By Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton
Following is an abridged version of the Commencement Address Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton gave to the graduates on June 10, 2000.
I am most honored to give a Commencement Speech at this College, which I love and appreciate so much. I was here when your classmate, Angela Baird, died. I’ve been in your classrooms with you. I’ve associated with some of you in various ways. I am confident that the student body I know so well will contribute more evidence to justify Cardinal O’Connor calling this “the preeminent Catholic college in America.”
This is Commencement. What are you supposed to Commence? Some of you have your eye on a boy or girl. Some of you have your eye on a job. Some of you don’t know what you’re going to do. One thing I know you’ve learned is that if you have Jesus, you have everything, no matter what! So, you can’t fail, no matter what you do. Whether you are a spouse, priest, nun, entrepreneur, doctor, musician – your success is ensured because it isn’t what you do, it’s why you do it. Whatever you choose to do, you are going to do it for the honor and glory of God and He will love you for that. And you will feel that love for you, everyday, in many ways. So, forget about worrying – you’re going to succeed!
I believe this class has something in common with my graduating class – the one so touted in recent film and story, which graduated into a war-torn world with our outlooks dominated by a single consciousness. Both your class and mine were called to play a part in the survival of our country – the survival of Western Civilization with its Judeo-Christian foundations and blessings. It’s a part that is liable to cause our death, our suffering.
In the prime 50 years of my life, the enemy was, first, the Nazi Pact Nations, and second, the Communist ‘Evil Empire.’ The first war was won militarily at tremendous cost in blood and treasure. The second – the ‘Mostly Cold War’ – was decided more by policies, alliances, and defense spending.
But in both cases, we were involved in a war between an atheistic system and a Christian coalition of nations. The atheists wanted to dominate the world, to enslave its peoples, and in one sense, enslave them to sin. The Christians wanted to maintain freedom under the law of God. Winning those wars was not easy. We barely won both of them, to tell you the truth.
Now, like my graduating class, I believe you are graduating in a time of special challenge. You confront a new war. The enemy is not a foreign power. The enemy is a movement from within this country. Like the cartoon Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” The enemy wants to change this from “One Nation Under God,” which we affirm as we pledge our allegiance, to “One Nation Without God.”
Starting with barring prayer in schools, the Supreme Court has succeeded in implanting the false notion that the First Amendment to our Constitution means this government has nothing to do with God, and God’s laws have nothing to do with our laws.
They’ve removed the laws of God from the halls of justice, the legislative chambers, and the nature and direction of executive policies and programs. We’re becoming – we’ve become – a Godless nation, formally, and we are well on the way to behaving like one. The only thing stopping us is people like you who believe in God.
The Supreme Court ruling, and subsequent court rulings from which this movement stems, are based on a lie. The basic ruling is a lie. The basic ruling that we’re not One Nation Under God is a lie. It is just as wrong as the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court, which declared slaves to be less than men. It is just as wrong as the Roe v. Wade decision that declared that a baby in the womb is not life and that it is not murder to take a non-life. The war is about lies. Prevailing lies. Steering, domineering lies.
To win means to be able to establish the truth – that this Nation was indeed established as One Nation Under God and cannot survive unless it remains so dedicated. And that’s where you fifty-four come in. You know the truth. God is truth. God made man to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. You know that the beginning of the process of loving with the heart enough to serve Him with your mind and body requires knowing Him. Here you have taken the opportunity to know God in many ways and through different means.
Now, yes, Jesus did say we could come to Him as little children – but if we come to Him as educated and enlightened faithful adults, we may lead others to Him. And that’s what we need today. We need some action to permit this country to continue to believe in God.
The Lord gave His disciples extraordinary graces for leadership. He shared His physical presence with them and let them see His miracles. He appeared to them after the Resurrection. As He promised, the Holy Spirit came down and gave them the inspirational blessings and bravery of Pentecost Sunday which provided the knowledge and the fire to vault them on their way to their fantastic feats of evangelization. He imparted these blessings that they could teach and testify credibly enough to do their part in establishing His Church and get footing in the world with that Church. He gave the Twelve what they needed.
I say He has given you fifty-four what you need. He has given you the special blessing of an education at Thomas Aquinas and you are eminently qualified to take a part in what I am challenging you to take part in – a part in restoring His law, as the basis of the laws of this country, the leader of the Free World, in this year of our Lord, 2000.
I ask you to make some effort to involve yourselves in a specific way in establishing the truth on this issue – in politics, in the courts, in the media, in education, or even by giving a good example as a husband and father or wife and mother. You must pray desperately, because this situation is slipping by. It is becoming possibly irretrievable.
Let’s be clear about one thing. The task is simple. The mission is to establish the truth. We sit by while they hammer us with lies – one television program after another, one story, one novel after another. How can we just sit there and let them call us ‘this or that kind of kook’ while they proceed to demoralize and atheisize the United States? They hammer us with lies; let’s hammer them with truth!
The First Amendment protects religion from government, not government from religion. It says so in common words. There’s no way you can twist it up to mean what they want to say it means, unless you don’t read it. The context of the discussions on this subject during the founding days of this nation explicitly recognizes the importance of religion as being the only sufficiently strong source of morality to permit us to enjoy the luxury of democracy. Morality is truly the only alternative to barbarism, and is required not only for nations, especially those with democratic forms of government to exist, but for civilization itself to exist.
In summing up, perhaps better than anybody, William Penn said, “Men must choose to be governed by God or condemn themselves to be ruled by tyrants.” George Washington, in three sentences of his farewell address, said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morals are indispensable supports.”
Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar stature, both reason and experience forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in the absence of religious principle. That’s what we had. That’s what we’re throwing away.
Not enough people have had the guts to try to tell the truth against the loud babble of those liars who want to adopt sin as their way of life and don’t want to be bothered. Too many good guys know the truth, (and I include myself here) but they lack the guts to join the battle, to be embarrassed, to be criticized, and maybe someday to be beat up in the streets or even martyred. Fr. Rutler, in his book A Crisis of Saints makes that point clear. He said there’s a lot of good people around and we all talk about these things over the bridge table or golf, we gripe about what’s going to happen, but we don’t do anything about it. We’re not willing to stand up and take the guff.
I believe you have the knowledge and the guts. Now go out and do it. No graduating class in the world today is better qualified to do it. Fifty-four graduates at the best Catholic college in the United States of America faced with this moral problem; don’t you see yourselves as having a special place in this somehow?
Because truth is truth. Truth sells. The American people are not what they’re being portrayed as by these idiots in Hollywood and New York that are selling us sin. They’re good people. Appeal to them. This is an issue that can be won. I believe it’s an issue that must be won, or we’re going to see a Dark Age here in this Millennium now, worse than the one in the previous two that bracketed them.
The United States has been leading the world for 50 years. We started out well. But we became rich and powerful and fell prey to the words of Jesus’ own statement, “It is more difficult for the rich man to reach heaven than for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle.” Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It takes hardship to naturally induce a nation to pray to God.
It takes what the Founding Fathers had, the Colonialists. They came over that ocean fleeing from all kinds of horrors of government, from tyranny. And they had to survive along the coast against the Indians and endure all sorts of hardships. They knew who God was and they knew they depended upon Him. It was in that religiosity that our Founding Fathers found that they would have to pray if they were to survive, and that their experiment in government would survive only if they were to keep praying. But are we going to stay that way?
You’re not having to go through the hell that I went through to get to the point that you believe that Jesus is everything. To me, it’s almost a miracle to see how far you have come in your minds. And I’m being honored. I feel I’m old and I’m just starting to get to know more people – the longer you live, you know more people – and I’m just lucky to be allowed to associate with you. No one, no groups in the Mystical Body of Christ appeal to me more. There’s more joy in looking into your faces and seeing that joy and knowing why it’s joy, than there is with any other group. Because you are the best.
This College and its graduates typify our best weapons. I hope some of this class will remember and try. I shall pray for you. Our dead from other wars, fighting for our One Nation Under God, will be praying for you. God help you to win back the soul of America.
Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Commencement 2000
“Reading a text, and then working through it with other people who have questions, opens up whole levels of meaning that you otherwise might not even know are there. By working out an argument, piece by piece, I am better able to understand and retain what I have learned.”
– Isabella McNiff (’18)
Broad Run, Virginia
“The students that have had an opportunity to be part of the life of the College have been enriched by their experience in an environment conducive to achievement. Now in all walks of life, graduates of Thomas Aquinas College are contributing, by following a wide variety of pursuits, to the betterment of society.”
– Renato Raffaele Cardinal Martino
President, Pontifical Council
for Justice and Peace