President Kilpatrick, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, administrators, honorees, families, guests, and fellow graduates–yes, fellow graduates, because I’m now one of you. Thank you for this esteemed invitation and privilege.

Before I begin my formal remarks, I just wanted to say how impressed I am with The Catholic University of America -- I’m sorry, let me clarify -- THE Catholic University of America; how impressed I am by its staff and its campus, its students in experiencing the ethos and commitment of all who are working here to bring together the best of faith and reason in its approach to academics and arts and beyond.

It’s my first time visiting, and everyone just radiates warmth and pride for this place. I had a wonderful time breaking bread last night with the President, his provost and staff, trustees and a myriad of other beautiful guests.  

When I was first presented with this invitation and told that I would be receiving an honorary doctorate degree, I nearly passed out. By the way, I’m going to milk this degree for everything it’s worth till the end of my days, especially with my cousin who is an actual MD and went to medical school. So maybe art school wasn’t a complete waste of money. You have no idea how over the moon my Egyptian father is that his son who possesses a BFA now has a doctorate. Doesn’t matter that it’s honorary, he just hears the word “doctorate,” and we’re good. I may as well be wearing a stethoscope at this point. In fact, actually, this is  just for you, Pop [Roumie dons a stethoscope] Where are the cameras? 

And not to mention that I also got this beautiful letter saying that I’d be following in the footsteps of luminaries who have received this same degree, giants of humanity and history:  Saint Mother Theresa, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Reverend Hans Urs Von Balthasar, President Coolidge, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, President Johnson. So just to clarify, all of them received this same degree. Okay. No pressure.

Here we are, my friends and fellow graduates. It is indeed my honor to be with you today, and the formal remarks you’ve all been waiting for, and welcome to Sermon on the Mount 2024.  Strap in because it’s gonna be a long one, again.  This is an impressive crowd though. It’s actually a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be, so just bear with me. Last time I spoke at a crowd this big, there were loaves and fish and baskets of them. So many leftovers, the groundskeepers were pissed. So, I hope you’ve all eaten, because I got nothing. Nothing except hopefully a few spiritual nuggets for nourishment. Gluten free, of course, likely vegan. Or maybe not. Still not sure where Gen Z lands on the whole food consumption thing, but if you are hungry, I hear there’s a Chick-fil-A just blocks away. It's supposed to be pretty good, so you’ve got options, you know. 

But I digress. 

When I contemplated what I would share with you today, I couldn’t  help but consider the weight of knowing just how colossal this  moment of transition is for all of you; how vital it was for whomever would speak to you today to impart wisdom that was both memorable and practical; and how consequential the right voice could be on your budding careers and subsequently your lives in general. Because for some of you, that person might just be one of the last responsible professionals to pour into your souls some of the most poignant advice you could ever receive before setting sail into the ocean of life. 

So, in contemplation, I couldn’t avoid asking myself that existential question all of you here surely asked yourselves in preparation for this momentous occasion. But what were you guys thinking?  I assume Jordan Petersen was booked and you’re like, “Okay.” You are aware that the actor you selected to give advice to the graduating class heading into the workforce did take over 20 years to succeed, right? I just need to address that. I just need to put that out in the open. Um, was McConaughey booked? ‘Cause he’s pretty good.

But you did it! You graduated! Congratulations! In the words of a first century TV Rabbi, “Truly I tell you not too shabby.”  Give yourselves another round of applause for getting to this point. 

Over the past 10 years I’ve had the honor of playing Jesus Christ in one media project or another, and for the last six of them, on a television show called The Chosen. I’ve also had the opportunity to go deeper in exploring Jesus’s impact on the world in a documentary I hosted and produced, called Jonathan and Jesus

And over these last few years, I’ve learned a few things about myself and about Jesus that I thought might be relevant to you as you begin this next phase of your lives–concepts I wish I had heard upon graduating college myself. But I went to art school in New York City, so it was a bit of a different vibe there.  

I’d like to share three simple lessons I’ve learned playing Jesus.  Now I don’t expect you to remember this entire speech or even most of it, but you know, make an effort, will you? But if just one of these ideas stick or you experience a single moment that may impact you moving forward, then glory to God. And if you don’t remember a single word of it an hour from now, no need to mention it to anyone, just keep it to yourselves. 

So, the first thing and most radical thing I’ve learned in my time playing Jesus is this: 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 know when the cameras turn off. And neither should you. 

Just because you’re not an actor playing Jesus, or you’re not a priest or a nun doesn’t mean you’re not meant to represent Him at all times wherever you go. 

Of course, boundaries are important. People ask you for absolution, you direct them to His Eminence, who’s sitting right here. 

But you get what I’m saying. And while we’re on the topic of priests and nuns, please for the love and the 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. Plus, I promised a group of cloistered Carmelite nuns, I’d make that pitch. So, just check that box there. But honestly, please pray for vocations. 

And back to you, there’s that quote attributed to William J. Thoms, “You may be the only Bible people ever read.” Being Jesus to the world doesn’t mean God is expecting perfection from you. We all know that was accomplished by only one person on earth and His Mother. But you must endeavor to preach the Gospel by the life you live, by your actions and the choices you make, by the political positions you take, and by advocacy for the causes you champion. And, yes, especially as a Catholic Christian, that means defending life at all stages. By doing this, you are brought closer to perfection in His eyes. 

I know what you’re thinking: “But things are insane.  People are out of control! The world is on fire!” Yes, it may appear that way, but who do you think is in charge? 

Don’t let the enemy tempt you to pick up a can of gasoline and add to the flames of the chaos and fear. Be ready with a hose, filled with words of comfort and consolation ready to put out those flames.Offer a blanket of peace, the peace of acting in accordance with Holy Spirit, providing the solace and wisdom of Jesus so desperately needed in our times. This is your testing ground!  Pray for those who disagree with, or even condemn you. Let restraint be your guide, especially in the digital age when it is so easy to just react.  

But why should we be restrained when we are persecuted for our beliefs more than ever, perhaps? One word, one name above all others: Jesus. He told us this time was coming. Matthew 24:6: “You’ll hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes from place to place.” And he continues, “You will be hated by all nations because of my name.” 

In times of anxiety and desperation, sometimes our only option is that which leads me to the second radical thing I’ve learned playing Jesus: Pray more. 

Before I can play Jesus, I have to pray to Jesus. As my walk with Jesus has gone deeper and gotten more intense so have the spiritual attacks. The phrase “new levels, new devils” comes to mind often, so I get to it, instead of going around it. When life seems crazy, get on your knees and pray.

The era we’re living in demands a revolution of deep prayer.  One of silence and solitude amidst the din of the world, in order to cultivate a sense of peace and harmony within. Jesus exhorted us from the beginning about the necessity of praying. Saint Paul reminds us in First Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing." 

So, I do. And when things get really tough, I employ the game-changing triumvirate, prayer, fasting and repentance. If I’m feeling particularly burdened or attacked spiritually, I fast; and before I shoot a single frame, I take stock of all the ways in which I’ve fallen short in my life of late and I bring them into the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, followed by the Sacrifice of the mass and the receipt of the Eucharist.  By this, I’m granted peace. I’m given wisdom in areas of my life where I’m experiencing conflict beyond my human understanding. And I’m strengthened to go forward and to handle situations I am otherwise overwhelmed by. 

For instance, I meet thousands and thousands of people around the world over the course of a year. And when they see me, they often call me “Jesus.” It seems natural now, almost. It’s as if they’re hoping to experience in real time the feeling that the Holy Spirit gives them when they’re watching me play Jesus, speak his words–his life changing words–on TV or in cinemas, and then they wish to continue the experience they’re having by sharing some of their most sacred  moments or telling me their most personal struggles, or in  extreme cases beginning to recount their confessions, (Don’t  worry Fathers, I don’t always give the absolution -- kidding.) But  when this kind of experience defines my day to day, as you can imagine, it can become overwhelming. 

It’s humbling and overwhelming.  

And still at times in my weakness and humanity, I ask myself,  “Why would God give this to me? How has He seen me fit to  become worthy enough to even share this association?” And  with three more seasons to film, and a planned expansion to  reach a billion people in 600 languages, how could I ever expect to handle that kind responsibility, that kind of weight and fame on a global scale? I couldn’t. I can’t. And I’m not  expected to.  

Not alone anyway. Not without Him and His strength given to me weekly, if not daily in the mass through His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament…( His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament; His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament).  John, Chapter 6. It’s all there. Not without the mantle of protection and  intercession of His and all humans’ Blessed Mother, Mary.  Not without the armor and artillery of the Saints and Angels in Heaven going to war alongside me the moment I bless myself to start  each day.  That’s the power of prayer. 

I get asked often, so here are just a few of my favorite prayers which you can also pray with me every day on the Hallow app: The Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Litany of Humility, Padre Pio’s “Stay With Me,” the Surrender Novena, and of course the Rosary, among many, many others.

Speaking of the power and influence of the Blessed Mother, here’s a quick side story. It’s interesting we’re here on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  About 20 years ago or so, I spoke to a priest here during an annual mass that my parish in Long Island would make a special field trip here for. 

There was a moment when they had confessions, and I  recounted to this wise Father a dream I recently had had where I  was on a train heading to Long Island from New York City and  suddenly I found myself, as we were pulling into the station,  walking alongside the train, which was about two stories up on an elevated track. Effectively, in the dream, I was walking on air, and people in the train looked out the window to see me performing this obvious miracle. Suddenly, I found myself inside the train, walking through the center aisle from car to car, and the people who had seen me walking on air dropped to their knees and  started worshiping me and identifying me as if I were Jesus, and immediately I said, “No, no, get up! Don’t do that, I’m not  Jesus.” The irony. God’s sense of humor is unmatched.  When I finished my story that priest just kind of looked at me and said, “Have you ever thought about the priesthood?” I think I said to him, honestly, ‘Well, I don’t know if I feel called to the priesthood, but I’m sure it must mean something.”  Sure enough, the prophecy of this metaphor has made it clear to me that God can, and will, use anyone and any means necessary to call us to Himself to serve and emulate Him -- and in my case, quite literally.  

And when you commit to serving God first and not yourselves first, that’s when your true success will begin – but only when you put into action these three things. The first two I’ve already mentioned: Being Jesus to others in the world; and amping up your prayer life. And the third and most radical concept: Surrender. You’re not in charge; God is.

I cannot underscore this enough. I would not be here with you today if God had not brought me to my knees in utter desperation to surrender my entire life, and more specifically,  my career over to Him -- something I had never even considered before.  

You want to know just how perfect God’s timing is? This watershed moment, this life-altering experience of absolute surrender for me, occurred exactly six years ago . . . THIS MORNING. Absolutely true. Six years  ago, May 12th was a Saturday. On that day, God remade me a completely new creature in Christ.  

Here’s how. 

For the majority of my life I thought I was in charge and that I was solely responsible for my rise and my fall. Right after  graduation, panic set in. I needed a job. I had no concept of including God in my plans. I didn’t even ask him. 

Maybe that’s not you, or maybe it is. You are at the peak of your potential, and you might be sitting  there thinking, “My bro, I’m so ready to go crush this life right  now, I don’t even need advice. I’ve got this fire gig lined up and this  sick new whip and these goals. Bro, green flags all the way, my guy.”  

And that may be true, and your whip might actually be sick, and you may be the CEO of green flags because you’ve slayed it the last four years, and your plans are locked in and they truly might be fire. But let me ask you:Is GOD in the fire of it all with you? Is he with you?  

So in my day to day, I was like, “I got this. The Lord needs me to  depend on myself. The Lord helps those who help themselves.”  You know which Gospel that appears in? None of them. It’s in the Gospel of Ben Franklin. Or Algernon Sidney or Ancient Greece, depending on which source you use.  

I believed in God. I went to church. I volunteered. I ushered  and lectored; I administered the Eucharist and assisted with  RCIA. I activated an entertainment ministry, and I sous-cheffed in our soup kitchen, but I was still penniless and preoccupied with my own survival, as if God stopped counting the hairs on my head. Lies? I’d cry out to Him in the worst of times and in my most desperate moments, “Please Lord, Help me, Lord, Save me Lord.” And then,  a brief employment reprieve. And the feeling would pass as things got better. The anxiety would dissipate.  

And I’d leave Him in the pews again. Waiting…until that next  moment of crisis. The pressure of my circumstances continued  to mount impossibly until that morning six years ago today,  when my moment of deep crisis arrived. 

I found myself in a proverbial hole I couldn’t get out of. The  Chosen didn’t exist for me. I had: $20 dollars in my pocket. Negative $80 in my checking account. Weeks without any jobs.  Drowning in thousands of dollars of debt. Enough food to last a day. Zero opportunities -- and not a single Chick-fil-A coupon.  

So I did what I’m telling you to do. I dropped to my knees and I poured myself out to the Lord and surrendered everything to Him saying, “I can’t do this without you, so whatever you will for me, I will accept it, even if it means quitting acting. Whatever it is, I surrender.”  

And for the first time, I actually meant it. And weight lifted off immediately. It wasn’t on me; I didn’t have to worry about it. My circumstances were no different – I was still broke – but my disposition and my heart  for Christ completely changed. I entrusted everything to Him.

So I went and I spent that last $20 bucks and enjoyed a killer brunch and I simply waited and said, “Well, this should be interesting.” I came home a couple of hours later, opened my mailbox just out of habit, and there sat in front of my face, four mysterious checks.  I went into my apartment, sat dumbfounded on my bed, set up my phone and recorded myself opening them so I’d have proof later on that I wasn’t imagining this. I started my day with negative $80; by the end of opening the checks I had $1100.  May as well have been $1 million at that point. 

And you can actually see this moment in my documentary, because I wanted to share it with anyone else who may be struggling or in crisis or feeling desperate and  thinking that God doesn’t really know what they’re going through. He does. I’m telling you, he does.  You just have to completely trust Him and surrender unconditionally. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but  the greatest thing that has  ever happened to me – and it will be the most life-changing thing to ever happen to you if  you allow it, especially at this point in your young lives. Look at what he’s done for me in six years. Imagine what He could do for you if you invite him into that level of intimacy and surrender in your lives.

I found that surrender leads to salvation in every way possible. Your self-reliance won’t cure you. Your willpower won’t save you. Your independence will not deliver you from that which seeks to  destroy your faith in God, erode your hope in Christ, or corrode  your love for the Holy Spirit and humanity itself. These are all lies from the enemy. 

The more you commit, the deeper he takes you. The more you  love Him, the higher you go. The more you seek Him, the wilder  your journey gets. I mean, I’m here today – graduating with you  – and I’m a doctor now!

In your complete surrender to God, you will always succeed, because Jesus was, is, and ever shall be enough.  

“Oh Jesus I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.” 

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to  shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his  countenance upon you and give you peace.” God bless you, I  love you, and congratulations again.