by Chris Gonzalez, TLI Graduate Class of 2021

This speech was  given by Chris Gonzalez, President of the Tepeyac Leadership Initiative Central Class of 2021, at the graduation ceremony for the 2021 TLI Central cohort.

Welcome special guests, the families of Tepeyac Leadership graduates, the Tepeyac Leadership Board of Directors, Leadership Team, alumni and TLI Phoenix 2021!  It is a great honor and privilege to be here today representing TLI Phoenix as Class President.  Thank you to my cohort for this honor.

On behalf of our class, I would also like to especially recognize and thank Andres Martin for moderating our weekly sessions, Fr. Daniel Cruz for serving as our Spiritual Director, Denise Barajas for keeping us all updated weekly with speakers and our class, and Cristofer Pereyra for his relentless dedication to Tepeyac Leadership.  All of us agreed that it is because of Cristofer’s drive and heart that we are all here today.

Before I continue, our class would like to give a special thank you to Andres’ spouse, Kara and family.  Without a doubt, it takes more than one person to run TLI every Tuesday from 6-9pm and it would not be possible without her support.  Thank you for letting us borrow Andres weekly!

When we all started TLI, many of us were curious about the people in the program.  Were we faithful Catholics?  Did we take our faith seriously?  What are we to gain from this program?  The fascinating part to these questions was that each of us felt “at home” in some way being connected to likeminded individuals, Catholic Individuals.  We started getting to know one another by connecting our faith and seeing how each of us work to bridge our faith lives into the world.

As our sessions progressed, we grew as a class connecting via “zoom coffee” and sharing our lives.  Weekly we listened to speakers, experts in their fields, talk openly about highly contentious issues.  Feeling closer to home each week, the class attended the Virtuous Leadership retreat where we bonded even more.  My favorite moment (other than taking selfies with everyone’s phone) was the end of the of talk.  We were hearing more about how our dispositions can lead us to magnanimity by contemplating Christ and his ministry.  As the talk was ending, we transitioned into contemplative prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration.  I noticed a sense of peace in the room with everyone.  There were classmates kneeling the entire time (nearly an hour) on the bare floor, classmates praying intently and classmates contemplating their commitments.  Looking back on that moment, the purpose of our weekly sessions was being understood on a deeper level.  We must act or there will be no one to stand in the breach.

We learned that “Atheistic Humanism” is the great heresy of our time: “Man can achieve total freedom by removing God”.  John 15: 18-19 makes sense in contrast:

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

 So how do we as Tepeyac Leadership graduates combat this heresy?  How do we go out into the world make good on our commitments, a kind of vow before God and everyone here in the face of Atheistic Humanism?  I believe we can begin by demonstrating charity: love.  It is this that inspires us to act in tandem with what we are each created for because we were each created out of love.  In Alexandre Havard’s book ­Virtuous Leadership, he writes “human freedom is not liberation from external influences, rather it is a question of FREELY choosing the influences you FREELY choose to submit to”.  When we choose charity: love, we submit to it as God intended it to be.  The world has lost touch with this reality.

That is not new to anyone here.  Secular society is redefining love to serve its own intended good.  Have you ever noticed when someone tries to do good outside of themselves it quickly turns into something which is “mutually beneficial” to both parties?  Or it turns into a profitable material gain, propping up a brand or image?  In Virtuous Leadership, Havard says to avoid “existential indifferentism”, an imagination of our consciousness perceiving greatness based on delusions and ego with “leadership” being a game or strategy of tactics and empty rhetoric to manipulate others.  Sound familiar?  How many “influencers” call themselves leaders in a space based on followers, likes, comments and use these metrics to say they are “great”.   Radical individualism seeks to serve our own interests & no real desire to serve a truth or good.  The problems we face in the world are much more than political ideologies.  There is a lack of authentic charity, love that is grounded in God’s divine will, sacrificial in nature without the expectation of material gain.

We must work to change the hearts of individuals and respond with charity.  We here know that real love is a sacrifice of self, self-giving to others.  Our commitments begin at home, pursuing daily prayer, contemplation, examination, receiving the sacraments regularly.  They lead to bettering ourselves for God’s work, sanctifying all that we do, forgiving others, showing mercy, gift of self to our spouses, children, parents, siblings, and friends.  Leading our families in prayer, taking back Sundays, learning to do leisure so we can recharge our souls with God’s gifts.  Then it takes shape in how we relate to others, showing empathy and compassion, reaching out to a stranger in need or even just demonstrating that we care enough to listen and help.  One day, someone or something will ask or require you to act.  There will be a voice in your heart and mind that says, “if not you then who”.  But the “who” part will frighten you because it is God saying, “there is no ‘who’ there is YOU”.

TLI graduates are the arbiters of Catholic Action in this age, the response we desperately need to stand in the breaches of our communities.  People are looking up to each of us to act and stand up for the dignity of each human being we encounter, even in the face of adversity.  Our Baptism tasks us with this mission and our Confirmation strengthens us for the long haul.

Let us remember Christ’s ministry.  Christ came to show the broken world that God is all loving and merciful when we orient ourselves to His will.  Not everyone followed or believed Christ while He was here on earth.  But the 12 that did were the arbiters of His message, inspiring countless other saints to follow His path.  Every Saint acted out of charity giving themselves to people around them in service to God’s divine will.  Let us remember we are not alone in our pursuits, that not only do we have God, His Son Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother, St Joseph, St Michael, St Juan Diego, all the angels and saints, but also one another as a graduating class.  I humbly ask each of us to remain vigilant with one another, support one another, hold one another accountable and most importantly to pray for one another.  We can stand in the breaches of our communities as arbiters of our faith together because it is charity that will never separate us.

Thank you for listening and God Bless each of you and your families on your commitments.  Thank you.

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