Remarks at the 2012 Thanksgiving Dinner
By Michael F. McLean
President, Thomas Aquinas College
The other night at the on-campus dinner honoring our Board of Governors, our guest, Fr. Luke Mata, spoke eloquently on the Year of Faith. Appropriately enough, in his reflections Fr. Luke emphasized the “new evangelization” and the importance of deepening our relationship with Christ and of bearing witness to Christ in the contemporary world.
In brief remarks the following evening, Fr. Luke continued his reflections on the Year of Faith, emphasizing the importance of renewing our faith in the power of prayer, our faith in the Church and in the sacraments, especially penance and the Holy Eucharist, and our faith in Christ’s love and in His commandments to love God and to love our neighbor.
This evening I wish to continue our meditation on the Year of Faith by speaking briefly about some ways in which your lives here at the College — lives devoted to the pursuit of Catholic liberal education — perfectly respond to the Church’s call that this be a time, in Pope Benedict’s words, “of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith.”
In announcing that the Year of Faith would begin on October 11, 2012 — the day which is both the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — Pope Benedict recalled the previous Year of Faith announced in 1967 by Pope Paul VI. Benedict reminded us that Pope Paul saw his Year of Faith as a “consequence and a necessity of the postconciliar period,” mindful as he was “of the grave difficulties of the time, especially with regard to the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation.”
The 1967 Year of Faith culminated in the issuance of the Credo of the People of God, which Pope Benedict says, in a point crucial for understanding our purposes here at the College, “intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed, understood and explored ever anew, so as to bear consistent witness in historical circumstances very different from those of the past.”
I’ll say more about this in a minute, but for now let me emphasize this point: In calling our attention to this centuries-old essential content of our faith, Pope Benedict, and before him Pope Paul VI, endorses the College’s emphasis on the study of Sacred Scripture and the works of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others. It is certainly no accident that Thomas Aquinas College’s mission statement, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, devoted as it is to articulating an educational vision ordered to the study of sacred theology and faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, was written in 1969, two years after the conclusion of the 1967 Year of Faith and the issuance of the Credo.
In announcing the present Year of Faith, Pope Benedict insisted that “knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent; that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God.” In his recent pastoral letter, Witness to the New World of Faith, the pastor of our local church, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, offers what he calls “some basic directions and initiatives so that we can make the most of this year of renewal.” In doing so, the Archbishop recalls the five pastoral priorities he set out at the beginning of his ministry in Los Angeles, the first of which is education in the faith. In emphasizing knowledge and education, both Pope Benedict and Archbishop Gomez are acknowledging the intimate connection between the College’s work — your work — and the Year of Faith.
Pope Benedict and Archbishop Gomez strongly encourage the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church during the Year of Faith. In announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict called the Catechism “a precious and indispensable tool [for arriving] at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith.” “In the Catechism,” he continues, “we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded, and proposed in her two thousand years of history…[teaching] from Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to saints across the centuries…” While we do not include the Catechism as a formal part of our curriculum, I was not surprised to find that St. Augustine is cited in it 85 times, including 19 citations from the Confessions and The City of God, and that St. Thomas is cited in it 58 times, including 45 citations from the Summa Theologiae. St. Anselm, St. Athanasius, and St. John Damascene are cited as well.
This puts St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and your study of their works, at the center of the Year of Faith. To take just one example, but an important one, consider St. Thomas’ teaching about the nature of faith itself. Quoting from the Summa, the Catechism teaches that “believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” The Catechism goes on to cite St. Thomas on the certitude of faith and on the object of faith; with respect to the latter, it again quotes the teaching of the Summa that “the believer’s act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they signify,” making faith already the beginning of eternal life.
St. Thomas’ teaching on the relationship between faith and reason permeates the Catechism as well and is among Pope Benedict’s greatest concerns. Implicitly testifying to the importance of the College’s curriculum, in announcing the Year of Faith the Holy Father said: “to a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both, albeit via different routes, tend towards the truth.” To help students understand correctly the relationship between faith and science, and more generally that between faith and reason, Catholic liberal education must consider the principles and methods of modern science and provide enough training in mathematics to make modern science intelligible.
Thomas Aquinas College, of course, attempts to do these things and so is close to the heart of the Church. In energetically pursuing your studies here, you are doing the work of the Church and living well the Year of Faith. Especially now, as we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the Advent and Christmas seasons, you should rejoice in, and be grateful for, the opportunity you have been given to share in the light of Christ and to share that light with others.
“The diverse and in-depth education I received at Thomas Aquinas College was extremely valuable, first and foremost, for my soul; but it also proved to be more beneficial for my vocation as a physician than all the ‘hard sciences’ combined, perfectly blending the practical with the philosophical, and allowing me to see Christ in all whom I treat.”
– Caroline Johnson, M.D. (’97)
Internal Medicine Hospitalist
“The Catholic Church may be justly proud of this unique college of Saint Thomas Aquinas on account of the high quality of its professors and its cultural contribution through philosophy and theology.”
– Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo
President Emeritus of the Governatorate
Vatican City State