The Catholic University of America

Mass of the Holy Spirit
John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church
Aug. 29, 2013

Note: Following are the President’s prepared remarks.


President Garvey at 2013 Mass of the Holy Spirit
Main story about the 2013 Mass of the Holy Spirit

This Mass of the Holy Spirit is a special occasion for the Catholic University community to assemble each year. It’s fitting that we should welcome our Chancellor and the Apostolic Nuncio. I want to thank our faculty and staff for their attendance. And to our new students, and our returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors – welcome to campus. We are delighted you are here.

I said this was an occasion for our community to assemble. ‘Community’ is an overworked word these days. We use it to denote almost any collection of people . . . the education community, the immigrant community, the fishing community, the recidivist community. Groups like these are not, properly speaking, ‘communities’ because their members, though they share some trait in common (an interest in education, or fishing), have no necessary relation to one another, no internal coherence.

How different a real community is. The Rule of St. Benedict uses the word often. In the Prologue Benedict says he “mean[s] to establish . . . a school for the Lord’s service.” He speaks about calling the community together for consultation, times for community meals, clothing and footwear for the community, community order, and so on. In this community, Benedict says, “seniors call their juniors ‘brother’ or ‘sister,’ and juniors address their seniors as ‘nonnus – father’ or ‘nonna – mother.’” When a guest arrives, “the . . . members of the community should hurry to offer a welcome with warmhearted courtesy.” In a famous phrase, Benedict directs that “[a]ny guest . . . should be received just as we would receive Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

In chapter 72 of his Rule Benedict sums up the spirit that should inspire monastic life. Members of the community should “try to be first to show respect to one another, with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character.” No one should “aim[] at personal advantage but [should rather be] concerned for the good of others.”
The Catholic University of America is not a monastery, but it is another kind of “school for the Lord’s service.” Like the monks who withdrew to Monte Cassino, we see around us a culture in turmoil. In Benedict’s time the Goths, Huns, Vandals, and Ostrogoths preyed on a collapsing west. In our own society, whose power and influence invite comparisons to the Roman empire, we see a kind of degeneration from within. Institutions like neighborhood, family, and church, the building blocks of political society, are crumbling.

It’s a worrying prospect. Those who love our country wonder how we can rebuild a culture whose foundation stones have lost their strength. I think this University is part of the answer. Benedict’s Rule was a plan for one small community. But it was a pattern so successful that it was repeated hundreds of times all over Europe and beyond. In the end, as Cardinal Newman said of Benedict and his followers,

He found the world . . . in ruins, and his mission was to restore it . . . . [W]hat the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men . . . brought together and made to live again.

This University is another small community. But its graduates will go into the world formed in intellect and virtue, to apply what they learned here. Its example can inspire imitation in other institutions.

Within our community we have a set of rules not unlike St. Benedict’s. Last spring we adopted a Community Pledge for members of the University and invited all students to sign. Last week we incorporated the Pledge into freshman orientation. You see in it echoes of Benedict’s chapter 72. The monks undertake “to show respect to one another, with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character.” We ask our students to be tolerant of others, “build[ing] a community where everyone is treated with respect.” We require this tolerance not only with regard to weakness, as Benedict did, but also with regard to the other differences that can separate us – race, creed, orientation, or class. All are “created in God’s image and likeness” and are worthy of respect.

This is, as it turns out, a resolution all of America is focused on this week. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, at which the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At many colleges and universities around the country, the anniversary has invited discussion about the value of diversity and the virtue of tolerance.

The thought I want to leave you with is this. Dr. King expressed the hope that all God’s children would one day work and pray together. If we take St. Benedict’s example seriously, this community should lead, not follow, in building that better world.

On behalf of the entire University community, I would like to extend special thanks to Monsignor Walter Rossi, Monsignor Vito Buonanno, Father Michael Weston, and the staff of the National Shrine for collaborating with us at today’s liturgy. We are always grateful for their hospitality and generosity at this magnificent Basilica.

Thank you and may God bless you during this academic year.