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. 29, 2013

Note: Following are the Cardinal’s prepared remarks.

  Cardinal Donald Wuerl delivers the homily at the Mass of the Holy Spirit opening the 2013-2014 academic year at The Catholic University of America.
> Main story about the 2013 Mass of the Holy Spirit

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 of the University community.

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 2017, and all of you who come from every state of the Union and from 86 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 EWTN.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, welcome.

It is easy to envision in our mind’s eye the scene of Jesus taking the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reading what his listeners clearly understood to be a reference to the Messiah, and by extension the coming of the messianic kingdom.

What is remarkable about this section of the Gospel according to Saint Luke, is that once Jesus finished the citation, he rolled up the scroll, and handed it back to the attendant and then sat down. He then simply says, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In each of the biblical commentaries that I consulted, it is clear that the hearers of this citation would have clearly understood it to be messianic. But several of the commentaries went on to note that many of the listeners to the text would not have found Jesus’ statement all that convincing.

Surely the breaking into our world of the messianic kingdom, the very presence of the Messiah, himself, would be a little bit more dramatic than this quiet repetition of something that everyone in the room had already listened to countless times before – the reading of Isaiah.

How is it that this long awaited coming of the Messiah is now being fulfilled? I don’t see it. Show it to me! The same question can be directed to us today. Or put in other words, how can the kingdom of God actually be present and make a difference in our lives and in the world?

Pope Benedict XVI told us that we should recognize the presence of Christ’s Church, of the beginning of His Kingdom among us here and now, when the Word of God is proclaimed, the sacraments are celebrated, and the ministry of charity is exercised (DCE, 25).

What of any significance do we bring to the world today as it struggles hoping that things someday will be much better? The answer depends a lot on how much importance we place on
God’s Word, our fidelity to its message, and its capability of making a difference.

A number of years ago at the conclusion of my presentation at the Catholic Center at Harvard, a man who self-identified as an atheist and who taught in the law school was the first to present a question. He asked, “What do you people think you bring to our society?” The reference to “you people” was to the front row of the audience that was made up of representatives of a variety of religious traditions all of whom were in their appropriately identifiable robes.

Since he was a lawyer, I asked if he would mind if I answered his question with a question of my own. When he nodded in agreement, I asked: “What do you think the world would be like if it were not for the voices of all of those religious traditions represented in the hall? What would it be like if we did not hear voices in the midst of the community saying, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness? What would our culture be like had we not heard religious imperatives such as love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do to you?

How much more harsh would our land be if we did not grow up hearing, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers? What would the world be like had we never been reminded that someday we will have to answer to God for our actions?” To his credit, the man who asked the question smiled broadly and said, “It would be a mess!”

We have gathered at the beginning of this academic year at the altar of the Lord to invoke the power of God’s grace – the presence of the Holy Spirit – to continue that ongoing effort, renew in our hearts the challenge of God’s Word and our willingness to try to realize it in our hearing – in our time. We come to the Church so that we can, once again, hear the invitation to faith, experience an encounter with Christ, and accept the challenge of a whole way of living.

In his very first encyclical letter entitled, Lumen Fidei – the Light of Faith – Pope Francis writes that, “Faith is a new way of seeing things if centered on Christ. Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us, a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us”(20).

Our Holy Father goes on to say, “Without being conformed to him in love, without the presence of the spirit, it is impossible to confess him as Lord” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3). His declaration is a reminder why you and I are here, and why this Catholic University of America with its motto, “God is my Light,” is our home this academic year.

The Pope tells us: “The life of the believer becomes an ecclesial existence, a life lived in the Church … Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the Body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. (22)

The outpouring of the Spirit that we invoke in this celebration of the Eucharist is precisely the Spirit that Jesus announced was being fulfilled in him. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me . . .”

Every time the Gospel that we just listened to is read, we are reminded that the now of the coming of the kingdom includes our moment, our history, our lives, our time. It is also a clear reminder that it falls to us quietly, persistently, consistently in everything we say and do to realize the kingdom of God among us.

This we can do because we also recognize as the reading tells us that we have the potential, the power, the giftedness to make all things new. Behold, I am making all things new! Each of us can do that! We can change the world – quietly, courageously, faithfully – if we try! “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The purpose of this University, the purpose of our academic year, is to re-confirm for ourselves the conviction that we are truly capable of making a better world – of manifesting God’s kingdom of peace, truth, justice, kindness, understanding, compassion and love here and now.

So, when asked “What are we going to do this year, and why have we chosen to begin it with a Mass invoking the Holy Spirit?” We might answer “We are starting another year of studies. We are starting another year of teaching. We are starting another year of intellectual endeavor.”

But the more radical answer, and the answer closer to why Jesus rolled up the scroll and simply said, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” is that we are preparing to change the world.

This is a new moment in the life of the Church, a new Pentecost. It is our turn now, to reinvigorate our faith, not only today in this Year of Faith, but every day and every year, and to share it with others, to recommit to renew the face of the earth.

Always be open to the gift of the Spirit. It is the movement of the Spirit that has led you along this path, it is the nudging of the Spirit that brings you to this moment and it is in the outpouring of the Spirit that you will walk united with Christ.

It is our turn in the long history of the Church simply to believe and say: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Thank you.