The Catholic University of America

Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor, The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church
Sept. 2, 2010

Every year Catholic University opens its academic session with a Mass invoking the Holy Spirit. This celebration today is both a prayer that God will bless all of us, especially the incoming freshmen class, and a statement of the identity of this university. The very fact that we have come together at the Eucharistic Liturgy is a clear indication that this campus and university family recognizes its participation in the educational mission of the Catholic Church.

We invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit because we are, first of all, convinced that God hears our prayers and shares with us the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel and enlightenment.

Our context for this Liturgy is also a statement of our unique academic identity. This campus is a home of learning, a place where intellectual development takes place and academic excellence provides a gauge against which to measure personal achievement. We are all aware that we live in a highly scientific-, technological- and information-oriented world. Life at a university is an invitation to learn, absorb and appropriate so much of the information and data available to us.

But there is also more. We need to know as well what to do with all of our scientific and technological information. We need to make judgments about how we use what we know. There is a great distinction between knowledge, information, the accumulation of data, and wisdom.

It was two and a half years ago that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited this campus and spoke to university and college presidents from all over our country. He reminded us that the reason education is integral to the mission of the Church is because “first and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who, in Jesus Christ, reveals the transforming love and truth” (Spe salvi, 4).

“This relationship,” the Pope continued, “elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way, those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true, a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within a community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”

Every time we come onto this campus, visually we are reminded of two currents of a great living stream. The sometimes frenetic activity of students coming and going across the campus is a reminder that we face the challenges that are a part of our contemporary highly technological and demanding world. Yet in the midst of this stands a reminder of the spiritual dimension of life, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception which says, “in all we are caught up in, God is with us.”

As Pope John Paul II said in his apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “A Catholic university’s privileged task is ‘to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the font of truth’” (1).

There is a need to “receive” the accumulated knowledge, counsel and wisdom of those who have gone before us. It is this intuition that led to the establishment of centers of learning and eventually colleges and universities. There is an accumulation of information, data and human experience that can be passed on to the next generation thus saving it the laborious task of re-inventing the wheel, experimenting with flint to strike a flame, or establishing all over again that one and one does equal two.

As true as this is in the world of science, history, literature, art, mathematics, medicine, law, it is also true in the area of religious wisdom. There is a body of knowledge arrived at through human experience and graciously given us in revelation that forms that data and “received wisdom” of our faith life.

There may be for some a temptation to think that when we deal with something as intimate and as personal as our relationship to God and the human values that flow from it that we can do it alone — that we can “go it alone.” Yet there is the more encouraging recognition that we are the grateful heirs of a graced experience of life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Even those who do not share our faith come to this university because they know that at its heart there is the acceptance of values motivated by our faith — values that present a specific vision or view of human life.

Last Sunday as I installed a pastor in a nearby parish, a student who identified herself as an incoming freshman told me of her excitement coming to The Catholic University of America. She said she would be at this Mass. If you are here, know that all of us are equally excited that you and all of the incoming freshmen are with us.

It is good to see so many students in the Basilica today as we officially begin this academic year that opens another chapter in your life.

As you students approach this academic year, whether it is your first, last or intervening year on campus, you take an additional step in the formation of your character and the refining of your vision of life. In short, you will mold your outlook in a way that will direct you well into the future.

This university opens its doors and arms to everyone. No student who enters this campus is asked to leave his or her faith at the entrance. But as an institution, the university invites all to recognize that the values which guide this university, and life on its campus, are manifestations of the faith of a larger spiritual family – the Church.

At the same time, we are invited into one of the great, if not greatest, human adventures — the changing of the world into a better place that is truly reflective of what the Scriptures call the kingdom of God — a realm of justice, peace, truth, compassion and love.

By its very definition, the Gospel will always be countercultural. The beginnings of the kingdom of God breaking into this world will necessarily be in contrast with the wisdom and values of the world. What the living tradition, on which this university stands, brings to our modern world is the wisdom that helps us answer the questions not only what can I do and how can I do it, but what should I do and what ought I do.

Everyone in this Basilica is a part of that grand enterprise. It is not by bread alone that we individually or as a community live. A Catholic university stands in the midst of the community as a voice of faith seeking understanding, of wisdom serene enough to include God, and knowledge confident enough to respond to the question, “How shall I live?”

What a rich fabric of society we help to weave when we bring the richness of our faith, the wisdom of God and our own personal conviction to our academic pursuits that will be manifested in the community we build once we leave this campus.

As we begin this new academic year, the Church of Washington focuses on the New Evangelization. I invite you to consider with me what this means, why it is so important and how we can be such a significant part of helping one another become a leaven for this culture. As the Gospel today reminds us, Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.”

In a particular way, you, the faculty of this great institution of higher learning, are the torch bearers of that ancient tradition that says that the wisdom we share sheds a whole new light on the path through human experience. Your academic gowns identify you as a faculty that brings great learning to this campus from a wide range of universities from across the world. The truth you nurture and more deeply penetrate illumines for your students the pathway through the human condition.

Dear students, the prayer today and the Gospel reading reminds us of the place and power of God’s Spirit in our lives. Your faith is an identifying characteristic of yourself, your experience, your life. Never hesitate to recognize the importance of God’s word, God’s wisdom and your relationship to God as you make your way through life and through these great formative years.

May God bless you and all who support this university to help make the Church’s vision of life and your dreams for the future come true.


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