The Catholic University of America

Homily for the Mass and Inauguration of President John Garvey
Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington and Chancellor of The Catholic University of America
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Great Upper Church
Jan. 25, 2011

When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, visited the United States nearly three years ago, he spoke to Catholic educators on this campus. In that historic moment, the Pope told those gathered, “Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4).”

For we who are blessed to work with and for The Catholic University of America this is our mandate. President Garvey, I entrust our Holy Father’s words to you as a blessing and a challenge.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. In an age where our faith is proclaimed as a way, and a truth, it is ever more imperative that the Gospel be established clearly in the hearts of the faithful.

We who have devoted ourselves not just to education but Catholic education must admit that our transmission of the faith has faced a new challenge in the past few generations. However, in spite of the sometimes arid terrain where the seed of God’s Word is sown, there now appear strong signs of life. All you have to do is look around this campus and you see indications of the vitality of faith evident in the active participation in the campus ministry program, the campus council of the Knights of Columbus, the fruitfulness of the vocation and discernment programs and most evidently in the thousands of students who joyfully attend and reverently participate in the opening Mass of the academic year.

The Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul the Great, who will be beatified in May, began to speak of the New Evangelization. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a homily on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. On the feast of the great Apostles of Rome, in the Basilica dedicated to the great missionary Apostle, the Holy Father summoned the entire Church to the timely and timeless call of the New Evangelization. We are summoned, in the words of Pope Benedict, “To repropose the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel.”

For those charged with the mission of Catholic education, we must recognize that the truth we seek is being eclipsed by the shadows of secularism and materialism. Secularism tells us that either God does not exist or if he does exist he does not belong. Materialism seduces us to believe that we are what we own.

The University has as its coat of arms the cross with the clear declaration, “God is My Light.” In the midst of the shadow that secularism casts on our culture, we know that the Light of Christ will prevail and that the human person’s dignity and destiny is the Kingdom of God.

Catholic education exists to educate not just the mind but to form the whole person. We are told that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. From our grammar schools to our graduate schools, Catholic educators also proclaim that a soul is a terrible thing to lose.

One reason we gather today in prayer for the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the realization that it is the wisdom of God that fills up what is lacking in our own limited knowledge and understanding. In biblical imagery we must be connected to the vine so that we can access the richness of God’s Word directing our human experience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Cut off from the vine, we have only ourselves. It is in this realization that The Catholic University of America proclaims “God is my light.”

At times our society, like many contemporary cultures heavily nurtured in a secular vision that draws its inspiration elsewhere, can be tempted to think that we are sufficient unto ourselves as we grapple with and answer the great human questions of every generation in every age: how shall I live; what is the meaning and, therefore, the value of life; how should we relate to one other; what are our obligations to one another?

Just as we were reminded in the first reading today, it is only with the wisdom of God that we can truly find the right path. The resurgence of spiritual renewal in its many forms bears testimony to the atavistic need to experience God in our lives and let his Word guide our efforts.

In this very basilica, each year we celebrate and give thanks to God for the lay movements and the new religious communities that so characterize this new moment in the life of the Church and speak loudly of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When we look to read the signs of the times, what we recognize is a whole new generation eager for the Word of God, open to the embrace of the Church and increasingly alive in the Holy Spirit.

It is for this very reason that the inauguration of the President of The Catholic University of America, John Garvey, finds its setting in this Eucharistic Liturgy — the Mass.

Nothing so identifies the Catholic Church more than the Eucharist and there is probably nothing more visibly Catholic about the Church than the Eucharist. It is appropriate to say that the Mass is what Catholics do. The Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. In the Eucharist, Christ himself is present to his people in the Paschal Mystery.

How appropriate that our new president of this Catholic University of America would begin his service to this outstanding academic community by holding up our identity so pointedly expressed in the Liturgy while, at the same time, calling upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide us as an academic community deeply engaged in the search for truth.

As Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, reminded us, a Catholic university’s privileged task is “to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the font of truth” (1).

Venerable John Paul II is essentially telling us that if we are to be teachers, first we must be students of Jesus Christ the Teacher. Ours is a pathway that we can walk with both confidence and humility, aware in the celebration of the Eucharist that Christ is truly with us. His presence is definitive and life-giving. But to teach we have to attain a complete and adequate understanding of ourselves, the human condition and the creation of which we are apart. Hence, we invoke the gifts of the Spirit. We teachers must be taught by Christ himself who is truly God with us.

To return to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, we read that “by vocation, the universitas magistrorum et scholarium is dedicated to research, to teaching and to the education of students who freely associate with their teachers in a common love of knowledge.” The citation, while echoing all of the current understanding of this university, is taken from a thirteenth century letter of Pope Alexander IV to the University of Paris.

Each of us during our formal education engages in the perennial struggle to come to know more clearly who we are, what we need to know to make our way in this increasingly complex world, and, on a more profoundly spiritual level, how we are to live.

I use the word perennial because each age and every generation grows into maturity and faces its own challenges. In a sense, every generation — every academic class — every person starts the whole process all over again in his or her own search for knowledge and, more importantly, wisdom.

The Catholic University of America exists because we recognize that when we respond to the question “How shall I live?” The answer is found in the wisdom of God. It is not by bread alone that we live.

Christ is the center of human history, the Word that makes sense of our lives, the Teacher who unlocks the mystery of human existence, the Way that leads us through what would otherwise be a meaningless labyrinth of confusion and disappointment. Hence, we affirm “God is my light.”

Our new President John Garvey, who comes to the university with a rich background of academic achievement, intellectual discipline and professional competence, has already begun to exercise a leadership role that invites the entire university community — students, faculty, administration, board, benefactors and supporters — to joyfully embrace our heritage and identity, while at the same time eagerly accepting the demands of the canons that govern the groves of the academe.

Already our new president is a very familiar figure all over this campus, whether in the classroom or at the coffee shop at the Pryzbyla Center, on the many walkways of this sprawling campus or in the student lounge.

In a very short time, he has articulated his vision for where this university can be academically and intellectually in a way that has heartened both the Board of Trustees and the Academic Senate.

We can look to the future with confidence because as we make our journey together as a university family, we have in our new president, John Garvey, a leader who realizes the worth and contribution of each one of us, the identity and heritage of this institution. We pledge our collaboration as he undertakes the mission to bring us into a future that holds a renewal of spirit, academy, institution and achievement.

Very soon we shall hear directly from President Garvey, but in the meantime we congratulate him on his appointment, rejoice with him in his commitment to the university and celebrate with him as he embraces his new responsibilities.

How appropriate that this installation would take place on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear this dialogue as the voice from heaven reproves the future Apostle to the Gentiles: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” To which he replies, “Who are you, sir?” And the reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Because of this revelation, Paul never hesitated to identify Christ and his Church with the saving truth that brings us ultimately, when our eyes are opened, to experience more fully the light that is Jesus and his Gospel.

As the First Reading today tells us, Ananias went in and said, “‘Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

Our prayer for you, President Garvey, is our prayer for the university. We ask God’s blessings on this entire academic community, that in the outpouring of the Spirit and with your direction, we might all be led more surely and confidently to a deeper and richer understanding of the Light.

We ask God’s grace that we all be granted the wisdom to enter more deeply into relationship with him who is the Truth and be given courage to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

All of this we are able to do because we embrace with confidence and humility a recognition of our connectedness with the Font of Truth even as we seek to grow more deeply in our knowledge of the Truth. Thus we make our own with joy the declaration of this University: “God is My Light.”