His Excellencey Salvatore J. Cordileone
Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego
Homily: Mass of the Holy Spirit
Convocation Day (August 25, 2008)
I thank you for the invitation to join you today for these ceremonies to mark the beginning of the new academic year, and especially to be the celebrant at this Mass of the Holy Spirit. It is an honor for me to do so and to be here with you.
It was not lost on me the fact that the vision for the founding of this college was put into print at a very pivotal moment of history, even right down to the very year, the year 1969, a year that is really emblematic of all the social upheavals and revolution common of those years. Years of revolution which promised a new freedom, but because of a very serious misunderstanding of the human person have caused untold suffering in the lives of millions of people. And we are still suffering the consequences of that. The way I look at it is that back in 1969, here in Santa Paula, someone turned on a light right at the very moment that everyone else was turning them off.
Our first reading marks another pivotal moment of history, in fact, the pivotal moment of history, when the light of Gospel Truth begins to spread throughout the world (Acts 2:1-11). The story of Pentecost is well known to all of us: Jesus sends His Holy Spirit upon those first disciples after His return to His father in glory. Jesus' Ascension is reminiscent of another ascension, when Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive this higher law from God and deliver it to His people, to be the sign of the Covenant, the sign that they belonged to Him because they followed this higher law. Now Jesus ascends to Heaven, returning to His father, to send His Spirit upon His disciples, to unite them as the people of the New Covenant, that covenant which He sealed with His blood.
We hear Jesus promise His disciples to send them that Spirit in our Gospel for today's Mass, that Spirit who is a witness to the truth (John 15:26-27; 16:12-15). The disciples would then receive the charge to bring that light of truth to all the world. That truth was no longer to be confined to a single race; it was to go out to all of the nations of the world.
The Church's Witness to the Truth: Three Elements
Bearing witness to the truth: Is that not one of the key elements of Catholic education? But really it is an outcome of what must necessarily precede it-really, three elements that distinguish the Church's witness to the truth with which we are charged by our master and our founder, and specifically in the sense of Catholic education. This was articulated by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent address to Catholic educators during his visit here in the United States. He said, "The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge, and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity."
He articulates there the three elements of bearing witness: personal encounter, knowledge, and Christian witness. These three principles really give us the blueprint for Catholic education.
Encounter with Christ
First of all, if the education of the Christian is to mean anything at all, it must lead the student to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Without that, it is absolutely pointless, and any kind of Christian education becomes indistinguishable from any other type of academic endeavor, or even technical training, for that matter.
This is really nothing new for us. It's a basic, perennial principle already articulated by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on Catholic education back in 1929 (Divini Illius Magistri). He says, "The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by Baptism…. For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ…. [T]he true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ."
The Christian student, then, must see the world through the lens of Jesus Christ, must think with the mind of Christ, love with heart of Christ. Jesus Christ must imbue everything about the student's life: his priorities, the way he sees the world and treats other people, reacts to different situations and to the environment around him, everything.
This life exemplifies what St. Paul exhorts us to in our epistle for this Mass-setting aside the desires of the flesh, which he enumerates, and leading a life filled with the fruit of the spirit, which he also enumerates (Gal. 5:16-25). In an age where there is so much discussion and debate and even confusion over what makes a Christian, and specifically Catholic education, different-what is the distinguishing mark that sets it apart?-I think we can have no clearer guide than what St. Paul lays out for us in this reading, contrasting the desires of the flesh from the fruit of the spirit.
Just think about this in the context of today's world, and specifically in the context of education, especially higher education. The desires of the flesh-"immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like." Compare them with the fruits of the spirit-"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." I think St. Paul presents the current state of affairs in a very succinct and exact way.
Knowledge of Jesus Christ
The encounter with Jesus Christ leads to knowledge of Jesus Christ, that knowledge which the world so desperately needs. Knowledge of Jesus Christ means knowing about Him and knowing Him. It is knowledge of the truth-the truth of what He teaches, and the truth of Him who is the Truth.
That can only lead to an inner conviction. One who knows Jesus Christ has the inner conviction of the truth. Pope Benedict also spoke about this to Catholic educators in our country. He spoke about this as being at the heart of a school's Catholic identity. He said then, "It is a question of conviction-do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear?"
This points to another one of the many crises I believe we are facing in society today, especially in the field of education, and that is the problem of timidity with regard to truth and goodness. In regard to this, Pope Benedict issued another one of his many pithy pronouncements packed with perception, where he says: "We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom." [emphasis added]
Witness to the Truth
There are powerful forces today that try to intimidate those who would speak on behalf of the truth and of the good. And not only intimidate; it goes beyond fear. There are forces that want to make us actually ashamed of the good. The true disciple of Jesus Christ-that is, students of Christ, of which we all are, the disciples of Christ, the ones who really know Him-will not be ashamed of the good and will not be intimidated in being a witness to the truth.
In the context of an institution of education, the question of outward testimony strikes at the heart of that very critical issue of Catholic identity. Catholic identity is not something added on or a special feature of the institution. This is so clear in our Catholic thinking. It's a basic underlying principle permeating everything we understand the world and our faith to be. It has so many different applications, this basic principle.
Just think, for example, as it applies to our understanding of the sacraments. Baptism, for example: Baptism is not something added on to the person; it changes the person ontologically. Therefore it cannot be repeated, and even if the person were to repudiate the faith and then return, baptism would not be repeated. We have another sacrament for that.
Think about the sacrament of marriage. If both are baptized, the marriage cannot be other than a sacrament. The sacramental character of marriage between two baptized people is not something added on, a special added feature. But a marriage between two baptized people cannot be anything other than a sacrament if it is a valid marriage.
Pope Benedict XVI also spoke of this principle in speaking to our Catholic educators: "Catholic identity … demands and inspires … that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom." A simple and profound truth, articulated consistently in Church pronouncements on Catholic education, going back also to that encyclical of Pope Pius XI.
I noticed it was also captured in the founding document of this college, A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, which I had the privilege to enjoy reading in preparing for this homily. I noticed especially this statement: "Such an education demands that all the parts of the curriculum not ordered to technical concerns should be conducted with a view to understanding the Catholic faith, and that the Faith itself should be the light under which the curriculum is conducted." Another way of phrasing this same, basic principle.
The founding document goes on to distinguish a Catholic institution of education from a secular one: "First, it will not define itself by academic freedom, but by the divinely revealed truth, and second, that truth will be the chief object of study as well as the governing principle of the whole institution, giving order and purpose even to the teaching and learning of the secular disciplines."
No one could word it more concisely or more precisely. For a Catholic institution of education, its defining principle is divinely revealed truth, with academic freedom as a special added feature and not the other way around.
All this means that Catholic education-really, any authentic education-is an integrating principle, integrating learning as, again, Pope Pius XI said in that encyclical in 1929: "Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in accordance with the example and teaching of Christ."
The current crisis in education derives, I believe, at least in part, from the creation of false dichotomies: a dichotomy between truth and freedom, between truth and faith, and between faith and reason. Our recent Holy Fathers, and especially our beloved, late Holy Father, Pope Jon Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI, have countered these false dichotomies over and over again in their teachings-Pope Benedict XVI, once again most recently in his address to Catholic educators in this country. He says, "The diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith."
There is no such wedge. As St. Paul would put it, the desires of the flesh are a false allurement, and they only enslave. The correct understanding of the human person is to live in the flesh, but by the spirit. This is what liberates, not those "aimless pursuit[s] of novelty parading as the realization of freedom." Faith and reason work together so that we can know the truth. Knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Living the truth makes us truly free.
Truth as a Service to the Common Good
The "diakonia of truth" of Catholic institutions of learning is a service to the common good. That is exactly what the vision is here at Thomas Aquinas College-a so very Catholic understanding, an understanding counter to modernity, modernity in the sense of a novel construct which opposes itself to everything that came before. Actually, that sense of modernity is in itself a false dichotomy, a false dichotomy which leads to a sense of superiority and even arrogance.
As Catholics, we know that all those thinkers who have helped shape history in every age are our contemporaries. We're not beyond or above them. They are with us now. We have something to gain from all of them in helping us to discover the truth, even those who are non-Christian, or pre-Christian, or those who are sort-of Christian. Even those who do violence to the truth in one way or another, we can learn something from them, and so we study them: Aristotle and Augustine, Cicero and Shakespeare, Dante and Descartes, Machiavelli and Marx, Newman and Nietzsche. And so very many others, including, of course, most of all, the Angelic Doctor himself.
Two thousand years ago in that upper room in Jerusalem, a light went on when the Holy Spirit descended upon the first members of the Church. The Church has continued to spread that light of truth to all the nations of the world in every age, most especially in her ministry of education.
I congratulate you, the community of Thomas Aquinas College, on the commencement of another year of your participation in the Church's "diakonia of truth." And I pray that the Lord may bless you abundantly so that the light of that truth, which leads to knowledge of the good and the true liberation of the human person, may make this college community a true beacon of hope to all the world.
The Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego, was the principal celebrant and homilist at the 2008 Mass of the Holy Spirit.
“Learning from the great books, you can see the questions that history’s greatest thinkers have asked and all the ways that they have tried to answer them. You’re able to see what’s right about what they’re saying, but also what’s wrong. The more your opinion is challenged, the more you have to refine it in order to get closer to the truth.”
– Caleb Skvaril (’19)