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. 28, 2014

Note: Following are the Cardinal’s prepared remarks.


  Cardinal Donald Wuerl

“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

It is a joy for me as Chancellor of The Catholic University of America and also as an alumnus and friend of the University to be with you to celebrate this Eucharist today, which marks the beginning of a new academic year. We come together to invoke on the whole University community the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

We are a people of faith. It is with the eyes of faith that we not only see reality but recognize that there is so much more to it. The lens through which we see life, and therefore one another, calls on each of us whatever our age, position and vocation to be open to the inner light that helps us see beyond the apparent, beyond the evident in order to grasp the greater truth. As a people of faith we believe in that light that comes from a source beyond the limits of our own human condition and the confines of the moment. We know a light that has the power to enable us to see more than at first meets the eye.

I am reminded of those wonderful Rembrandt paintings that have a source of light from beyond the actual scene that clearly illumines certain aspects that the artist wished to highlight and thus give meaning to the whole picture.

The light of faith is that wonderful gift that we receive that allows us through its lens to see so much more. It is that light that illumines aspects of our existence that we might never otherwise fully penetrate.

It is only because we believe that you and I hear in the words that were read to us today from the pages of Sacred Scripture, the Word of God. It is only through the lens of faith that you and I will see the bread and wine now become the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus it is only through the eyes of faith that we see in one another, in the persons next to us in the pews, brothers and sisters.

This is what the Prophet Isaiah is speaking about in today’s first reading when he announces the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What he describes is more than a metaphor. The blessings of the Holy Spirit that Isaiah lists are manifestations of the very presence of God in our lives. These gifts are meant to help us understand and grasp so much more about ourselves, our activities, our purpose, our goal.

As you students approach this academic year, whether it is your first, last or intervening year on campus, you take an additional step in the formation of your character and the refining of your vision of life. As you do so, the gifts of the Spirit are all the more significant.

A considerable part of any university experience should consist of grappling with those great basic questions that are essential to the search for each person’s self-defining. How shall I live? What is the purpose of life? What gives meaning to the things I do? What is the goal of my existence? What are the values by which I will make my choices and live my life? What does God ask of me? Am I here at this University simply to prepare for a job, a means to a paycheck, or should I think of my future career in terms of vocation, a deeper calling to do my part to help make the world just a little better?

Lord send forth your Spirit and we shall renew the face of the earth.

We come together to ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit because we dare to believe we really can make a difference. We are capable of renewing the face of the earth, or at least trying – at least, doing our part with the help of God.

Pope Francis, in his weekly general audiences last spring devoted a series of talks to the Holy Spirit and his gifts. Here he teaches us, in keeping with the Creed, that the Holy Spirit is our “life blood” – “He is the Love of God who makes of our hearts his dwelling place and enters into communion with us. The Holy Spirit abides with us always, he is always within us, in our hearts. . . . The Spirit himself is ‘the gift of God’ par excellence (cf. Jn 4:10), he is a gift of God, and he in turn communicates various spiritual gifts to those who receive him” (Audience of April 9, 2014).

This celebration today is both a prayer that God will bless all of us with his Spirit, with his gifts, especially as we begin the new academic year, and also a statement of who we are and an acknowledgement of our vocation, of what we are called to be and do. This Mass is a realization that life at this university is an invitation not only to learn a great deal of scientific and technological information, not only to grow in appreciation of the humanities, but also to know what to do with that knowledge.

Your choice of CUA shows an openness to receiving these gifts: knowledge and understanding, wisdom, fortitude and counsel. It also says that in the midst of all the challenges of this demanding world we recognize the need to pray for such blessings.

Even those who do not share the Catholic faith come to this university because they know that at its heart there is the acceptance of values motivated by that faith — values that present a specific vision or view of human life. Here we gather and pray for the power to renew the face of the earth.

The scriptures are rife with stories of those whose lives were completely transformed by the working of the Spirit within them, and how they, in turn, helped to change the world.

Clearly the most visible example of being anointed in the Holy Spirit is Jesus stepping into the Jordan as the heavens open and the Spirit in the form of a dove comes over him with the voice announcing, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.”

What does Jesus say to us? We hear in today’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit will be given also to us, that God will dwell with us, that we really can renew the face of the earth.

In the recent movie, Son of God, there was a dramatic scene in which after Jesus calls Peter to be a fisher of men Peter asks him, “What are we going to do?” Jesus responds, “We are going to change the world.”

My brothers and sisters, let us never lose the vision that we can, that we are going to and we ought to change the world. The Lord Jesus himself put it this way, “Behold I am making all things new.”

In everyone’s life there are always competing values. We learn as we progress in wisdom, grace and age that those competing values touch on increasingly more important issues. How we form our lives and how our character develops depends on our making the right choices when dealing with competing values and competing options.

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

That is why – with confidence – we ask for the power to change, to transform, to make new, to heal – to renew the face of the earth.

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 renew in our hearts the challenge of God’s Word and our willingness to try to realize it in our hearing – in our time.

No wonder then we pray, “Lord, send out your Spirit and we shall renew the face of the earth.”




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