The Catholic University of America

Mass of the Holy Spirit Homily
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and University Chancellor
Great Upper Church, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Sept. 3, 2015

  Cardinal Donald Wuerl

I welcome the students of The Catholic University of America. In a particular manner, the incoming freshmen class, the class of 2019 including all of you from every state of the Union and from 90 countries around the world. In a particular way, I welcome all of you who are joining us through the kindness of the Eternal Word Television Network and Catholic TV.

It is a joy for me, once again, to celebrate the Eucharist, 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 pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

The context of our celebration is of course the new academic year. But there is also a larger context that inserts this academic year into the ongoing life of the Church.

In less than three weeks the Chief Shepherd of the Universal Church, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will visit this archdiocese, the campus of our university and celebrate Mass on the portico of this very Basilica.

We turn our attention to his message to all of us, his call that we be missionary disciples and that we take seriously our own baptism into the life of the Spirit that identifies us in a unique manner.

In his encyclical letter, Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis tells us that, “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples.” He affirms that, “All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization… Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged” (120).

Look around this Basilica and across this campus. We are here not just as isolated individuals. We speak of our university community and our Church family.

Recently, in my pastoral letter, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge, I reflected more at length on this extraordinary reality. The Church was established to be God’s family; and as a family it is identified by distinctive characteristics. One of these is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

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 of the Holy Spirit that helps us see beyond the apparent, beyond the evident in order to grasp the greater truth. As a people of faith we know a light that has the power to enable us to see more than at first meets the eye. That is why the academic year here at Catholic University begins with this prayer for an outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit. “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth!”

But if we pay careful attention to the readings for today, we find that the love of God and our love for each other that should be a reflection of God’s love for us and our love for God, is not simply theoretical. It takes on practical form and visible dimension.

In the reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that it is the Spirit of the Lord who has come upon the Prophet and it is the Lord who has anointed him. But this anointing is now manifest in his works of mercy, compassion and care. Isaiah tells us, “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor to the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:1-3a)

There is a sense in which each one of us has to make that call and anointing in the Holy Spirit our own. This is what Pope Francis asks us to do. We are challenged to take the love and mercy of God and share it with others. It is for this reason he has called for an entire Year of Mercy where the whole Church, you and I, all of us together, joined with brothers and sisters around the world, will focus our attention on the compassionate love of God and how we extend that to others around us.

In the Gospel we see what some describe as the charter of the new covenant – the charter for the Church, that is all of us. Jesus tells us that we should be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. But how will that happen?

It is in the gift of the Holy Spirit that illumines our mind and strengthens our heart that we find the grace to take on the challenge to make of our world a better place. Thus we pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

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.

Here at this university, in addition to preparing for a job and a means to a paycheck we should also accept that we have a deeper calling – to do our part to help make the world just a little better.

You can make your own the prayer: 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 challenges us to be “missionary disciples.” We are not bystanders but rather participants in the great human endeavor to make of this world a better place. Hence we can confidently pray, “Lord send forth your Spirit and we shall renew the face of the earth.”

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.

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 our faith — values that present a specific vision or view of human life. Here we gather and pray for the power to live that vision and to renew the face of the earth.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us never lose the vision that we can, that we are going to and we ought to change the world.

Pope Francis says to us that at times “we may be tempted to give in to laziness, or worse, to discouragement, especially when faced with the hardships and trials of life.” “In these cases,” he tells us, “let us not lose heart, let us invoke the Holy Spirit.”

My brothers and sisters never give up on yourself, your ability to do great things, your capacity to share in the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing the face of the earth.

It is therefore with confidence that 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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