At the opening of the academic year of the Pontifical Unniversity of the Holy Cross, Rome (Oct. 11, 2004)
At the opening of the academic year
at the Pontifical University of
the Holy Cross, Rome
Professors, students and staff
of the Pontifical University of
the Holy Cross,
Ladies and gentlemen:
We are gathered once more in Apollinare for the beginning of a new academic year. Both the civil and liturgical calendars offer us each year moments that are particularly propitious for taking a calm look at our daily activity, often marked by an accelerated pace and urgency, and then returning once again to our daily rounds with greater vigor and effort. At times, a particular date is seen as a goal, a small but significant objective because of all the work that preceded it and prepared for it. Then we realize clearly that every human undertaking requires many days of work, many hours of sacrifice on the part of so many different people.
This reflection comes to mind today as we begin the twenty-first year of our university. In times past, in the life of young people this age meant reaching adulthood, perhaps even an independent life in the social and professional spheres. In contrast, for a university twenty years is a very short time, barely permitting it to take the first steps.
Nevertheless, it is right that we begin by raising our heart to God in thanksgiving for the gifts we have received during these years. I feel obliged, as well, to acknowledge here all those whose generosity and self-sacrifice have enabled the university to already have taken such significant steps. I have in mind so many who work as professors or in administrative tasks, as well as the many benefactors throughout the world who have shown their support for the service that the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross is providing to the Church. I am also thinking of the bishops and the students from all over world who have wanted to share with us the passionate adventure of teaching and research in the sacred sciences, so necessary to live up to the expectations of the new evangelization to which the Holy Father, John Paul II, has been continually calling us.
Obviously I can’t take the time to mention by name all those with whom we have this debt of gratitude, though they are certainly present every day in our prayers. It would not be just, however, to omit an explicit acknowledgement of thanks to Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the first Prelate of Opus Dei and the architect, as Grand Chancellor, of the University of the Holy Cross, seconding the hopes that St. Josemaría harbored in his heart for many years.
As you know, on March 20th of this year, there was held here in this hall the inaugural session of the tribunal of the Prelature of Opus Dei, which will carry out, in parallel with the tribunal of the Vicariate of Rome, the first steps of the cause of canonization of the Servant of God Alvaro del Portillo. As I recalled on that occasion, this cause is not seeking any human glory for Opus Dei, but only the good of the Church and the edification of souls. Without trying to anticipate the Church’s judgment, I am convinced that many people, through the life of our beloved Don Alvaro, will discover more fully the face of God, who smiles on us, encourages us and forgives us each day, if we go to him.
In particular, I would like to recall an event on November 20, 1985, when there took place, at Via San Girolamo della Carità, the inauguration of the second year of what was then known as the Roman Academic Center of the Holy Cross. On that occasion, my beloved predecessor summed up the purpose of the Academic Center with these words: “To impart to its students an integral formation that, besides a rigorous knowledge of the doctrine and laws of the Church, will include a spiritual and human formation in complete harmony with the wishes and directives of the Holy See. This formation will foster each one’s personal freedom and responsibility, striving to facilitate a disinterested and fruitful service to the Truth.”
The task delineated by Don Alvaro is not something that can be accomplished once and for all. But a person who seeks to praise God through his work should see this open-ended possibility to always improve as a great good. It is a task that is always being accomplished and, at the same time, always needs to be carried out with greater sensitivity, competence and wisdom. The words of Don Alvaro that I have just read continue being as true today as they were then.
Certainly the study of the sacred sciences does not seek to be up to date in the same way as the disciplines cultivated by the experimental sciences. As St. Josemaría, the inspiration behind this university, said: “in the religious sphere man is still man and God is still God. In this sphere the peak of progress has already been reached. And that peak is Christ, alpha and omega, the beginning of all things and their end.
“In the spiritual life, there is no new era to come. Everything is already there, in Christ, who died and rose again, who lives and stays with us always.”
If we set aside for a moment the specific features that distinguish each of the sacred sciences, we can say that, taken as a whole, they help a Christian to give a meaningful response to the challenges that contemporary civilization continually presents. In this dialogue between human effort and a deepening in the riches of the Christian message, a development takes place in the understanding of revelation, presented in a language accessible to contemporary man, who is seeking in Christ’s disciples authentic witnesses and companions on the path of life. “But we have to unite ourselves to Him through faith, letting his life show forth in ours to such an extent that each Christian is not simply alter Christus: another Christ, but ipse Christus: Christ himself!”
I now address myself more directly to those of you who are students, who are the principal component, although in a certain sense also the most transitory one, of the University of the Holy Cross. I exhort you to be diligent and tenacious in studying the disciplines that make up your academic curriculum. Look beyond the immediate goal of marks and grades. Learn especially to seek out, during your stay in Rome, the dimensions of Catholicity that make this city unique in the world because of its physical proximity to the Vicar of Christ. Make Christ’s charity the foundation of your intellectual work, since all that one does for Love (with a capital L) takes on eternal value.
There is taking place right now in Guadalajara, Mexico, the forty-eighth International Eucharistic Congress. We all feel very close to the Pope and to the universal Church in this year especially dedicated to the Eucharist, which is to conclude in October 2005 with the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
As the Pope stressed in his recent Apostolic Letter, the Eucharist is “the source and manifestation of communion.” “It is the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Day also becomes the Day of the Church, when she can effectively exercise her role as the sacrament of unity.”
For this reason also, in the building where this university has its seat, the privileged site is the chapel were the Blessed Sacrament is preserved. As St. Josemaría liked to say, the tabernacle should be the “magnet” that impels us to entrust to Jesus, really and substantially present in our midst, our joys and concerns, our intentions and ever- renewed resolutions of holiness and service.
Close to the tabernacle, a soul in love also finds the delicate and ineffable presence of Mary Most Holy. In entrusting to her this new academic year, I make my own the Holy Father’s invocation on the feast of Corpus Christi this year, which fell on June 13. May our Lady, who in the Year of the Rosary helped us to contemplate Christ with her glance and her heart, also make our academic community during the Year of the Eucharist grow in faith and love for the mystery of the Body and Blood of our Lord.
With the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we have the custom of addressing as Sedes Sapientiae, and through the intercession of St. Josemaría, I declare the opening of the academic year 2004–2005.