God Builds Cathedrals From Our Bricks of Charity, Chastity and Cheerfulness

Published June 5, 2024

The National Catholic Register

The following commencement address was delivered May 26 at the Willows Academy in Des Plaines, Illinois.

It is not lost on me the great honor that it is to be invited to address you all on this pivotal day. Of my six children, three have graduated high school so far and three will — God willing — within the next six years. I only need reflect for a few moments on my love for them to feel the weight of this day for your families and to feel assured of their delight in you and for you.

This is an exciting moment. In some ways it is more momentous than even your college graduation will be four short years from now. Why? Because most of you are leaving home and your families for the first time, many of you are leaving the state. You’re leaving this excellent school which, along with your families, has worked to instill in you the intellectual, moral and spiritual formation that is the foundation for your happiness and sets you apart from most of the society.

And now you will live out that foundation far more independently than you have needed to thus far. This is good! This is exciting! When we embrace truth more freely, we tend to embrace it more deeply. And in a society where lies run rampant, a deep love for what is true is revolutionary. Now you get to own what you know to be true in a new way, with a greater sense of mission.

There is a parable of 17th-century architect Christopher Wren rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral. He came to the site one day and encountered three bricklayers. He asked them what they were doing and all three gave a different response. The first said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m building a wall.” The third said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Each externally was engaged in the same activity, but only the third bricklayer had the end in mind. He had a purpose, a mission and a vision, and because of that, he had great joy and meaning in his work.

What is our mission? It is none other than the very mission of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who tasked each of us — small, inadequate, feeble us — with the deepest longing of his heart: to go out into the world and bring him to everyone we meet and bring everyone we might into the Faith.

You will be doing various things: working, studying, engaging in hobbies, developing friendships, recreating alongside your peers, dating. What will be the vision and mission you have in mind throughout each of these activities? Perhaps it will be to achieve a good career, to make friends, to have fun, to meet a husband. Dig further: why a good career? Why make friends? Why find a spouse? Each action can look the same yet be done with a very different purpose in mind and at heart. Perhaps the purpose is: I want a good job because I want the self-fulfillment that comes with a higher paycheck and greater social status. Or maybe it might be: I want to find a husband because I want the self-fulfillment of feeling loved and having the romance that I hear and see in music and movies.

These are understandable, and honestly very relatable, goals to which we all might default if we aren’t focusing and centering and recentering ourselves onto our deeper mission of fulfilling God’s will.

He has trusted each of us with this great mission to renew the culture and evangelize society. We might feel inadequate to such a call. But do we trust him? Do we believe him? If we do then that means he must know that this is possible — that with the help of his grace and the Holy Spirit surely, we can indeed make this happen. But we must keep the vision and the mission at the forefront. We are building a cathedral, not just laying bricks.

How do we go about this mission? I suggest we might look to the early Christians who evangelized a society so different — and yet so like — our own. The ancient world that early Christians evangelized was a deeply pagan one fraught with the abuse and degradation of women, the sacrifice of children, debauchery, a rejection of life and fertility, human slavery, and a pervasive striving after pleasure and power over service and love.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

How did they convert such a society? The same way we will convert ours — so different in time and technology but so similar in affliction. They deeply embraced and embodied three things: charity, chastity and cheerfulness.


Tertullian tells us that ancient world pagans were struck by the witness of Christian love in the early Church. “See how they love one another!” they would remark. Charity, real love is a contradiction to a world focused on power and pleasure.

Love is a word wildly misrepresented today. The modern mind sets love in opposition to truth: love divorced from reason and natural law. In a way, women can be more manipulated by such lies because we are designed to have a superpower of love for persons. Our instincts to nurture and care — without good formation and real reverence — more easily fall prey to an ideology that promises that compassion is synonymous with affirmation of various sins.

There are deep wounds and suffering in the world. We should be sensitive, gentle, tender in the face of the crosses endured by others. None of that translates into endorsing lies that harm the very people we want to help. Real love wills the good of the other. Once we fall prey to the false idea that love must affirm sin, the notion of sin falls away altogether. What follows is the loss of any felt need for a savior.

This is not love, it is a lie. And it is deeply dehumanizing. It is also degrading insofar as it asks that we set aside our capacity to reason.

True charity, true love, is grounded in truth — truth about what it means to be human and the content and contours of our flourishing. 

I noticed that each of you mentioned in your senior tributes that it is the friendships you made here that you will most miss. Your education here was rightfully not merely about books and papers, but about friendship — shaping you into the type of women who truly know what it means to love one another. How set apart your education heretofore has been, and how set apart you will be. Ironically, this being “set apart” will help you to connect more deeply with the people you will meet.

So, two pieces of practical advice:

First, take great interest in the people around you. People are looking for an identity in all the wrong places. We can communicate to others who they truly are by giving them our attention, our interest, our care in simple conversations. Treat them not like a politicized identity, but like persons made in the image of God. In focusing our interest on the other we can also ward against that pull we might have to see friendship as merely an avenue for our fun. Our focus then shifts from self-fulfillment to fulfillment of God’s will.

Second, look for one way to help someone each day. Maybe it is following up with a new friend that you know is sad or who has something important coming up. Or perhaps you might be helping tutor someone who is struggling in a subject for which you have some facility. Make a habit of looking for opportunities to serve.


Again, I’d like to start by thinking of this in a womanly way. A society that celebrates moral transgression as liberation affects women specifically and not in a positive way.

The various pervasive lies you will encounter promise that our bodies can be anything, and that what we do with them can mean nothing … but that just means that we mean nothing. This lie is deeply anti-human and destructive. It affects everyone, but particularly the more vulnerable: women and children. Women are more bodily in our capacity to bear and nurture life, and we are more vulnerable in our embodiment. Children also are clearly more vulnerable in their embodiment.

But to be sure this is bad for everyone, men included. Amid such moral chaos, men grow soft — and by that, I don’t mean physically weak men so much as morally weak. St. Thomas Aquinas defines effeminacy as the inability to endure what is arduous for the sake of what is good. Women in contrast grow hardened, calloused, in an effort to protect their nature which is too vulnerable and valuable to endure such chaos. Children suffer most of all.

Living the virtue of chastity is a confounding contradiction to such a climate, and there is great joy as a fruit of it.

One piece of advice here: Date with a sense of mission. Dating can be fun, but fun is not the purpose. You are approaching your life with a great sense of mission so look for a husband (if you’re called to marriage) with the same sort of mindset. One of the greatest decisions of my life was my choice of a husband who strives to grow in virtue and each day seeks to love me and our children better than the day before. I know marriage might be far off, but dating likely isn’t. As you discern with whom to spend your time, consider if this person is someone with whom you can strive to renew the culture eventually through your marriage, family, through your professional lives, and through your apostolate of friendship.


There is a real epidemic of despair and rage among many young adults. One cause of this I believe is a deep identity crisis. We are defined — so the lie goes — not by the love of God but by the hatred of society. Our virtue then is not found in the development of habits of actual virtue but in the adoption of a victim identity. In order to maintain a victim identity we have to maintain grievances, seeking to unmask the evil around us and never within us. This is a recipe for anger and despair.

But you will be the bricklayer who is building a cathedral. You will embody true Christian joy.

Don’t take me to mean by this that we are in a reductive us-versus-them framework. We are susceptible to the pull of all these lies. It’s a universal human temptation to deflect from our responsibilities and see more acutely the faults in others. An identity centered on grievance once adopted is difficult to renounce in part because it is more pleasant to accuse than it is to self-examine. But while it is more pleasant temporarily, it leads to deep unhappiness as a long-term strategy.

The Church invites us to counter this temptation through our daily examination of conscience, through weekly confession, through the mea culpa in the Mass. To struggle against our weaknesses not to succumb to them. Our Lord invites us to return to him again and again, and to feel the humility and nobility inherent in being entrusted with so great a project as personal holiness and the renewal of the culture.

One piece of practical advice here: Foster interior silence. A wise woman who works with wonderful young women like yourselves told me recently that she sees rising levels of anxiety and fear for their future in young women. Find time each day — be it 5 or 10 or 20 minutes — away from noise and from your phone. Preferably in a chapel, but anywhere will do if a chapel is not easily accessible. Talk to Our Lord. Tell him about your struggles and worries. Spend a few minutes reading the Gospels. And meditate on the truth that a holy fear of God frees us from the fear of anything else. The reverse is true too: without a fear of God we become consumed by fear of everything. 


Women have far too many identities thrown at them these days: girl boss, trad wife, soft girl, influencer, object… throw all of them all out. You are a woman with a mission to fulfill God’s will in whatever circumstances in which you find yourself — be it in school, in the workplace, in the home, at a party, at coffee with a friend, at a football game.

A recent survey said that young women are leaving church in unprecedented numbers. How blessed they will be to have you as friends, coworkers, peers. How needed you will be to reverse this course!

Such surveys can induce in us a sense of fear or a sense of purpose. You have an entire mission field ahead of you hungry for the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church. Hungry for an ordered way of life and the healing of the sacraments. Hungry for peace and an end to the rage spirals within them and around them. Hungry for the hope that can eviscerate their sadness. Christ’s love does not grow stale. Christianity is not passé. It addresses the deepest longings of every human heart and so it is ever new, always fresh, again and again. Never doubt this mission or that you are personally called to it and that — through the grace of Our Lord — you can fulfill it. And in so doing, your true fulfillment will find its way to you. Not because you sought it, but because you sought him. 

Congratulations, Class of 2024!

Noelle Mering is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She is the author of the book Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology (TAN Books, May 2021).

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