The Catholic University of America

John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America
Mass of the Holy Spirit Remarks
Great Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Sept. 3, 2015

The Mass of the Holy Spirit is an important occasion for the Catholic University community. We commit ourselves to the task ahead, and entrust our work and the University to God’s care. It’s fitting that we should welcome our Chancellor, Cardinal Wuerl. I’d like to thank our faculty and staff for their attendance. To our new students, welcome to campus. To our returning students, welcome back.

A new academic year begins with a sense of promise. We make ambitious plans: to bring our GPA up or our mile time down. To finish writing an article, or reading a book we agreed to review. But as the semester wears on it’s easy to let these resolutions slip.

The virtue that we need around the first of October is constancy. Alasdair MacIntyre described it as the virtue of reaffirming through actions who you are and what you are about. It was an important virtue for Jane Austen. Take Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. When the “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly”1 Mr. Collins proposes to her, she refuses despite pressure from her mother, and the knowledge that the marriage would ensure her family’s financial security. It would be impossible, she says, for her to do otherwise.2 That’s because Lizzie knows her own character, and knows that to find happiness in marriage she must respect and esteem her partner for life.3

It’s not just a virtue for love stories. Constancy is for all of our stories. As MacIntyre observed, if you want to answer the question, “what should I do?” in a particular situation, you need to consider, “of what sort of story . . . do I find myself a part?” When the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., constancy is the virtue that gets you out of bed in time for mass, because you are Christian striving to grow in holiness. It’s the virtue that keeps you in the library when your friends call it a night, because you are student whose goal is to excel in your field. It is the virtue that gives you the conviction to opt-out of the hookup culture, because you are child of God made for love far greater than that.

Pope Francis is a good contemporary teacher of constancy. One of the hallmarks of his papacy has been his emphasis on the small, concrete steps we must take to follow Christ. In his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, for example, Francis reminds us that all of creation belongs to God.4 That means we cannot just do whatever we wish with it. But Pope Francis doesn’t stop there. He advises us to wear warmer clothes instead of turning up the heat5, to say grace before each meal.6 When he spoke about human trafficking in his message for the World Day of Peace this year, he said we must “recognize in every other person a brother or sister in our human family.”7 He then called for concrete acts of fraternity: Avoid buying goods produced through exploitation. Smile at a stranger on the street.

Francis’s point is simple: If we call ourselves Christians, we must affirm that fact in our actions. This is constancy.

When you entered the Basilica this afternoon you received one of these [bracelet].

As we prepare to welcome Pope Francis in three weeks, the Archdiocese has challenged us to Walk with Francis by making concrete commitments to pray, serve, and act.

We can pray regularly for the Holy Father and learn about his teaching. We can serve by reaching out and caring for those in need. And we can act to promote important truths like the dignity of the human person and basic goods such as family life and religious freedom.

Over the next few weeks, Campus Ministry will provide many opportunities and ways for the CUA community to Walk with Francis. I’ll mention just two. If you attended the Welcome Back Eucharist on Sunday, you probably received a beautiful prayer card for the visit of Pope Francis. If not, you can stop by Campus Ministry to pick one up. You can pray.

On September 13, Campus Ministry will host Serve with Francis Day. It is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to serve the Brookland and D.C. community in variety of ways, from cleaning up parks to spending time with the elderly. You can register for the Serve with Francis Day on the campus ministry website. You can serve.

The important thing is to commit ourselves to concrete actions. So I pledge to walk with Francis by visiting our neighbors at the Little Sisters of the Poor. And I challenge the entire Catholic University community to take the pledge and walk with Francis too.


1Chapter 24
2Chapter 19
3Chapter 59
4Laudato Si’ 67
5Ibid 211
6Ibid 227
7Message for World Day of Peace (2015), 6


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