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Archbishop Coakley’s Homily from the
Convocation Mass of the Holy Spirit

Posted: August 21, 2017


“The Light Shines in the Darkness,
and the Darkness Shall not Overcome It”


by the Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, S.T.L., D.D.
Archbishop of Oklahoma City
Homily from the Mass of the Holy Spirit (transcript)
Convocation Day
August 21, 2017


Distinguished faculty members, members of the Board of Governors, benefactors, friends and, especially, my dear students of Thomas Aquinas College, it is indeed a joy to be with you. It is a great privilege to celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit, as we inaugurate and commence a new academic year, a new year of education and formation.

I have to admit, this has been kind of a “bucket list” thing for me, to come to Thomas Aquinas College. I followed the growth of the College for many, many, many years since I was an undergraduate myself at the University of Kansas. And, indeed, it’s a great pleasure to be here finally, to celebrate with such joy this wonderful occasion.

In a little while, an hour or two, Americans across the continent will be gathering for an extremely rare astronomical phenomenon: a solar eclipse, in some places a total solar eclipse. The sun will appear to be darkened for a time as the moon passes between the earth and the sun, casting its shadow over much of the earth’s surface. The last time such an event took place across the whole of the American continent was nearly 100 years ago, in 1918. Thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will travel great distances today in order to experience this extraordinary phenomenon. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. It was predicted long ago.

Perhaps it was an actual solar eclipse, coinciding with the moment of Our Lord’s death, that caused the darkness described in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where he writes, “From noon onward darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” Perhaps. An eclipse of the sun is certainly an appropriate cosmic sign for the very moment when sin and death seemed to triumph over light and life. For three days, hope was eclipsed by despair.

The Resurrection, however, proclaimed Christ’s ultimate victory, the victory of life over death, the triumph of Divine Mercy over human sinfulness. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. This light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Perhaps we can meditate upon that when we see the earth darkened as the moon passes between earth and sun in just a little while. Life will be victorious.

Today we are celebrating this Mass of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the beginning of the new academic year here at Thomas Aquinas College. I know you realize, better than I, perhaps, what a unique institution Thomas Aquinas College is. You chose it, you students and faculty members, staff members, for a reason. Thomas Aquinas College is unique in offering the type of Catholic liberal arts education that is offered here, a Catholic education in the liberal arts (to distinguish it from a professional education in the servile arts). Why does someone come here to Thomas Aquinas College? What does a liberal arts education offer? What is it for?

It is not primarily a professional training program. It is really an educational opportunity and process of formation geared toward educating men and women, human beings, the whole person. One comes here to become more of whom God created us to be, created in His image and likeness, becoming the unique individual and person that God desires us to become through faith, hope, and love, through the power of His grace at work within us to transform us. One comes to Thomas Aquinas College to become a Catholic man, a Catholic woman, to become the person that God desires us to become, to magnify and glorify Him in a particular way that is uniquely yours, to discover, perhaps, your unique place in God’s plan, your personal vocation, what God has called you to.

Perhaps God calls some of you to be religious. Perhaps God calls some of you to be priests. Perhaps God calls most of you to the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony, to live out your baptism as mothers and fathers and spouses. But God has called all of you to be saints. And ultimately I think that is why Thomas Aquinas College exists, to prepare you to become whom God has created you to be by His grace, by the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacraments of Baptism, and Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist — to become saints. All of us are called to holiness. All of us are called to be saints. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

The world in which we live has experienced for some time a growing eclipse of faith and reason, but the darkness will not overcome it. Thomas Aquinas College is uniquely positioned and equipped, really, to let light shine once more in our world, in our society, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships. As you respond to God’s grace, allow the Spirit of the living God to enlighten your minds, to strengthen your will, to help you to grow in virtue, and to render you more docile to the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your lives, that you might become the saints that God has called you to be. Each one of you, each one of us, God has called us to holiness.

Light shines in the darkness. This place shines in a world that is experiencing a disturbing eclipse, not only of faith and reason but of common sense and human decency and ordinary virtue. This is what your unique education here at Thomas Aquinas is preparing you to be, light in the darkness, holy men and women.

Next month, in Oklahoma City, where I come from — a month from tomorrow as a matter of fact — we will have the privilege of witnessing an event that is perhaps every bit as rare as a total solar eclipse. It will be the beatification of the first American martyr, the beatification of the first U.S.-born Catholic priest, and he’s from, of all places, Okarche, Oklahoma. He was a martyr in Guatemala in 1981. The day of his death, it was as if the sun had fled; darkness descended upon the community where he ministered. When violent men broke into his rectory and threatened his life — and claimed his life — the people were heartbroken, The people were cast down. The people were desperate because their pastor had been taken from them.

Fr. Stanley Rother knew that his life was in danger. He had served there for many years, but under the political situation that came upon that part of Central America in 1980, things changed: Suddenly he knew that his name was on a death list for no other crime than preaching the Gospel and serving his people. He had no ulterior motive than that, to be a shepherd of God’s people. In his last Christmas letter home, once he learned that his name was on a death list in December of 1980, he said, “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” The bishop asked him to come home and discern whether he would stay or leave. He came back to Oklahoma for Christmas and stayed until Holy Week, but he discerned clearly that the Lord was calling him to be with His people. He returned, celebrated Easter with them, and on the night of July 28 he was murdered — martyred — in his rectory. The shepherd did not run.

It was Tertullian who said, at the end of the 2nd, early 3rd century, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. That parish in Oklahoma had been established in the 17th century and had never yielded a single vocation; it had been without a priest for over 100 years. But since Fr. Rother’s death in 1981, there have been nine men ordained from that parish, and still many more in formation today. The light shines in the darkness, and often it is when the darkness seems to have eclipsed the light that that eclipse is about to give way to a rebirth of light, and truth, and goodness, and mercy.

I’m grateful, certainly as the Archbishop Oklahoma City, to have the privilege of witnessing the Church lift up for all of our veneration and imitation such a humble, simple man, as Stanley Rother. An interesting thing about his life: He was once asked to leave the first seminary that he attended because he couldn’t pass the Latin requirement. But he didn’t give up, and his bishop believed in him and found another seminary that would take him and coach him and tutor him, and he was ordained a priest. Then he became a missionary to a foreign land where they didn’t speak English, either. And he went to Guatemala, where he mastered not only Spanish, but even the obscure Mayan dialect of Tz’utujil, which up until that time had been only an oral language. He was part of a team that, first of all, created a written alphabet for this language, and then translated the New testament into Tz’utujil — this, the man who couldn’t pass elementary Latin in seminary,

We celebrate today the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Certainly it was the Holy Spirit at work in the life of Fr. Stanley Rother that produced such extraordinary fruit and enabled him to extend himself far beyond his human limitations and become all that God desired him to be. Today, as we celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, to mold us, to guide us, to enlighten us, to anoint us, to form us as the saints for the mission that God has for each one of us. On this day on which we celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit, my prayer for each of us, and particularly for each of you, is that God may bring to perfection in you the work that He has begun.




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