Sept. 4, 2001
CUA Marks Opening of New School Year with Mass of the Holy Spirit
Students, faculty, administrators and staff packed the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception at noon on Aug. 30 for the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit, which celebrates the opening of the new academic year.
The presider of the Mass was Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington and chancellor of Catholic University. The Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., President, delivered the homily, which focused on the theme of service. The text of the homily is reprinted below.
St. Mark 10. 42-45
Our scripture readings today were rather brief. They were, however, filled with a profound message, especially poignant at the beginning of a new academic year. We who believe, we who are members of the community of faith live by the Word of God. Jesus – the Word made flesh – calls us, draws us ever deeper into the mysteries of his own life and into the mysteries of our life of communion with God through the Word and the Bread that we break in the Eucharist.
Today that Word summons us to service. The brief section from the Gospel of St. Mark that we heard contrasts “authority” – arrogance, really – with “service.” Jesus is not advocating anarchy here. He is speaking about attitude. Today’s passage, taken from the Gospel account of the ambition of the sons of Zebedee, addresses those who wish to achieve something great in life, something noble, something for which they can be recognized. Jesus tells us that we can only do so by finding greatness and nobility and recognition in the service of others. And he offers us this model and exhortation: "the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the many." The New Testament is filled with such references and with the example and invitation of our Lord's call to service.
St. Paul, in the first reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, takes up the call and gives it form and focus: recognize that you earn in life according to what you give and the manner in which you give it. Give “without sadness or compulsion,” give cheerfully for that is what God wants and what God loves and it will "increase the harvest" of justice and truth and righteousness.
These are very brief words, very simple ideas that cross from the pages of scripture into our minds and, hopefully, our hearts. But they are very powerful when we, as people of faith, consider what they mean and how they apply.
Each year, this community of The Catholic University of America joins together in this magnificent Basilica to pray for one another as a new year is about to unfold. We are, indeed, a community and one that is defined by those who come to us in need and those whose life's work is to meet their needs. Those who “come to us in need,” who join this community in need are, first and foremost, our students – young women and men seeking education, knowledge and wisdom; seeking guidance, support and assistance; seeking help to make a life transition. And those whose “life's work it is to meet their needs” are the faculty and administration and staff who offer knowledge and wisdom and guidance and support … and care.
I could not speak a better and clearer message to you today than the one that we have all heard in the Word of God. Whatever has brought you into this community from whatever background or place or ideology, come to this new year with a fresh, new, burning desire to serve and to give and to do so in the manner you have heard in God's Word.
Let me speak first to those of you who are students, those with the need of our community's service: be of service yourself. Be of service to yourself and to others. That service carries with it certain imperatives. Study. Listen. Learn. Make wise choices. Prepare well for your future. And help others to do so. Get involved in life here at the university. Be considerate in the residence halls and library. Take care of the environment that you share with others. Don't wait for someone to ask for your help, offer it generously, even before they have to ask. Learn to recognize needs and to meet them. Don't let people hurt themselves and their future by making foolish, thoughtless, selfish choices. Take the first step well and shape the journey that will follow. Be the first one to say hello or thank you or can I help. Get to Mass and invite someone along with you. Practice random acts of kindness. The community of which you are a part can only be a community if you who are its largest and most important part make it happen.
And a word to the rest of us, to those whose responsibility it is provide the services that our students need: go the extra mile for them. "Sow bountifully," as St. Paul tells us. Be generous not only in what you provide but how you provide it. Those who come to us in need – no matter how small – are not burdens or distractions but the reason we are here. In fact, their needs are our responsibility. Teaching and administration are, after all, service professions. No one should walk away from us, whatever our role at The Catholic University of America, feeling that we don't care. That does not mean that the answer is always "yes" but there is a way of communicating that reflects the service orientation by which a Catholic university, The Catholic University should be known.
Our university community has many plans in which we are currently engaged: development, growth and expansion; more efficiency; strategic initiatives. Many of these plans will be costly. What the Word of God asks of us today costs little … a change of heart, a change of attitude, a willingness to serve one another. Together, we can bring God’s Word to life throughout our campus. Together, in faith and hope and love, let us make that our goal. Isn’t that really our mission? God bless you all.
The Very Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Revised: March 27, 2001
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