The Catholic University of America

Mass of the Holy Spirit Homily
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor 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 Cardinal's prepared remarks.


It is a joy for me as Chancellor of The Catholic University of America to be the principal celebrant at this Mass that marks the beginning of the academic year and in which we invoke the blessings of the Holy Spirit on all who are gathered here, the administration, the faculty, the staff and, above all, the students for whom this university exists.

Before reflecting on the theme of this liturgy, I want to recognize the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States and our Holy Father’s personal representative, Archbishop Carlo Mario Viganò.

In a particular way, I also want to recognize the President of The Catholic University of America, Mr. John Garvey.

I greet my brother priests, deacons, women and men in consecrated life, members of The Catholic University of America Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, and most particularly the large number of students present for this celebration. I greet with a special and warm welcome the incoming freshman class, the class of 2016, and all of you who come from every state of the Union and from over 100 countries around the world.

I also greet all of you who are joining us through the kindness of the Eternal Word Television Network, and a special greeting to all of the students, faculty and administrators in the many Catholic schools throughout our country who are part of the National Catholic Educational Association and who are joining us at this Mass televised by ETWN. Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, welcome.

The obvious context of our liturgy today is the initiation of the academic year. This alone would provide us an occasion to reflect on what lies ahead of us and to invoke God’s blessings. However, there is an even wider ecclesial context for this celebration of the Eucharist and this opening of the 2012-2013 academic year.

In a matter of weeks, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will convene in Rome the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to treat the topic, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

Coinciding with that exercise of episcopal collegiality are a number of other anniversaries, including: the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992.

  Cardinal Wuerl
  Cardinal Donald Wuerl delivers the homily at the 2012 Mass of the Holy Spirit.
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All of this has prompted our Holy Father to announce a Year of Faith to begin Sunday, October 11 of this year and conclude on November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King. The theme under which all of these commemorations fall and the focus of my brief reflections this morning is the celebration of our faith.

As I stood at the back of Church and greeted people at the end of Mass, a youngster asked me “Why do you call us brothers and sisters? You’re not my brother.” “Ah, but I am spiritually.” I responded, “Because we are all members of God’s family. If we are all God’s children then we are spiritually brothers and sisters.” After he received a nod of affirmation from his mother and father who stood behind him, he said, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” Then he added, “That’s cool,” offering his youthful declaration of approval.

The young person in a way is a parable figure for all of us as we begin this new academic year and anticipate the Year of Faith. Our faith is the lens through which we see reality. Once we envision life through that prism, we see things all together differently. Just as that young person was prepared to see his relationship with others in a different light – the light of faith – so each of us is called to see reality and our relationship with one another through the lens of belief.

As you come on to this campus, and in various places around the grounds, we see displayed the university’s coat of arms, Deus Lux Mea Est, God is My Light. The light in which we see ourselves, our relationship with others and the very reality of which we are a part includes the divine light shed by God’s Word.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of The Catholic University of America as the bishops’ university established with papal authorization. The university’s motto speaks to not just our history but our identity, how we approach life and the contribution this university family makes to humanity’s search for the truth.

Jesus asked us to see life through the lens of his Gospel. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). In the light of his revelation, we are to see one another as brothers and sisters, we are to recognize our actions of compassion, kindness, understanding, mercy and forgiveness as works of his kingdom, and the realization of truth, justice, peace and love as the actual presence of his kingdom.

None of this is simply metaphoric speech or poetic language. It is a way of illuminating reality, of perceiving in the light of faith and of visioning through the lens of that special form of knowledge and grasp of the truth that is God’s revelation.
What is it that we should expect to find when we come onto this campus? What is it that we bring to this campus as we return to our studies or come for the very first time? What is it that we nurture on this campus as administrators, faculty members or staff? The university’s coat of arms helps answer those questions, God is my light.

The light in which we walk in our search for the truth includes the wisdom of God. The lens through which all of us see each other on campus as we deal with all of the intricacies and challenges of university life is a prism that includes a virtuous life reflective of Jesus’ call that we be perfect as is our heavenly Father. The lens through which we see our life on campus as we begin this new academic year helps to sharpen our focus on all of our efforts that are a part of the educational enterprise.

When our Holy Father visited four years ago, he spoke on this very campus of the significance of Catholic education. He pointed out that “education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the good news.” He explained, “First and foremost, every Catholic institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4).”

It was in that address that our Holy Father held up for all of us the significance of the diakonia of Truth, which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity and how each of us in our own academic discipline and in our own personal life is called to participate in that service that can truly be called a ministry. In whatever form this ministry is expressed, it is clear that essential to it is the dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness.

First among the elements is our own personal encounter with the Truth. In whatever area of studies we pursue, to the extent that we are open to the Truth and walk in its realization to that extent do we willingly open ourselves up to the Font of Truth. Such an encounter ultimately brings us closer to God, precisely as the Truth.

In that dynamic that expresses the diakonia of Truth we also find the second element, knowledge. We come onto this campus aware that in the twelve schools comprising this university, students are immersed intellectually in areas as far ranging as theology and social studies, nursing and architecture, canon law and civil law, engineering and music, to name some. The very process of coming to know, reason, reflect and affirm highlights our human capacity to transcend the limitations of particulars and arrive at enduring universals.

Finally, we are reminded that Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of Truth, which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. It is not just that we come to know and are confident in our knowledge, but the knowledge of the Truth should inspire us to share it.

The opening of this academic year in the context of the New Evangelization is not a passive recognition of history and circumstances. The Gospel reading chosen for today is the great commissioning recorded in the 28th Chapter of Saint Matthew. It relates how Jesus sent his apostles out with the command: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In fact, we repeated over and over again in the responsorial Psalm the paraphrase of that commissioning: “Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”

As we reflect on the impact of that Gospel command, we realize that we are intended to be participants, not bystanders, in the great action of the unfolding of the Gospel in the midst of the human condition and the shedding of the light of Christ’s Word on the complex circumstances of our days.

Some time ago one of the students told me the story of how during lunch with a number of other students, she noted she was going to Mass Saturday evening and wanted to know if any of them were interested in going with her. She related how one of her Jewish classmates indicated that he would like to go just to see what was happening. She said, “Of course.” He then asked if he have to wear his yarmulke. She replied, “No, only the Cardinal does that and he won’t be at this Mass.”

But it is not enough that we look to this great university to stand in the midst of our society and culture offering a distinct vision of life rooted in the Word of God. Each one of us, from the faculty and administration on through the student body composed of those returning in both the undergraduate and graduate programs and those just arrived, all receive the same commissioning and hear the same challenge.

How all of this is done is, of course, the challenge of modern university life and hence, we come here for the gift of the Holy Spirit as we undertake a new academic year. As the Gospel read to us today concludes: “Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The one thing of which we can be certain as we celebrate our university, initiate this new academic year and take on the challenges of the New Evangelization is that we do not make our pathway alone. Hence we pray for an outpouring of the Spirit to be with us, enlighten us, strengthen us, comfort us and guide us.

Our prayer today is that the light of the Gospel, the light of Christ, the light of his Holy Spirit will shine in our minds, hearts and be reflected in our actions. May all of us feel the light, the warmth and the strength of the Spirit as together we make our way through this new academic year. Thank you and God bless you.