The Catholic University of America

Honorable Mention
Papal Essay Contest
Marcel Antonio Brown
A doctoral student in English, from Arlington, Va.

A secret known to few people is that the ring I wear on my left hand bears the inscription "AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH" cast in silver and gold.1 Few notice it, but it is not there for others to see; it is there for me. As I prepare to devote my life's work to the task of Catholic higher education, the inscription reminds me that loving the Word means keeping it. The words in silver and gold remind me of the paradox of Catholic education: to give away what is most valuable, and to gain from that loss. It is the pattern of the cross and my plan for renewal.

A priest once began my Catholic education by renewing my view of education's end. "Education is not about what you do," he concluded, "but about what you become." Until I heard this, I had always assumed that the purpose of higher education is to master a trade or a profession - a common assumption, not without good reason. I began to understand, though, that education above all begins with a vocation; that education's end is not just doing skilled work at a high wage for this or that organization. Authentic education begins rather with the renewal of the mind and progresses with the deepening of reason.

Reason, though, is just one aspect of genuine education. Catholic education, so much more than preparing one for future employment, responds to the immediacy of the Christian vocation, to the first imperative of Jesus' public ministry, "Metanoeite."2 His urgent appeal suggests that, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, the understanding itself must be renewed: We must make God's thoughts our thoughts and give old words new expression, because God himself is "never new, and never old."3 Carrying the Word out and about, living it, giving it new expression - this is the most worthwhile and challenging task for Catholic teachers and students alike. Leaning faith and reason in perfect balance on life's Keystone, steadying the structure of our lives upon the Cornerstone so many have so hastily rejected: This is the plan for renewal that Catholic education offers, because the Word of God is solid as stone and pure as gold.

The heart of Catholic education we may approach only through a "vestibule," Cardinal Newman suggests: We arrive at, behold, and receive knowledge by "arranging things according to their real value" and by "sifting the grains of truth from the mass."4 With urgent patience there calls out, from the heart of the Church, the one Word to live by, the only nourishing truth: It is the Word Made Flesh, kept in silver and gold. Authentic knowledge is not knowledge of this or that truth, but knowledge of the oneness of truth; and that is not an idea but a person: Jesus of Nazareth. For those involved in Catholic education, this is not a secret that should be kept: for educators and students alike, it is the secret of being renewed.


1John 1:14
2Matthew 4:17 (Greek New Testament). The Greek word is usually translated "Repent."
3Augustine, Confessions, vol. 1, trans. William Watts, Loeb Classical Library 26 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 8.
4John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University, "Discourse VII: Knowledge Viewed in
Relation to Professional Skill," ed. I.T. Ker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 134.