By Fr. C. John McCloskey III
June 8, 2002
Respice in nos ("Look at us"). Duc in altum ("Go out into the deep"). Laxate retia ("Lower your nets for a catch").
My brothers and sisters, we are at a turning point. This class of 2002 has crossed the threshold of hope this Great Jubilee Year, and is now ready to lower the nets for a great catch. We are now at a turning point, a time of transition. The forty years of confusion and turmoil in the Church throughout the world, but particularly in the West, is coming to an end. The reasons are many – and not the moment to go into them – but basically a malinterpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the lack of authentic implementation of them.
Every graduate of this class will have known only one Holy Father, John Paul II. We are in the waning years of his pontificate, although we pray that he has many years to go. But it is going to be his vision of the Second Vatican Council, along with the Bishops in communion with him, that is going to be what all of us here will be implementing the rest of our lives. His magisterial readings and writings will take a long time to implement, but they promise what we all anticipate, that Springtime for the Church.
We're told in one of the documents from the Pontifical Council for Culture that "faith has the power to get to the core of every culture and to purify it, to make it fruitful, to enrich it, and to make it blossom like the boundless love of Christ." The reception of Christ's message thus gives rise to a culture whose two fundamental components are, in a completely new way, the person and love.
At the present moment, the world's only superpower is under attack. We all are living in a country during a time of war with an enemy that has been an enemy of Christendom for centuries. At the same time, we are under attack from within, from moral decay, from a mistaken notion of man, and from a slide into a high-tech barbarism, which attempts to manipulate the very origins of life.
Only one institution stands with authority, both in our country and throughout the world, against these attacks and that indeed is our Church. As we heard in the Gospel, it is Jesus who teaches us with authority and He does so from the barque of Peter. The Church is called – and this is your mission, most particularly, graduates of the year 2002 – to transform our American culture. The Holy Father himself came to Los Angeles in 1987 and spoke to the American Bishops about this. He said unless we can see in our music, in our art, in our literature, a culture that is influenced by Jesus Christ, we have not accomplished our goal. And this is the mission not only certainly of the Bishops, but above all, that of the laity.
These world crises are crises of saints, a famous figure of 20th century spirituality told us. Has that not always been true? Benedict, Boniface, Francis, Dominic, (your patron) Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius, St. Teresa – the list goes on through the centuries – these people have not only had a great impact on the Church, but also a great impact on culture. They made what was the West and will go beyond the West – a world global Catholicism, which is being prepared for us in Africa and Asia. But, at the present moment, it belongs to us in a special way to carry out this great mission, this great task. It is our turn to put God at the top of all human activities.
You have received the finest liberal education certainly in this country. I'll leave that with you to ask, "What are you going to do with it?" A wonderful document called The Church in America, written at the end of the Synod before the Jubilee Year, made very clear to us in America what is most important. The document says there is one area that is best suited to the lay state: lay people, who by their specific activity bring the Gospel to the structures of the world, and who work in holiness wherever they are, consecrate the world itself to God. Thanks to the lay faithful, the presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity.
Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the lay person and of lay spirituality, which means that the laity must strive to evangelize the sectors of family, social, professional, cultural, and political life. On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values, such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart, and patience in difficult situations. What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort in activities and works demonstrating a life in harmony with the Gospel.
All of us are called to form a society of contemplatives – a society which is based on the interior life, on a thirst and a hunger for holiness, and on a desire to evangelize. We are called to build that civilization of love and truth which has been a constant theme of the Holy Father since the beginning of his Pontificate.
The current scandals in the Catholic Church in the United States, for which we all have to pray and do much penance, offer us a singular opportunity for the true reform and renewal according to the documents of the Second Vatican Council. As the Holy Father referred to it, the great grace for the Church of the 20th century was the Second Vatican Council, which is yet to be realized.
The institutions and movements of the 20th century will play an important role in this new evangelization. Their emphasis on the formation of the laity, on the interior life, and also on the reform and revitalization of religious congregations, both old and new, will play a role as will also, in a very important way – I'm convinced of this from personal experience, with great confidence in the future – Thomas Aquinas College. These movements, these institutions, these Catholic colleges, will play the role that Clairvaux and Cluny once did, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in building a new Christendom.
Respice nos is what John and Peter said to that man lame from birth. That lame man is fallen through a fallen world, that lame man is our society, in many ways corrupt and decadent. He's our culture and each one of us must be able to say to others: "Look at us." " Look at us and we will bring you to Christ – through Peter, the apostle of love, through St. John, through our professional excellence, and through our commitment to family and friends. Do this and we will indeed witness this new Springtime in the decades ahead.
We also remember the command of Our Lord, issued from the barque of Peter: "Go out into the deep." Our apostolic work is an overflow of our commitment to a life of prayer and sacraments. As you go forward, go forward to be fishers of men, and remember that the fish are caught by their heads. You have been well prepared here to go out into that great work, but your work must be informed by love. And when you then cast out, you'll be apostles, you will bring converts to the Church, you will bring reconciliations by the hundreds of thousands and millions, and you will bring vocations to the priesthood, to the religious life, and to many, many lay people dedicated to God in the middle of the world. I envy you this opportunity.
Blessed Josemaria Escriva, who will be canonized on October 6th, and who, as the Holy Father put it, is the great forerunner of the theology of the laity and the Second Vatican Council, said, "it is a time of hope, and I live off this treasure." This is not just a phrase, it is a reality. Then, bring the whole world, all the human values which attract you so very strongly – friendship, the arts, science, philosophy, theology, sport, nature, culture, souls – bring them all within that hope, the hope of Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit for the vision and the imagination to build the culture of love.
Each one of you should ask yourselves: "Where will the world be, where will our Church be, where will our society be in the year 2030?" We recognize that it will all be in God's Providence, but, at the same time, we recognize that he counts on our free will, our commitment to give ourselves totally, and to leave all things and follow him.
Dan Fleury, for whom this Mass is being celebrated, for whom we pray today that he has already received the great reward (and we are confident and pray that be the case), has simply preceded you as the first real graduate of the class of 2002. We pray for the repose of his soul and we ask his help.
The Holy Father tells us in that wonderful document, At the Beginning of the New Millennium, that this is the great moment. He says: "Duc in altum." These words ring out for us today and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm, and to look forward to the future with confidence. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Let us go forward in hope. A new millennium is opening before the Church, like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The Son of God, who became incarnate 2,000 years ago out of love for humanity, is at work even today. At the beginning of this new century, our steps must quicken as we travel the highways of the world. Many are the paths on which each one of us and each of our churches must travel. But there is no distance between those who are united in the same Communion, the Communion which is daily nourished at the table of the Eucharistic bread and the Word of Life.
What a beautiful thing it is to think of our Holy Father and his condition, looking forward to the future, speaking about quickening our steps as he shuffles along to serve each one of us. What a debt of gratitude we owe to him for his many years of service to the Universal Church.
As it happens, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Holy Father tells us at the end of his letters sending us on this journey into the new Millennium that we are accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has often invoked her as the Star of the New Evangelization. And just a few months ago, in the presence of great number of bishops, he entrusted the Third Millennium to her. Now, I point to Mary once again as the radiant dawn and true guide for all our steps. Once more, echoing the words of Jesus Himself, in giving voice to the filial affection of the whole Church, I say to her: "Woman, behold your children."
I finish with another quotation from Blessed Josemaria, one that I have meditated upon often and is so encouraging to me. "The Lord," he says, "has shown this refinement of love. He has let us conquer the world for Him. He is always so humble, but He has wished to limit Himself to making it possible. To us He has granted the easiest and most agreeable part – taking action and gaining the victory."
It is your turn, dear graduates, in this time of renewal and hope, to go out into the deep, to lower the nets for the catch, and to count on the Immaculate Heart of Mary along the way.
“If you come to the College with any spark of faith at all, it’s fanned into flames. That’s certainly what happened to me.”
– Dr. Jean Rioux (’82)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Benedictine College
“Thomas Aquinas College knows this — that the life of the mind involves the spiritual life as well — and that is why I have always thought of this institution as a college in the image and likeness of John Paul II.”
– George Weigel