A Homily at the Opening of the Academic Year, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome (October 8, 2018)
As we do every year, we begin this new academic year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Our invocation to the Paraclete almost coincides this year with that of the Holy Father and the members of the Synod dedicated to youth, faith and vocational discernment. These topics of the Synod have a great relevance for today’s world. We all share the same desire to transmit to young people the beauty of our faith, without ignoring the difficulties of this apostolic effort. So it is easy for us to unite our petition for help from the Holy Spirit with that of the Holy Father and of the whole Church for the Synod’s outcome. In the end, the reason why you are here in Rome as students, professors, or employees of a pontifical university is to put your study, your work, your abilities at the service of spreading the faith. In many cases it was precisely the discernment of your vocation that led you to Rome to dedicate your best efforts to this task. This happy coincidence should help you remember the importance of your stay in Rome and lead you to beseech the Holy Spirit to make you docile instruments of his action in the Church and in the world.
If we ask ourselves why we began the academic year in this way (that is, with the Mass of the Holy Spirit) we can easily understand why this recourse to the Paraclete does not refer only to the intellectual dimension of our work. We are not only asking for his help, which would in itself be a lot, to deepen in our knowledge of the faith, to form our intelligence, to study the academic subjects with profit. We turn to Him to lead us, as Jesus promised, into “all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (Jn 16:13). And “all the truth,” besides a theoretical dimension, so to speak, also has a practical dimension. The Holy Spirit not only illumines our intellect. He configures our life in all its dimensions, our thinking and acting, our intellect and our will, our soul and our body, our whole person. Each of us, therefore, needs to let ourselves be guided by Him, making Paul’s invitation our own, walking according to the Spirit in order to reach all truth, to reach Christ himself. As Saint Josemaría wrote: “Our Lord Jesus wants it: we have to follow Him closely. There is no other way. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in each soul, in yours too. You have to be docile, so as not to put obstacles in the way of your God” (The Forge, 860).
Hence at the beginning of a new academic year it is very important for students to realize that the goal is not only to be able to pass the exams, to learn many things, to delve into the various disciplines. The goal is always identification with Christ, holiness. This is our vocation, that of every Christian, configured in accord with the different charisms that the Spirit inspires in the Church. It is so clear that invoking the Holy Spirit involves everyone, not only the students and professors, but everyone who works at the university, whatever their task. God calls all of us to holiness and for all of us He sends his Spirit.
“How can we know,” the Holy Father asks us in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (no. 166) “if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.” In our invocation to the Holy Spirit we include this request, the gift of wisdom to be able to direct our entire life to God, and especially now, in this school year that we are about to begin.
Our docility to the Holy Spirit will enable us to grow, to mature, to open ourselves and aspire to attain all the truth that Jesus promised us, the holiness to which He calls us, without neglecting but rather making use of our daily commitments. Learning how to foster our desire for holiness amid our daily tasks, wanting to live in intimacy with God, offering Him the best of ourselves in each thing we do, even in the smallest of our daily actions. And this will be the best way to become the witnesses that Jesus asks us to be for our world: “you also will bear witness to me” (Jn 15:27), bringing with us the beauty of our faith, making Christ himself present in our lives.
In our Mother Mary, we see the most beautiful example of discernment and docility to the Holy Spirit. Full of grace and Mother of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, Mary was able with his help to always discern God’s will and respond each time: “Here I am, be it done unto me according to your will.” We ask Mary to teach us to recognize and docilely follow the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Romana, n. 67, July-December 2018, p. 261-263.