The Catholic University of America

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE VISIT OF
POPE BENEDICT XVI TO THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
April 17, 2009


Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Every Sunday, my sisters and brothers in Christ, we profess our faith together. Wherever we are, at Mass, we join, as one, with the entire Church throughout the world, in praying these words from the Nicene Creed, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, "for our sake was crucified, died, and was buried. And on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures." Now among the many things we profess and believe as Catholics, these words contain and express really the core of our faith, the reason for our hope and the ultimate goal of our love in this world. We do not simply say or simply recite these words: we profess them, we believe them.

Later, in that same Creed, we also pray that "we believe in one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church." In this Jesus Christ we believe in, God reaches out, God embraces us and more importantly ---God takes on our humanity, loving us from within our very own flesh. And in this Church we believe in, our humanity reaches out --- with all its dignity and goodness and with all flaws, imperfections and sins --- to embrace and take God into our very own flesh. In our faith, we profess and believe that Jesus Christ and the Church are one, although sometimes that is not so easy to believe. Nevertheless, it is true and we believe.

Christ was wounded because of our sins but he died and rose to save us from them. The Church, too, has been wounded because of our sins and dies a thousand deaths because of them. But, like Christ, the Church also rises and the Church also continues to offer we who believe Christ's redemption and salvation and Christ's love.

My brothers and sisters, this is our Easter faith. This is what we believe and continue to celebrate. This is the Easter message we profess and believe. This is the reason for the Easter season we continue to celebrate and share with all the world in these days.

But when we say we profess something; when we say we believe something; when we say we are convinced in the truth of something, our lives have to be different as a result of that belief. Easter not only transformed One death to life. For us who believe and profess and are convinced in that transformation, Easter must transform all our deaths --- all the sufferings and sacrifices and deaths we endure --- to life.

In our first reading from Acts (4: 1-12), we find that Easter transformation going on with Peter and John as they proclaimed this message and as they cured the crippled man and as the early Church began to grow by the thousands. The leaders in Jerusalem confronted Peter and the apostles, "By what power have you done this?" to which Peter responded, "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead." In our Gospel from John (21: 1-14), we find that Easter transformation also going on at the shore of the Sea of Tiberias when Jesus appears to Peter and the apostles, as the Gospel says, "after being raised from the dead." A miraculous catch of fish occurs at Jesus' direction from the shore and John says to Peter, "It is the Lord" at which point Peter jumps out of the boat into the sea and swims to shore.

Such accounts energize and enliven our faith, still some 2,000 years later. And it is our responsibility not merely to profess our faith but also, as believers, to let ourselves be transformed, to transform everyone else around us and to hand our faith on with courage and conviction.

During the Easter season, one year ago, this very day, our campus was energized and enlivened --- on a beautiful day, just like today --- by the visit of the Successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI. His presence on our campus, however, made it "unlike" any other day. Thousands of our own university community along with other guests gathered just to get a glimpse, to express their love and affection, to hear the message he brought. He came to speak to Catholic educators from throughout our nation. He came to the Church's university in our country.

"First and foremost," Pope Benedict said, "Every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth." He continued, "The power of God's truth permeates every dimension" of our Catholic institutions. That is, indeed, what transforms us here at The Catholic University of America. The power of faith and truth creates our Catholic identity and we should not, we cannot, we must not turn away from it because of what it demands of us in the midst of a world that wants us to be anything but what we are.

The Pope called Catholic education "a powerful instrument of hope" and acknowledged the "sacrifice" it takes to provide "an education in faith." My friends, such sacrifice is required of all of us who are committed to Catholic education --- not only parents and families, but faculty, staff and students as well. As Pope John Paul II reminded us almost 20 years ago, "the responsibility for maintaining and strengthening the Catholic identity of the University rests primarily with us (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Part II, art. 4.1).

Here on our campus, Pope Benedict XVI posed questions to Catholic educators about their universities and schools and I pose them again to all of us gathered here, "Do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of humanity become clear? … Are we ready to commit our entire self --- intellect, will, mind and heart --- to God? Do we accept the truth that Christ reveals? Is faith tangible in our universities? (do we express that faith) … through prayers, acts of charity, concern for justice and respect for God's creation?" The Holy Father observed, "Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we do." Catholic identity, he said, "is a question of conviction."

That conviction takes us back to Easter and is rooted in it, solid as the rock rolled back from the entrance to the tomb. That conviction takes us back to the Creed we profess each Sunday, as certain as the Risen Christ calling out to the apostles from the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. That conviction takes us back to the reason we exist as The Catholic University of America, to "bear witness to hope," "to live the truth" we propose to our students, and "to help them know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at The Catholic University of America, April 17, 2008)." He has risen as He said, alleluia!

Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M.
President