The Catholic University of America

Mass of the Holy Spirit
John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
Great Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Aug. 30, 2012

Note: Following are the President's prepared remarks.


I want again to thank our special guests, Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Viganò.  They will be with us for the picnic after Mass.  I hope you’ll stop by and say hello to them. 

I know you are all eager to get outside for the picnic, but I want to take a few moments to say a word about a theme we hope to highlight this academic year. 

It’s a big week in the Church this week.  We celebrate the feasts of St. Monica, St. Augustine, and St. John the Baptist.  Being a university, we’re naturally interested in St. Augustine.  He was a famous big brain, and we are still reading his stuff – The Confessions and The City of God in particular – 1600 years later. 

Here’s the weird thing about Augustine.  He is a famous philosopher who learned a lot on his intellectual journey.  But if you were to sum up his teaching in one word (you know, like Freud – the pleasure principle; Jung – eternal youth) it would be love.  Augustine tells the story of his conversion in his Confessions. At the beginning of the book he writes, “Lord. . . you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  It’s a book about falling in love with God.  The thing is, he thinks that this love is the compass of his intellectual life:

Let me come to love you wholly . . . .  And thus, O Lord . . . may all the useful things I learned as a boy now be offered in your service – let it be that for your service I now speak and write and reckon.

Pope Benedict XVI, as it turns out, is a big Augustine fan.  He wrote his doctoral dissertation about him.  Two decades later he said1

Augustine has kept me company for more than twenty years.  I have developed my theology in a dialogue with Augustine, though naturally I have tried to conduct this dialogue as a man of today.

President Garvey  
President John Garvey delivers remarks at the 2012 Mass of the Holy Spirit.
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A friend of mine has observed that Benedict is the greatest theologian to sit in the see of Peter since Gregory the Great.  And though he is a big brain like Augustine, he too is all about love.  It’s the theme of his two best known encyclicals – Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate.  More to our purposes, it has been the central theme of his writings and speeches about Catholic higher education.

In speaking to the students of St. Mary’s University College on his apostolic visit to the UK in 2010, the pope explained the relation between Catholic education and the love of God in this way:

In your Catholic schools, there is always a bigger picture over and above the individual subjects you study, the different skills you learn.  All the work you do is placed in the context of growing in friendship with God, and all that flows from that friendship.  So you learn not just to be good students, but good . . . people.  

At this point you are probably thinking I’ve gone off the rails.  Catholic university presidents on ceremonial occasions usually talk about faith and reason, and argue that faith deserves a place at the table of higher education.  But I’m talking about love and reason.  Augustine and Benedict say love is the virtue central to the Catholic idea of higher education.  What’s up with that?  Love is mushy.  It’s about feelings, not thoughts.  It inspires us to do what we should not – like shirk our studies or break curfews. 

But this is not how it is with the love of God.  It keeps us on the right track.  Here’s an analogy from the movie Apollo 13.  (It may be a little before your time.)  Apollo 13 was a space craft sent to the moon in 1970.  It met with an accident in space that cost the ship much of its power supply.  In an attempt to save the three men on board, one of the astronauts (Jim Lovell) had to steer the space craft manually through outer space toward earth, because there was not enough power to operate the guidance system, and the ship had drifted off course.  In order get back on course, Lovell aims to keep the sight of the earth, the only thing in outer space that appears relatively fixed in place, in the craft’s small window while he fires the engines. 

In steering the course of our intellectual life we need to keep God in the window.  He is the point of the journey; he is the thing we need to keep in view if we want to stay on course.  As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there, you’ll be lost.”  Habits of virtue keep the intellectual wanderer on track.  And the chief virtue, St. Paul says, is love. 

It’s easy to see the link between our friendship with God and academic work in some fields.  Our Schools of Music and Architecture offer degrees in sacred music and sacred space.  But the link is equally strong in Business and Economics.  The Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has argued that welfare economics should pay more attention to ethics.  We need, he says, to consider the real motivations of real people.2   (Modern economics, by contrast, has moved in the direction set by John Stuart Mill:

John Stuart Mill
By a mighty effort of will
Overcame his natural bonhomie
And wrote ‘Principles of Political Economy.’)

In Business and Economics, in Law, History, and Psychology – in all our studies – our perspective, not just our motive, is informed by the love of God.  That is why we make Mass and the sacraments so widely available.  That is why we urge you to pray, go on retreat, come to adoration, or join a weekly reflection group.  It is why we are blessed by the number of priests and religious on campus, who study alongside you.  They are examples of how to love God.  That is even why this great basilica was built – to remind us who live and work here that our purpose is to love God.

As we begin our work for this academic year, I hope you will remember that the love of God is at the heart of all we do at The Catholic University of America. 
God bless our efforts.


1Aidan Nichols, OP, The Thought of Benedict XVI 27 (1988).
2On Ethics and Economics 1 (1987).
2Ibid. (quoting Edmund Clerihew Bentley).