Address at the inauguration of the academic year, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (October 4, 2010)
Professors, students, and all who work at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross,
Ladies and gentlemen:
Today the new academic year begins. For the newly arrived students it is truly a new experience; for the others, perhaps, it is only a new beginning.
All of us need to infuse renewed commitment into our work, in order to join faith and reason closely together. You might think that this task is exclusive to theologians, but that isn’t the case. Both the theological perspective and the rational one can mark any task facing the academic, whether it be directive, administrative, or technical. I would like, therefore, to focus on one aspect of “unity of life,” a topic Saint Josemaría Escrivá was a great master of.
1. University study and research always aim at the truth, a full, definitive truth. As Benedict XVI, drawing on his personal experience, asked, “What is the university? What is its task? … I think one could say that the true origin of the university lies in the thirst for knowledge that is found in all mankind. Each person wants to know what everything around him is. He wants to know the truth.”
This task is almost a superhuman one, because the truth is present in all spheres of knowledge. Human reason is called to undertake a marvelous but unending endeavor to bring the truth to light. A scholar working alone can easily lose his way (and experience teaches us that this risk is not a theoretical one). As a result, it is indispensable that many people work together, forming a Universitas magistrorum et scholarium, constituted not from a single university, but from many.
2. The horizons of truth transcend the strength of reason, as the Holy Father teaches: “Reason also understands and discovers that, in addition to what it has already attained and achieved, there exists a truth that it will never be able to discover based solely on itself, but only receive as a gift freely given.” Reason stands in need of faith, which “purifies and exalts reason, thereby enabling it to broaden its horizons in order to enter into a field of research as unfathomably expansive as mystery itself.”
A purely theoretical faith is not sufficient, because the mystery that faith elevates reason to confront is not an intellectual abstraction, but a personal reality: God, One and Triune, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, who carries out his work of salvation throughout human history, and enters into it so as to become, with the incarnation of the Son, the center of history itself, the history of salvation.
We need, rather, an authentic faith, summed up in Saint Paul’s incisive phrase: a faith working through love (Gal 5: 6). Without charity, knowledge is in danger of becoming empty verbiage, employed in a dialectical game, like those who want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Tim 1:7). For they have lost the love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1: 5).
3. Not all university faculties explicitly cultivate knowledge of the mystery of God, but all can benefit from the faith, which purifies reason. For reason loses its way not only when it strays beyond the evidence at hand, but also when it is driven by the desire for self-affirmation, by selfishness and economic interests, by the lust for power, superficiality, intemperance, etc. Whoever is committed to higher education, at whatever level, must guard against these assaults that corrupt reason. Ever since the disorder of sin entered into human history, the best defense against the germs that undermine reason is found in faith working through love.
Faith fosters the proper use of reason, and reason, for its part, helps us to receive the light of faith, opening the eyes of our intellect, not because faith is obscure, but in order to carry out the exhortation of St. Peter: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet 3: 15). Thus the spirit of dialogue and service to the truth, ever indispensable in university work, will be strengthened, and the mistaken outlook Vatican II warned of, unfortunately quite widespread today, will be overcome: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.”
4. Saint Josemaría, in a homily given at the University of Navarre, urged us forcefully to seek unity of life in our own lives: “We cannot lead a double life. We cannot have a split personality, if we want to be Christians. There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God. We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things.”
The marriage between faith and reason must not remain confined to the intimacy of the human spirit, because it embraces the whole person, of which our body is an integral part, and should lead to manifesting our knowledge in our outward behavior.
The unity between reason and faith, then, means uniting thought and action, teaching and example, as the Holy Father said recently, in the vigil for the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman: “Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity, and holiness.”
5. University professors are not the only ones who have to aspire to this inner harmony. Students as well must seek it, although it requires great effort and commitment. It is an effort that should be imbued with a sporting spirit and optimism: especially optimism, because faith is a gift from God, and he is infinitely generous. Reason is, first of all, God’s gift to human nature. It doesn’t matter if we often experience the limits of our reasoning powers and wish we were smarter. We can find comfort in the words of St. James: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (Jas 1: 5-6).
Faith assures us of God’s help, but ordinarily he counts on our assiduous and self-sacrificing effort, which will lead you to raise your eyes to new and higher aims when you are studying.
What are some examples of these? We can cite here a point from The Way, a book by St. Josemaría that has opened up broad horizons to millions of readers worldwide: “You ask me: why that wooden Cross? — And I copy from a letter: ‘As I look up from the microscope, my sight comes to rest on the cross—black and empty. That Cross without its Crucified is a symbol. It has a meaning which others cannot see. And though I am tired out and on the point of abandoning the job, I once again bring my eyes to the lens and continue: for the lonely Cross is calling for a pair of shoulders to bear it.’”
Now replace the word “microscope” with “book” or “handouts,” and you will see how relevant this consideration in The Way continues to be for your work in the university.
6. I mentioned above the importance of a “sporting spirit” in striving to unite faith and reason. The curriculum of university studies to obtain an academic degree can call to mind the long workouts needed to succeed in sport competitions. The comparison with sports is nothing new. Saint Paul said: So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9: 26-27).
Two decades ago, our first Chancellor, the beloved Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, in the homily at a Mass for the inauguration of the academic year, exhorted us: “Dear friends, this period of study is meant to provide intellectual light; but it is also a time to grow in one’s life of faith. It would be sad if the academic training were at the expense of one’s life of piety and apostolic zeal.”
A university’s success is due precisely to the combined and persevering effort of everyone. Faith has an important role also in the administrative and technical tasks. What is this role? These words of St. Josemaría, contained in a homily on work, can guide us: “I give you my word that if we make a daily effort to see our personal duties in this light, that is, as a divine summons, we will learn to carry them through to completion with the greatest human and supernatural perfection of which we are capable.”
As he said in another context: “Work is born of love; it is a manifestation of love and is directed toward love. We see the hand of God, not only in the wonders of nature, but also in our experience of work and effort. Work thus becomes prayer and thanksgiving, because we know we are placed on earth by God, that we are loved by him and made heirs to his promises. We have been rightly told, In eating, in drinking, in all that you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Cor 10, 31).
If we truly strive to unite our faith and our intellect, we will act with the unity of life proper to the children of God, both on days that are more serene, and on those that are more “agitated,” when it seems that everything is going wrong. If we always realize that we are guided by the loving hand of our Father in heaven, and that He is very close to each one of us, we will know how to smile and spread around us an atmosphere of peace that makes everyone’s work pleasant, although our work requires great effort and tires us out.
Let us often look with love at the images of our Lady, Mother of God and our Mother, that are so easy to find in this building. And then it will be even easier for us to spread around us the joy and peace that we all desire.
With this wish for all, I declare the 2010-2011 academic year opened.