On the first day of classes, Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B., president of Saint Anselm College, delivered the homily during the academic year's opening mass. You can listen to a podcast of his homily or read a text version below. It is appropriate enough that we begin this academic year invoking the assistance of God’s Spirit as we recall the memory of the great Saint Augustine, one of the greatest minds of our Church. Perhaps more intensely than most of us, Augustine struggled to find his way to God; he lived as confused and dissolute a life as one could imagine in his early days. But through the persistent prayer of his saintly mother Monica and the grace of God himself, eventually he recognized in Christ the real object of his desire and the true meaning of his life.
In the year 397, about twelve years following his conversion Saint Augustine wrote what some have described as the greatest spiritual autobiography ever written, revealing himself as teacher, philosopher, theologian, poet, mystic, and a man thoroughly in love with the Lord Jesus whom he recognized as his Savior, and who sent him to live and serve in his Church. What other kind of person could have written this compelling statement of love:
Too late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient and so new,
too late have I loved You.
You have called to me, and have cried out,
and have shattered my deafness.
You have blazed forth with light and have put my blindness to flight!
You have sent forth fragrance,
and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after You.
I have tasted You, and I hunger and thirst after You.
You have touched me, and I have burned for Your peace.
With every sense touched by the love of God, with his mind so illumined by discovering the Truth, the Saint whose memory we honor today is certainly an example for us all as we begin the work of this new academic year.
If one is interested in stories of conversion there are probably few as compelling as that of Augustine. But each of us is called in the same way to that turning of our hearts and minds to the singular love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.
In our Benedictine tradition we speak of conversion as a lifetime undertaking, a process of being formed by the truth of God’s love and word, and transformed though the gift of His Holy Spirit to become women and men who are present to the moment to recognize and receive God’s gifts in ourselves, in each other, and in the world around us. (cf. ABCU, Draft, Ten Hallmarks of Benedictine Education) Our turning to the Lord and our turning away from those things that separate us from him may be far less dramatic than that of Saint Augustine. But the reality is no less dramatic.
For us, it is the deliberate embracing of a way of life, of a habit of being, that does not tire of seeking the truth about life. It is a commitment to keep on with this task not for an opening day of an academic year, nor for a semester or year, but for the entirety of our lives. For us it means that we take up the sometimes hard work of teaching and learning because we know that this labor has implications far beyond the immediate accomplishment of a task. We know that our aim is to live a life firmly grounded in the Truth, ever open to the Beauty of God’s word and creation, hopeful to share ultimately in the Goodness that God is.
In this task we are not alone. We have each other for help and guidance; but even more importantly we have the assistance of God’s own Spirit whose help we invoke today. Saint Paul told us that the Spirit may be manifested in different ways in each of us, but in whatever way we exercise those gifts, we do so for the good of all.
Our mission in Catholic higher education is not something that we “own” to benefit ourselves. It is something of which we are only the stewards for a time; caretakers of something greater than ourselves that will assist our times and those who come after us to continue to make a positive difference in our Church, our society, and our world. Whether trustees and benefactors of the College, members of the faculty and staff, students in the final year or on their first day of college classes, this enterprise demands that we focus our work on the common good of all, because this is what the Spirit calls us to do.
When Jesus picked up the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah, he set the task for us all: to bring to our world the reality of God’s kingdom where the poor hear the good news of salvation, where captives are enslaved no longer, where the blind see, and where those chained are set free. Our work at Saint Anselm College is this as well. In committing ourselves to a lifetime of turning to God, we take up the work of learning who God is, who we are, and what our world so much needs from us.
Sometimes colleges and universities are accused of being “ivory towers” separated from the reality of the world around them. A Catholic college can never be that, because our mission is to learn in order to transform our lives and our work. We must always keep out eyes on the goal: that we are called to assist in building what Pope John Paul II referred to as a “civilization of love” which he said in his address to the United Nations is “the answer to the fear which darkens human existence” a civilization that is “founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty;” and has for its soul “the culture of freedom: the freedom of individuals and the freedom of nations, lived in self-giving solidarity and responsibility.”
This is why we do what we do as a college community. We must begin to develop that civilization and that culture right here on this campus in the way we approach our work and our life together, in the profound respect that we have for all members of this community no matter how different from ourselves they may be. If we do not begin here, our way to God and the world’s transformation shall not happen.
Let us resolve then to begin again: another academic year, another renewal of our faith and another commitment to live and to work and to pray for each other and for the good of all.
God love you all!
1 comment August 29, 2006