he did not see the Author hidden in “lovely things,” but only the natural beauty therein. Knowing “late” Whom he should love, Augustine cried out, “I am set on fire.”
So, turning to the graduates who were seated behind him, Dr. Topping warned them not to confuse the good things of this world with the higher divine things of the Princess. “Love is not a hole to fall into,” he said, “but a hill to climb.”
With a rousing denouement, Dr. Topping rallied the “pilgrim” duo as they, like Saint George, would soon be leaving home for wherever God would call them: “Take up your lance,” Luke and Lucia, “and strike the head off the dragon,” now and all throughout your lives.