Address at the inauguration of the academic year, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome (November 5, 2012)
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies and Illustrious Authorities,
Professors and students,
And all who work at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
1. Many of the events that took place during the last Academic Year are related to the year we are about to inaugurate. First of all, I would like to recall that on the past June 28, Pope Benedict XVI, with the publication of the decree on heroic virtues, declared Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the first Chancellor of this University, as Venerable. This was a great gift for us who lived alongside that most faithful son of St. Josemaría.
In addition, a week ago saw the close of the Synod for the New Evangelization convoked by Benedict XVI, coinciding with the beginning of the Year of Faith, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication, in 1992, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
These events show a common thread linking them as parts of a single picture. When we see an artist painting various figures, one by one, we don’t always appreciate the harmony of the whole. But when the work is finished, we see that all the figures contribute to a unified, much larger scene.
The same thing happens in the events that God’s providence oversees in history: taken together they offer a vision of amazing beauty, in which each part contributes to the attractiveness of the whole.
2. Something similar also took place regarding the awareness of the universal call to holiness, which the early Christians lived with faith and naturalness, and which later was almost forgotten for many centuries. It was set forth again, finally, with great force by Vatican II, after having been preached with unreserved dedication for many years by St. Josemaría Escrivá, whom John Paul II called the saint of the ordinary.
The inspirer of our university was a true precursor of the Second Vatican Council. Since 1928 he reminded many faithful of the vocation of all men and women to holiness and of the need to find God in their daily life.
The Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, which proclaimed the Year of Faith, underlines the personal responsibility of Christians (which the Synod for the New Evangelization also stressed): “The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.”
Right from the beginning of the expansion of Christianity, first of all the apostles, and later the first intellectuals and Fathers of the Church, presented profound reflections about revelation and exercised a great influence on the daily life of the faithful, giving reasons for their hope (see 1 Pet 3:14-17), and fostering the spread of the faith.
The universities that have arisen within the Church have also played an essential role in the development of society, through the search for truth in many areas—despite the fact that, not infrequently, some people want to ignore this historical reality.
The moments we are living through, like all the other epochs in history, are very important for the Church. The “dictatorship of relativism,” highlighted by the Pope, has to spur us to live our faith every day with a joyful commitment, both in “building up the university” and in our participation in contemporary debates.
But how can we live the call to holiness in our world today? Allow me to make a suggestion—not only as Grand Chancellor, but also with the affection of a Father—about what, in my opinion, God expects of you, professors, students, and administrative and technical personnel of the University of the Holy Cross.
3. To begin, I would like to address those who carry out tasks not directly linked to teaching. I recall St. Josemaria’s words: “Who is more important, the president of a university or the lowest person on the maintenance staff?” And he answered, without hesitating: “the one who fulfills his job with greater faith, with a greater zeal for holiness.”
Many hundreds of students have now passed through these hallways; their hearts have been touched by your joyful availability to serve by example, and they bring it with them to the places where they will help build up the Church, in the furthest corners of the world.
I thank you for your work, which extends from the maintenance of the buildings to the reception of the students in the administrative offices, from the distribution of books in the library to the necessary administrative paperwork: all are services hidden for the most part to the eyes of others.
To fulfill these tasks with perfection requires a true spirit of collaboration; and I would almost say (and without the “almost) of true fraternity, which rises above possible differences of opinion, and is able to confront problems calmly, seeking positive solutions: unity among you is now very important, and will always be so.
The university is facing important challenges to ensure the necessary personnel and funding. With everyone’s assistance, many initiatives are being undertaken to seek funds and to cut back on expenses.
4. I also want to consider the call to holiness that the students have received. Be aware of the great benefit of being in Rome. Not many of your fellow citizens have had or will have the opportunity to live for several years in the center of Christianity, with the opportunity to go deeply into the faith close to the see of St. Peter and his successors. Many faithful and many institutions have helped you to take advantage of this opportunity, offering financial sacrifices that are at times very great. Your correspondence to their generosity can show itself in the sense of responsibility with which you care for even the material facilities (residences, classrooms, etc.) that you make use of.
In the not too distant future, people in dioceses all over the world will rely on your doctrinal and intellectual preparation. St. Josemaria reminded us: “Do you realize how much depends on whether you are soundly prepared or not? Many, many souls! And now will you cease to study or work with perfection? ”
Guaranteeing a good number of hours devoted to intense study, making an effort to understand the more difficult topics, being actively present in your classes, helping your companions, are positive attitudes that draw us closer to God’s love. St. Josemaria, who well knew the temptation many students face to reduce their efforts, said strongly: “If you know that study is apostolate, but limit yourself to studying just enough to get by, it is clear that your interior life is going badly.”
5. I would like now to direct some final considerations to the professors, since they carry out an important task in the university.
As far as teaching is concerned, each professor should aspire to become a true “master,” who knows how to transmit to the students, with real fervor, the content of his area of study.
To pass on knowledge deeply, and also comprehensively and clearly, demands a prior work of preparation and reflection that should not be neglected.
The secret is in care for little things. Work marked by this characteristic is pleasing to God, also because one teaches by means of the human virtues, which Don Alvaro del Portillo so prized.
Secondly, I think that, often, you will not be able to avoid “administrative” tasks that call for a special spirit of collaboration and availability. These tasks sometimes require a lot of time; but to accept and carry them out is a sign of the generosity that our Lord expects of you and that he will bless abundantly.
As far as the third and final factor is concerned, namely research, professors have to “defend” the excellence and professionalism of their work, something that is by no means easy. The Church has need of our work, especially in an atmosphere marked by relativism, where the truth is constantly put into question.
St. Josemaría said: “One has to study—to gain the world and conquer it for God. Then we can raise the level of our efforts: we can try to turn the work we do into an encounter with the Lord and the foundation to support those who will follow our way in the future.
“In this way, study will become prayer.”
6. I will end by returning to the original thread of my intervention: the universal call to holiness.
How happy I would be if those who come into contact with us would notice the light of a holiness that communicates warmth by the way of teaching and living the faith on the part of the professors, by the charity and diligence of the students, by the well-done work of the non-teaching personnel!
I pray that St. Josemaría and Venerable Alvaro del Portillo may keep alive in all of us that light and help us to keep always enkindled in our life the fire of God’s love, with all its consequences. I also ardently desire, repeating words of the Holy Father, that “this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in him is there the certitude for looking to the future.”
I ask Mary Most Holy to present to God the fruit of your work and to intercede so that we correspond to the call to holiness. And I declare the academic year 2012-2013 inaugurated.
And pray for me as well. Thank you!