At the Inauguration of the Academic Year, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome (October 5, 2015)
Most reverend eminences, your excellencies, professors, technical assistants, students, ladies and gentlemen:
The Ordinary Synod on the Family has begun, and this new academic year has also begun. To our prayers for an event so important for the life of the whole Church, we would like to add and offer the academic work that (although never completely absent from the horizon of a student or professor during the summer) today once again takes on a special importance, on the occasion of this solemn inauguration.
What better way is there to help the Church during this academic year then with our persevering personal effort in this university work? Study is not merely an arduous task or an academic formality that needs to be carried out rapidly in order to afterwards go on to other things, to “real” life. We have to look at study with gratitude because it is an opportunity that God our Lord offers us, although it entails effort and tiredness. Study offers us, above all, the opportunity to make new discoveries in our intellectual life and to advance in our spiritual life. How joyful we are to find ourselves once more at the beginning of a path on which, as we already know, we will encounter our Lord! He is always ready to enlighten us, to help us, to sustain us. So we want to be attentive to his presence in our lives in order to receive his light, and therefore to deepen in our knowledge of the truth, of the only Truth, which comes from Him. Yes, we also want to persevere in the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42), not only for our personal benefit but also for the growth of the whole of society.
In study we encounter God and we encounter others. These years of study in Rome do not separate us from the immediate and specific concerns of our world, of our place of origin. On the contrary, this period of intellectual deepening helps us to understand better and to concern ourselves more fully with the challenges of our time, a time exposed to the danger of ignorance, of an obscuring of the truth. It is in the lack of truth that we encounter the real poverty of mankind, from which stem so many other kinds of poverty. Study does not isolate us in a theoretical world, far from humanity; we do not enclose ourselves in an ivory tower.
On the contrary! As Pope Benedict XVI often emphasized: “Faith has a specific content. It is not a vague spirituality, a feeling that is indefinable because of its transcendence. God has acted and precisely he is the one who has spoken. He has really done something and really said something. Certainly faith is, in first place, trust in God, a living relationship with him. But the God in whom we trust has a face and has given us his Word.”
We need to listen to this Word and understand its fruitfulness: it is the only thing capable of truly nourishing this world of ours today. We find the same idea in the first encyclical of Pope Francis, when he speaks of the relationship between science and faith: “Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order and knows that it calls us to an ever-widening path of harmony and understanding . . . By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.”
If we want to “broaden horizons” and bring the light of truth to today’s world, we have to begin with ourselves and apply these lights of God to our own life, with small but constant personal conversions that little by little will build up in us a unity of life, which St. Josemaría saw as central to a truly Christian life. Thus study will lead us to God if it becomes an opportunity to strive for sanctity and “to cooperate with God in the sanctification of the people with whom we work. . . . To work in this way is to pray. To study thus is likewise prayer. Research done with this spirit is prayer too. We are always doing the same thing, for everything can be prayer, all activity can and should lead us to God, nourish our intimate dealings with him, from morning to night. Any honorable work can be prayer and all prayerful work is apostolate. In this way the soul develops a unity of life, which is both simple and strong.”
Pope Francis’ recent encyclical contains a recurring expression that offers a key for all who want to live their faith consistently: “everything is connected.” Pointing specifically to some errors of those who make man the center of everything today, he states: “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.” To know God, to understand ourselves, to convert in order to help others: here is the responsibility to which study spurs us. Having given me the opportunity to study in Rome, God has made me a “responsible administrator” called to care for others and all created realities. Our responsibility is clearly reflected in the Pope’s invitation: “Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God.”
Once again, this is not just a theoretical concern. This responsibility should influence our daily life, striving, as the Holy Father says, to take on another “lifestyle,” accepting “the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.” “We must not think,” stresses Pope Francis, “that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” “Everything is connected”: our perseverance in our study, our ascetical struggle, our concern for the other students and professors, our care for creation and, I would like to add, our respect for the work of the others, especially for the hidden work of all those in the technical and secretarial offices, who contribute to making our life easier and more pleasant.
Responsibility in everything and for everyone: neither study nor academic research should isolate us from the others—on the contrary! There is no university if there is not a constant dialogue with others, and openness towards the other disciplines, a reciprocal help in the search for the one Truth and, at the same time, if one is not ready to listen to those who think differently, for example, because they come from different cultures. The Holy Father invites us to “regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” The university is perhaps the best place to follow the example of “Saint Therese of Lisieux [who] invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile, or any small gesture that sows peace and friendship.”
I would like to focus here on an important event, which involves all of us, not only because of the fact of living in Rome, but also as students and professors: the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. There is no sector of life that is free from tensions and misunderstandings, and the university community is not exempt from difficulties. I am not referring only to the examinations. The university world has its own demands, which are logical consequence of the high goal that we are striving for: to know the truth that comes from the Word of God and to live in a way that accords with it. God himself, precisely because he loves us, is demanding with his children—both demanding and merciful. Truth and mercy are intimately united in him.
Pope Benedict XVI asked himself this question: “The truth, at least as it is presented by the faith of the Church, isn’t it perhaps a goal that is too high or too difficult for man? . . . Certainly the path that leads to the truth and to the good is a high and arduous one,” the Pope emeritus said, “and not a comfortable path. It challenges man.”
This challenge can frighten us, as it frightens so many people of our epoch who prefer to flee from the demands of the truth and to isolate themselves in the comfort of their own ego. Nevertheless, God never abandons us to a disincarnate and cold truth, which would be an insupportable yoke for mankind. In Jesus Christ, said Pope Benedict, “the Logos, the Truth in person, is at the same time also the reconciliation, the forgiveness that transforms us beyond all of our personal capacities and incapacities.” Thus, with our Lord beside us, “the yoke of the truth is easy to bear (see Mt 11:30).”
The opening of the Year of Mercy will help us understand that “everything is connected”: that truth and mercy are rooted in the same fountain of love. Our study will lead us to realize the demands of charity; it will help us see the need to live in accord with those demands, in our work, in the little things of our ordinary life, and in our relationships with others.
While we accompany the Ordinary Synod on the Family with our prayer, let us entrust to our Lady of the Rosary these intentions and the new academic year 2015-2016, which I declare inaugurated.