To find true success in life, serve God first, actor Jonathan Roumie tells graduates

By Richard Szczepanowski | OSV News

Actor Jonathan Roumie urged graduates of The Catholic University of America May 11 to represent Jesus Christ to the world, pray more and surrender to the will of God in order to find true success in their lives.

“The more you commit (to God), the deeper he takes you. The more you love him, the higher you go. The more you seek him, the wilder your journey gets,” said Roumie, the commencement speaker and honorary doctoral degree recipient at the university’s 135th annual commencement exercises.

“When you serve God first — not yourself first — then that is when your true success begins.”

Under sunny skies and slightly cool temperatures, nearly 1,280 doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s degrees were bestowed at the ceremony, held on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Actor Jonathan Roumie gives the commencement address during the graduation ceremony at The Catholic University of America in Washington May 11, 2024. (OSV News photo/Denny Henry, Catholic University of America)

Roumie is best known for starring as Jesus in “The Chosen,” a television series about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth that is distributed worldwide. Now in its fourth season, the series is streamed on several platforms, including Prime Video, The CW, Peacock and Netflix.

“You don’t need to play Jesus for the world in order to be Jesus to the world. I’ve realized that just because I play Jesus on a TV show, doesn’t mean I can or should stop being Christ to everyone I meet when the cameras turn off,” Roumie told the graduates. “We all have the opportunity to represent him in our own lives, through our actions and choices.”

He also urged the graduates to “pray more. Prayer is our only hope in times of desperation,” and he encouraged them in tough times to rely on “the game-changing triumvirate — prayer fasting, repentance.” He also recommended regular praying of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the rosary.

“God can and will use any means necessary to call us to him,” the actor said.

Roumie, the son of an Egyptian-born father and Irish mother, was baptized into the Orthodox Church and later converted to Catholicism. He serves as a Eucharistic minister at his parish and sometimes hosts live prayers and recitations of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy on Instagram.

He was a keynote speaker at the 2023 March for Life, and is a contributor to Hallow, a Catholic prayer and meditative app that includes Bible readings, novenas, recitation of the rosary, other prayers, music and other features.

In announcing that Roumie would give the commencement address and be honored with an honorary doctorate degree, Catholic University said it was doing so in recognition of the actor’s “dedication to evangelizing and communicating the faith to millions of people globally and steadfastly living his faith with kindness and joy.”

“Millions of people have had their lives changed for the better by Jonathan Roumie through his portrayal of Jesus Christ, his voice on the Hallow app, and in his many appearances where he advocates for the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church,” Peter Kilpatrick, the university’s president, said in a statement prior to the ceremony. “Jonathan’s work is a testament to how lay Catholics can use their God-given talents to deliver messages of hope, belief, and bring people closer to God.”

At the start of his address, the actor joked about his role as Jesus and told the graduates that his speech would be “Sermon on the Mount 2024.”

“The last time I spoke at a crowd this big there were loaves and fishes … I hope you all have eaten because I have nothing,” he said.

Referring to his honorary degree, Roumie said, “I am going to milk this degree for everything it’s worth to the end of my days — especially to my cousin who is an actual MD and went to medical school.”

“You have no idea how over the moon my Egyptian father is that his son who has a BFA (bachelor of fine arts degree) now has a doctorate. It doesn’t matter that it is honorary — he just hears the word ‘doctorate’ and we are good — I might as well be wearing a stethoscope at this point,” the actor quipped as he produced a stethoscope that he placed around his neck.

In his speech, Roumie said that it is through Mass and the Eucharist, “I am given peace and wisdom,” and added that “before I can portray Jesus I have to pray to Jesus.” He added that the “intercession of Blessed Mary … (and) the armor and artillery of the saints in heaven go to war with me each day when I bless myself.”

He encouraged the graduates to “preach the Gospel by the life you live, by your actions and by the choices you make,” and made a plea that “for the love and future of Holy Mother Church, pray for vocations. The Church would cease to exist on Earth, especially sacramentally, if vocations are not prayed for and answered by God and the Holy Spirit.”

Reminding the class of 2024 that “Jesus was, is and always shall be enough,” Roumie told them, “You did it. You graduated. Congratulations… I bless you, I love you.”

Roumie was one of five recipients of honorary doctoral degrees at the ceremony. The other honorees were:

Rabbi Jack Bemporad, founder and director of the nonprofit Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey as well as director of the John Paul II Center Center for Interreligious Dialogue and professor of interreligious studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome.

John Finnis, professor emeritus at the University of Oxford and the University of Notre Dame Law School who is well known as a philosopher of law who has made important contributions to ethics and moral theology and is considered one of the most important Catholic legal and political thinkers of the last half-century.

Father Piotr Nawrot, a Divine Word Missionaries priest and CUA alumnus who is a musicologist and member of the theology faculty of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, and who is renowned for his discovery and research of Renaissance and Baroque music left behind by Jesuit priests in Bolivia.

Teresa Pitt Green, a well-known advocate for those wounded by abuse in the church who is the co-founder of Spirit Fire, an association of survivors of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and others with authority in the church, and vice president of Healing and Recovery Ministries at St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island, Mystic, Connecticut.

Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, who is chancellor of the university, offered the invocation at the graduation and, praising the God of wisdom, prayed that “all who are seeking after truth may come to know you who are truth itself and to keep your law that is life eternal.”

Noting that the ceremony was taking place the day before Mother’s Day, Karna Lozoya, CUA’s vice president for university communications who acted as master of ceremonies, singled out mothers of the graduates and said, “on behalf of the entire university — thank you for everything you have done for all of us and particularly for your children.”

Kirkpatrick offered “heartfelt congratulations to all our graduates and their families and in particular mom and dads,” and called the graduation “the culmination of years of planning work, sacrifice and persistence.”

“Today we are sending you out into the world, and let me assure you the world is in great need of your light. … Without light we would stumble around this world in darkness,” he said. “Do not be afraid. You have been well prepared for this task.”

CUA, comprised of 12 schools, was established in 1887 as the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. It is the only higher education institution founded by the U.S. bishops.

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Richard Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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