The Catholic University of America

Homily for Founders Day 125th Anniversary Mass
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
April 10, 2012

  Wuerl Founders Day
  Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl delivers the homily at the Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of Catholic University's 125th anniversary.
> Video of Cardinal Wuerl's homily

Our celebration of the 125th Anniversary of The Catholic University of America and the recognition of Founders Day takes place in the context of the Church’s great celebration – the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

As if to impress upon all of us the significance of the great Easter revelation and event, the Church repeats over and over and over again during this entire week the solemn Easter Liturgy. We hear the “Alleluias” proclaimed again and again. Every effort is made to impress upon us the grandeur and uniqueness of the message, “Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

Passing on this glorious news is at the very heart of who we are and what is the Catholic Church. In the Gospel today, Mary Magdalene is presented as the very first person to encounter the Risen Lord and he tells her, “Go to my brothers and tell them.” The Gospel continues, Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:17-18).

According to an ancient rhetorical device, Mary Magdalene is named the “Apostle to the Apostles” because she was the first to bring to them the news that they would soon be charged to bring to the whole world: Christ is risen and I have seen him.

The first reading for our liturgy this morning is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Here we find Peter now carrying out his charge and mission that he go and make disciples of all nations. “Let all know that this Jesus whom you crucified, God has raised up and made both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

The mandate that Peter and the apostles received is one that continues to be renewed in the Church year after year, century after century, “You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

How that witnessing has been carried out is the story of the growth, experiences, challenges, joys, sorrows and triumphs of the Church. As successive generations of believers tried to live up to the command, “You will be my witnesses,” the shape, breadth and charisms of the Church emerged.

At the very beginning, the testimony was paid for at great price and many times in blood. The primary definition of martyr is witness – one who bears witness usque ad mortem. The very Eucharistic prayer of the Church in the earliest of days began to include the names of those unique witnesses.

But as the political climate changed and along came an emperor disposed to this new faith, so did the possibilities of witnessing develop. Now the Church, as a worshipping community, became visible and the liturgy became the instrument of both private and public testimony.

Thus we enter the age of the great Fathers of the Church whose corpus of writings continues to this day to be a font of inspiration and admiration, as well as a living womb of teaching and witness. Here we find names such as Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Gregory and Augustine.

Later, on to this world stage walks Benedict. With him comes a whole new way of witnessing to the Gospel. His monks and their monasteries preserved and passed on the testimony in the very form that we just celebrated at the Easter Vigil.

Still later the age of witness took the form of consecrated life and the extraordinary gift to the Church of the great Mendicant Orders — Dominicans, Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans — which would continue to sprout new schools. There followed that great blossoming of religious life reflected today in the hundreds of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.

Soon we saw in Europe the beginnings of cathedral chapter schools and the eventual emergence of centers of higher learning and universities. Faith sought understanding. Testimony looked for affirmation. New voices of witness and testimony to the Risen Christ emerged in the form of schools of theology, sometimes gathered together under the generic heading of scholasticism. Now we hear names such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. Fides quaerens intellectum.

With that first landfall in the New World came a testimony to the faith in the form of an evangelization, the breadth of which the Church had not previously experienced. Continents became the home of missionaries planting the cross and telling the story of the Risen Lord.

If we fast forward to our own part of the world, we can see the cross at Saint Clement’s Island erected in 1634 as a testimony that the faith had reached the English-speaking New World.

Soon, after much travail and numerous starts in multiple directions, there emerged a new nation, our nation, the United States. It chose as its capital, our town, Washington. With its new Constitution witnesses to the faith were free to live out their commitment to the Lord and the challenge to share the Good News in new and fresh ways.

As the fledgling Catholic Church began to grow, her bishops gathered for the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore and proposed in 1884 a graduate school in philosophy and theology for clergy under the direction of the bishops. In 1887, The Catholic University of America was established and shortly thereafter Pope Leo XIII approved and chartered canonically with Pontifical status this institution that was envisioned as the country’s Catholic university offering in this part of the New World pontifical degrees issued by ecclesiastical faculties bearing the approbation of the Successor of Peter.

From those first days when the University was formally inaugurated in the presence of President Benjamin Harrison with 10 faculty and 46 students to our own, The Catholic University of America has taken its place among the chorus of voices speaking out of multitudes of institutions, but this time with the special mission of shedding the light of Christ on the human condition with the awareness that it is a witness – a witness to the Risen Lord.

It is with immense pride that every Catholic in this country could stand alongside the president of this great university and its illustrious faculty and see the thousands of students on campus and the hundreds and hundreds from its 12 schools come forward immersed intellectually now in areas as far ranging as theology and social studies to nursing and architecture to canon law and civil law to engineering and music, to name some.

Through all of this fabric of human enterprise, on this campus there continues to shine that light reflected in the University’s Coat of Arms Deus Lux Mea Est. The light that illumines the path in the search for truth in all of those areas is the light that shone in that Easter garden that formed the heart of Mary’s announcement to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

What we celebrate today is a century and a quarter of the response of generations of women and men, priests, religious and lay, to the vision of people like Thomas Hecker, Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, Bishop Martin Spalding and so many others. Our 125th anniversary includes names of academics forever a part of this university: ister Olivia Gowan, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, Father Carl Peter, Dr. Elizabeth Stone, Professor Thomas Pruffer, to note just a few.

What all those years ago the bishops envisioned as a visible testimony to the ongoing proclamation that “Christ is risen, he is truly risen and we are his witnesses” is found incarnate in this Northeast corner of our nation’s capital.

In the message from our Holy Father sent for this occasion we read: “During his visit to the University in 2008, the Holy Father wished to reaffirm the unique role played by Catholic educational institutions in the ‘diaconia of truth’ which the Church exercises in her proclamation of God’s revealed word…It is his hope that, in fidelity to its founding vision, the University will continue to bring the Church’s rich intellectual and spiritual patrimony to bear upon the critical issues of our time…”

2010 witnessed the largest freshman class ever, 1,025 students. 2011 John H. Garvey was inaugurated as the fifteenth President of The Catholic University of America. This month, April 2012 we light one more candle on the great lamp stand that is The Catholic University of America.

We simply thank God for the 125 years of being a light in the groves of the academe where the search for truth goes on by women and men who walk in the light of the Easter garden and have echoing in their hearts and minds the challenge and the sacred investiture, “You will be my witnesses.”

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