The Catholic University of America

Jan. 31, 2008

CUA Celebrates Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas With University Mass

Very Rev. Steven Boguslawski, O.P.
Catholic University celebrated the Patronal Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas with a university Mass Jan. 29 in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Faculty members participated in the Mass in academic regalia. The Mass celebrant was Very Rev. Joseph Baranger, O.P., prior of the Dominican House of Studies. The homilist was Very Rev. Steven Boguslawski, O.P., president of the Dominican House of Studies.

Following is the homily by Father Boguslawski.

Thirty years ago, I first stepped foot in Caldwell Hall. I was sent by the academic dean to be interviewed by a world-renowned scripture scholar, hoping to gain access to his doctoral seminars while yet in initial formation at the Dominican House of Studies. The room was austere; the late afternoon sun shone through the glazed windows, revealing a grey metal desk, tall bookcases on right and left, barren, except for one, red "leather-bound" copy of the Greek New Testament. I worried that I would have to endure "sight translations," for which I felt ill-prepared. The interview began.

"Brother Steven, I'm informed that you want to study here. How are your language skills?" We then reviewed my command of ancient and modern languages.

"Greek?"

I replied, "Four years, a reading ability of the New Testament. But, I could use some work."

Hebrew? College. "Haven't used it much - I'll need a refresher."

Latin? Virtually non-existent. Taking it now at the Dominican House of Studies.

"French?"

"Six years, high school and college, a reading knowledge, a bit rusty. Could use a lot of work."

"German?"

"None."

Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president
"Any other languages?" he inquired.

"Spanish, both reading and conversational, but not a lot of use in New Testament studies - or even in recent years."

"Four years of Russian in college," I volunteered, "but since my grandparents died, I haven't used it at all. It would take work to get it back."

He scowled and started tapping the desk with his finger. A very long pause ensued while he stared at me, as I watched the dust swirling in the shaft of sunlight above his head. He finally spoke: "Well, Steven, I am VERY IMPRESSED with what you have forgotten."

And so my association with the University began; a relationship for which I will be forever grateful. Because it was here and at the Studium that I learned the difference between skill acquisition and the pursuit of sacred learning that transforms one's life. I learned that personal conversion requires entrusting oneself to others who are more than simply expert in a given field. I learned that a Catholic University or a Dominican Studium is not a trade school. I learned that, while mastery of a body of knowledge was expected of me - like any other person pursuing a profession - ultimately what I learned terminated, not in a set of sterile propositions, but in a person … I learned that no body of knowledge was separable from Divine Truth, because all of created reality was made capable of bearing the revelation of God Himself. I learned that the sacra doctrina is, as St. Thomas Aquinas describes it as "one and simple, yet extends to everything." I learned that, in a very real way, God continues to reveal himself, speaking through the sacred page and through creation made sacred from His Hand and restored by the blood of His Son who took human nature to Himself.

Because of this creation and re-creation, nothing falls outside the scope of the sacra doctrina … nothing. This doctrine is Wisdom above all human wisdom. "In the order of all human life, the prudent man is called wise, inasmuch as he directs his acts to a fitting end: (as Proverbs 10:23 states:) Wisdom is prudence to a man. Therefore he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely, God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things ... But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God … not only so far as he can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him, but also so far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others. Therefore sacred doctrine is especially called Wisdom." (I. 1.7 resp). And so it is little wonder that prudence precedes Wisdom: "I prayed and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me." It is little wonder that all of symbols of human authority, scepter and throne, are relinquished. It is little wonder that things once thought precious, gems or silver and gold alike, are seen as "a little sand" by comparison, because the gift of Wisdom reveals God known to Himself and as revealed to us. To us has been given access to the interior life of God because God speaks through the sacred page (which reveals his Son) and creation made sacred by Him; these bear the mystery of the Godhead. And, in these, the latter days, he has spoken to us through His Son. To be truly wise means more than mere acquisition of technical skills; it means more than being a technician of sacred things; it means, by faith in Jesus Christ, penetrating to the very heart of God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And although knowing the essence of God or seeing Him "face to face" is beyond our unaided capacities in this life, we can make use of His effects, whether of nature or of grace, to become truly wise and to lead others there as well. Technical skills wax and wane in the cycle of life; wisdom abides forever, making us apt for an end beyond ourselves - who is God, still speaking to us here and now. A catholic university education prepares women and men to master a field of knowledge, not as an end in itself, but as a point of access to God Himself engaged through a life time.

From left, Father Boguslawski, Father O'Connell, Very Rev. Joseph Baranger, O.P., Monsignor Kevin Irwin, and Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P.

And, just as the goods of created reality become relativized by the possession of Wisdom, so too do the titles and marks of human respect. "Avoid the title 'Rabbi'. One among you is your Teacher, the rest are learners. Do not call anyone on earth your father. Only one is your father, the One in heaven. Avoid being called Master. Only one is your Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest."

More than the virtue of humility is being prescribed in this text from the Gospel According to Matthew. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that we are all learners; that we are begotten by God the Father; that we must sit at the feet of the Master, who is the Christ, God's anointed. He is the only Teacher. While Wisdom is given, by metaphor, human qualities in the Book of Wisdom it is God's anointed, God's only begotten Son who, in reality, takes to Himself human nature. His attributes are not metaphorical. He is the Word through whom the Universe was made; he is the savior sent to redeem us. He is the one who took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He alone is the Teacher and guide, through whom we have been given access to the interior life of the God. It is Christ who is the Teacher, and inasmuch as we lead our students to Him, do we truly serve the needs of all and warrant being called "great." That was the primary motivation for Aquinas; embracing the truth, wherever it may be found, to lead others to knowledge of the Trinity.

CUA faculty in academic regalia at the Mass.
And so, we who are teachers are supposed to have mastered more than a body of knowledge; we are supposed to be men and women of unshakable faith, who have appropriated the words of the Gospel ourselves. We are supposed to be men and women whose manner of life is patterned on that of Christ the Teacher; whose manner of living has been transformed by what we have learned. We are to be the reliable guides to whom the young entrust themselves, not simply to be taught, but to be formed as Christ bearing women and men. We are supposed to be men and women who serve the rest; who lay down our lives for our friends. We are supposed to be women and men whose mind is conformed to the mind of Christ. Like the Master, we are to be love poured out. We are supposed to be people who have penetrated into the very heart of God Himself; catching a glimmer of the Divine communio because we have been led there by the Teacher Himself. We are supposed to be people who are Wise, with a Wisdom that esteems the practical and the speculative alike, and is all embracing. We are supposed to be people instructed even now by the sacra doctrina; instructed by God Himself … speaking to us.

If we simply relegate our role to being competent technicians forming another generation of competent technicians without reference to the sacred Wisdom, we shall be humbled because we shall have failed in our vocation to lead others to the very heart of God. What a tragedy, not to realize our potential for real greatness. Thomas understood that we are custodians of a patrimony that is not our own; he understood that teachers must authentically love their students into freedom. He wrote in a commentary on Mark: "Love causes the lover to be moved to what he loves, and love is a thing that liberates, widens and pours itself out. Yet, there are some people whose hearts are so deprived of love of any kind that they are scarcely flesh and blood at all … One may be said to love deeply who loves all things and, whatever he loves for the love of God, he puts the love of God before all else." Some of our students - or even our colleagues - may suffer from this deprivation of love of any kind, such that they are scarcely flesh and blood at all. Our love must be more than an attachment to our work or to a particular discipline or an allegiance to an academic institution. We must love them … love liberates and widens, because it pours itself out. Aquinas is our intercessor, patron and model. He penetrated the heart of created realities and plumbed the depths of the Trinitarian communion. So much so that Jesus-crucified spoke to Thomas near the end of his life: "You have written well of me Thomas, what do you desire?" Aquinas replied: "only thyself Lord." May we too put the love of God before all else. Amen.