The Catholic University of America

Mass of Saint Vincent de Paul to honor
The Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., J.C.D.
on the occasion of his Inauguration as 14th President
of The Catholic University of America
Thursday, Nov. 19, 1998
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Homily by the Very Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M.
Provincial Superior, Eastern Province
Congregation of the Mission

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What a wonderful day this is! And as we celebrate we hear the words of Isaiah which expresses what is in our hearts:

"How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace,
bearing good news,
announcing salvation and saying to Zion 'Your God is King!'"
Isaiah 52:7

Isaiah is describing a joyful shouting. The people Isaiah described were entering into something very new and liberating; that they had suffered a lot and now they were doing something new. They knew also that God was at the center of it.

We too are joyfully shouting today! We do so because this is the Inauguration of Catholic University's new President, Father David O'Connell, C.M. Our shouting is more like a prayer, begging the God who is Our King to be at the center of all that we do and to bless The Catholic University of America and its new President at this important time in its 111 year history. This will be a new and changing time for Catholic University, a time when all over Catholic University we will hear people share glad tidings of peace and bearing the Good News of Jesus, of the love poured out over us by our God.

If we listen carefully to St. Paul, he jolts us a bit, he prepares us for our important Gospel message. Paul prepares us by speaking in a paradoxical way:

"God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong;
God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something."
1 Cor.1:27-28

Paul says that this is what true wisdom and power are all about: these are the kind of people God esteems, and with whom God wishes to work. God will search all over the Catholic University trying to find just such people. My best bet is that the ones God is looking for are right here today.

Finally, St. Matthew prepares us for a very important teaching from Jesus today by indicating that Jesus goes up the mountainside to speak. That is the appropriate setting in which Jesus speaks important words. But Jesus also gives us a teaching that sounds upside down, like a paradox. He says, however, that this is the only way to live life; this is the only way life will flourish.

Let us listen to God's Word as applied to ourselves:

Blessed are we who are poor in spirit,
for ours is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are we who mourn, for we shall be comforted.
Blessed are we who are meek, for we shall inherit the land.
Blessed are we who are merciful, for we will be shown mercy.
Blessed are we who are peacemakers,
for we shall be called Children of God."
See Matthew 5: 3-9

Now there are not a lot of people in the world who would advise a new university president and The Catholic University of America to live like this. But Jesus says that these are the people who live life in the most important ways. The very paradox they live becomes the source of real life and power. Jesus tells us this all through the Gospel: those who lose their lives save them; the humbled will be exalted; the dead will rise. This is the way Jesus lived - this is the way Jesus asks us to live.

God's words to us in this Inaugural Mass have to be understood to be a special message from God to us. What God speaks takes effect in our lives. Let me summarize.

First, God hears our joyful shouting where we speak of God often and God promises to be with us, strengthening us and leading the way for us

Second, we hear strange, upside-down things, paradoxes, and how very important weak and ordinary people like us are and how God wants to use us for his purposes. And we are confident that God will make it happen.

Third, Jesus teaches us to live the way of the Beatitudes because as we live the values of the kingdom of heaven now, like being peacemakers, meek and merciful, we anticipate and can be sure of a fuller share of them someday soon in the Kingdom of God where we will have comfort and mercy, inherit the Land, and we will be known as God's very own people, the Children of God.

Yes, all of you, dear friends, who are The Catholic University of America, when you do all that must be done well in the classroom, lab, lecture hall, dorms, board rooms and offices, you must always be sure that you are also expressing the heart and soul of the University, what really makes it live, paying attention to Jesus' words to you today: to be the poor in Spirit, to be the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, to be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and to be those who are servants who will always serve others for the love of Christ.

St. Vincent dePaul adds an important dimension to this way of living. Let me offer it to you as I conclude. St. Vincent encouraged and still encourages his priests and brothers to live like a great fire. They are called to follow the life and work of Jesus Christ in service of the poor. St. Vincent himself speaks to us:

God sends you out today, my dear Confreres,
my Brothers and Sisters,
to carry a fire everywhere.
Go and carry God's Divine Fire, the fire of His love.
[Aug.22, 1655]

The Catholic University of America's Mission is so great that it must be carried out with enthusiasm and passion - like a great fire!

Homilies are not supposed to have a P.S., but I beg you to allow me to speak three notes...

First, Cardinal Hickey and Cardinal Law, I thank you and all of your Brother Cardinals and Bishops for your important leadership of Catholic University. I expect that Father Dave O'Connell will be such a capable President that no challenge will be too great for him, especially if he works in close collaboration with so many capable administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni who want to assist him.

Second, a personal word to you, David, my dear Confrere. We Vincentians are very proud of you. We are happy to be here today with you and we promise our prayers and support to you. God bless you, David.

Third, my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, especially The Catholic University of America Community, continue your joyful shouting all day, perhaps for a long time! The long-range plans you have for your University, and the Beatitudes that you will live are great challenges before you. But, be confident that God who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion. You have the promise of the prayers of all of us here with you today as we offer this Mass for you and for Father O'Connell.