At the inaugural Mass for the new seat of the Campus Biomedico, Rome, (March 14, 2008)
At the inauguration of the new Campus Biomedico University buildings
1. “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Church places on our lips today these words from St. Mark’s gospel (10:45), as a summary of the events that we commemorate in Holy Week. Jesus declares that he came not to be served, but to serve. To serve is for Jesus, for the Son, the true way of ruling, of being Lord.
When the disciples argue over which of them should be considered the greatest, he tells them: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.... I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:25-27). After twenty centuries, these words continue being of great timeliness. When Jesus speaks of “service,” he does so accompanied by the example of his deeds. As we just heard a few moments ago: “even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38).
2. And what are these works of Jesus? His entire life possesses an extraordinary eloquence. He lived in the midst of us doing good to all, speaking familiarly with everyone who approached him, men and women, Jews and pagans, healthy and sick, poor and rich. He appreciated gestures and words filled with faith, like the sick woman who dared to secretly touch his cloak and was cured; or the boy who offered five loaves and two fishes, which Jesus used to feed the multitude that had followed him for three days.
If we want to imitate the Son of God’s service to all men and women, our daily life offers us countless opportunities. I will recall a few of these here for you, but each of you will know how to find many more in the specific circumstances of your own life: fostering and valuing the good qualities, whether many or few, of those around us; carrying out our work with attention, order and punctuality, since this always affects the work of others in some way or another; assisting anyone who has not been able to finish their own work; helping someone who is confronting family worries; treating everyone with affection, without discrimination; knowing how to command with delicacy, respecting the intellect and will of the one who is obeying (cf. The Forge, no. 727); placing one’s own qualities and talents, without seeking any compensation, at the service of one’s neighbor (cf. Furrow, no.422). It is also the smile that we try to put on when our work becomes more difficult, faithful to the Holy Spirit’s exhortation: “serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps 100:2). By putting into practice these ways of living a spirit of service—specifically here in the Campus Biomedico—we help to create a serene environment, dissipating tensions that could be a source of annoyance and bad humor for others (cf. Furrow, no. 712).
Let us pause to meditate on what St. John tells us about Jesus’ final moments in our midst, shortly before his passion, during the Last Supper. He “rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded” (Jn 13:4-5). As then Cardinal Ratzinger recalled: “The act of the washing of the feet becomes for John a representation of what Jesus’ whole life is: his rising from the table setting aside his garment of glory, bending down to us in the mystery of forgiveness, the service of his human life and death... The life and death of Jesus, and Baptism and Penance are together the divine font opening the way to freedom and giving access to the table of life” (Journey Towards Easter, pp. 94-5).
Jesus came to redeem us and to give us the example of his life. And we are called to accept his grace, making his life our own. He was very clear in this regard. He wants to be imitated and he wants his disciples to make of their lives a true service. To enable us to serve, first he washes us; he purifies us by means of the sacraments that grant the remission of sins: Baptism and Penance. Love the sacrament of Confession, and you will experience the joy of being personally loved by our Lord, who bends down to wash our sins and purifies us.
The gesture of washing the apostles’ feet is for us a symbol of what it means to define Christian life as service. St. Josemaría on one occasion summed up the meaning of Christian life with the expression: para servir, servir, which could be translated as “in order to be useful, serve.” Yes, if you want to be useful and effective in your work, imitate Jesus, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7).
3. We see made a reality today, thanks to the sacrifice and work of so many people, this magnificent hospital and Center for Advanced Research. However, there is a danger that we should be on guard against, namely that of trusting excessively in our own work, in the sophisticated technological innovations in the area of diagnosis, therapy, the basic services, administrative logistics, teaching.
Certainly all of this refined technology requires from each of you an up-to-date professional competence. And the machines that you now have at your disposal require maintenance and care. It would, however, be a mistake to turn yourselves into servants of the machines. You must instead remain faithful to your motto, “science for mankind,” and to the goal that has guided your brief but fruitful history: to be an institution at the service of everyone, and particularly of the sick and of the students, of the whole society, and also among yourselves.
Your pride, therefore, will not so much be that of working in a university or in a hospital equipped with the latest technology, but rather that of forming a team of people who by their professionalism and their human and Christian values, by their whole life, want to be useful, imitating Jesus in a hidden and silent service each day. Science and technology can contribute greatly to the progress of humanity, but they can also make life less human, and even destroy mankind.
In an address given at the University of Navarre, St. Josemaría Escrivá, the then Chancellor of that university (to which I know you are very grateful for the assistance you have received right from the start), spoke some words that seem particularly appropriate in this context: “This world will certainly not be saved by those who try to drug the life of the spirit, reducing everything to questions of finance or material well-being, but by those who have faith in God and in the eternal destiny of mankind, and who accept the truth of Christ as the light that guides their action and conduct” (Address, May 9, 1974).
Your university is being enriched today by a gift of great artistic, symbolic and emotional value: the bas-relief of our Lady before which the Pope recited the Holy Rosary last March 1, during the Sixth European Day for University Students. This sacred image is precious because it was blessed by the Holy Father, and because it is the fruit of the generosity of one of the many friends of the “Campus.”
For this gift and for the many acts of generosity which have made the Campus Biomedico possible, I thank you with all my heart. I entrust this image of our Lady to you and commend each of you to “Our Lady of the Campus.” Place in her hands all that you hold in your heart, your entire being. Entrust to her maternal care your determination to live a spirit of service in your daily life: in your family, in assistance to patients, in administration, in the operating room, in the classroom, in moments of relaxation, in the cafeteria.
If each of you, with the help of Holy Mary, strives to put this resolution into practice, your small daily efforts will help create in the Campus Biomedico University a culture that will radiate towards the exterior. As Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Spe Salvi (no. 26): “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.” And a spirit of service can’t be explained if it is not born of love.
Don’t underestimate the greatness of the marvelous human and Christian duty that you have in your hands. May God bless your efforts to transform these buildings into a place where there truly takes root the love and spirit of service that our time so badly needs: the spirit of a true university family, where everyone—from the Rector down to those who carry out seemingly minor tasks—is equally important, because all are part of the same family.
Romana, n. 46, January-June 2008, p. 63-66.