Rome -- September 7, 2000

At the Jubilee of University Professors, in the Church of Blessed Josemaria

In the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, here in the Tabernacle, we are today taking another step in the preparation for the Jubilee of University Professors, which will culminate next Sunday with Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square.

Led by the Gospel passage that we have just heard, I would like to suggest three points for meditation. To ensure that our reflection not be purely theoretical, but rather closely connected with the problems of our time, let us be guided by some writings from the magisterium of John Paul II and some thoughts taken from the preaching of Blessed Josemaria that reflect the great heart and open and universal mind of this holy priest, who God granted me the grace of being close to for many years.

1. Science has to be illuminated by the Truth

Let us begin our meditation with the question that a doctor of Israel, a learned man of his time, asked of Jesus. Nicodemus went to see Christ moved by a deep unrest. Without yet believing in Him, he saw in his doctrine something transcendent. He recognized him as Teacher. “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him’” (Jn 3:2).

The participation of university professors, as a group, in the Jubilee celebrations, has a special meaning that transcends the individuals involved. The desire for interior renewal proper to the Jubilee is extended to academic activity, which is both collective and individual at the same time. Let us invoke, then, first of all the Holy Spirit, so that he help us with his grace to evaluate our mission and thus understand, in the light of Christian revelation, what are the real, the deepest, needs of humanity, to which the university should offer a response. Let us ask him to grant us a truer understanding of culture and art, of science and technology, because these human realities, which are an expression of our dignity, reach their fullness only when they are unreservedly open to the wisdom proceeding from God.

The university as an institution was born from the heart of Christian tradition, from the effort inspired by faith to advance the scientific formation of the intellect. It was born ex corde Ecclesiae,from the heart of the Church,[1] to further the search for truth. Its efforts have molded the history of thought and forged our civilization, with its bright points and its dark ones. Today, as the world emerges exhausted from the crisis of ideologies, science cannot limit itself to seeking partial truths. To avoid falling into the blind abyss of slavery to power, it cannot content itself with the acquisition of verifiable certitudes, but has to always look towards the supreme Truth. Ego sum Veritas. “I am the Truth,” said Jesus ( Jn 14:6). No one can prevent these words from resounding within his conscience. A man of culture is not playing the traitor to himself when he takes up the task, the challenge, of investigating the mystery of God and of the person as God’s creature and image.

In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II invites us to reflect about the whole truth (cf. no. 6). Not on a truth but on the Truth revealed by God. Our dignity as rational beings imposes upon us the duty of this task. On our courageous response depends the meaning of our life and our work. Man is not just an ensemble of cerebral circuits. He is a person, endowed with consciousness and freedom, because he is the image of God. Only the conscientious search for harmony with the divine law, a task which is arduous, but which is not in contradiction to the deepest meaning of our life, can make man free: Veritas liberabit vos “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is an example for us. Would that we too would frequently enter into personal conversation with our Lord, asking him questions and letting ourselves be questioned by him. He will teach us that our knowledge must be open to the “wisdom of holiness,” grounded in the mystery of the Cross and built upon the foundation of humility.

To Nicodemus and to each of us, Christ answers: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?” (Jn 3:10). Let us sincerely recognize that we still have a long way to go before reaching the goal to which our Lord is calling us. But even our first steps must be along the path of humility. Intellectual humility is not an affront to the intellect, because humility is the truth. On the contrary, it enriches study, research and teaching, giving it a new and inexhaustible perspective, in harmony with the wisdom that comes from above, a wisdom that is “radiant and unfading, and…easily discerned by those who love her” (Wis 6:12).

Let us earnestly beseech God, using words from Scripture: “O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom has formed man to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants....Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory send her, that she may be with me and my toil, and that I may learn what is pleasing to thee. For she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory” (Wis 9:1-4, 10-11).

2. Responsibility of the university in the service of truth.

On the occasion of the sixth centenary of the foundation of the university that he attended in his youth, Pope John Paul II stated that “the vocation of every university is to serve the truth, to discover it and transmit it to others.” In that discourse, which I invite you to reread and meditate on attentively, the Pope made this observation: “Personally, after years have gone by, I see more and more clearly how much I owe to the university: love for the truth, and the guidelines for seeking it.” And he added: “The great professors that I knew played an important role in my life.”[2]

We are now at a crucial point in our reflection: the importance of teachers in the formation of the new generations. There is an enormous difference between someone who acts as a simple “dispenser” of information and someone who acts as a teacher. The latter not only transmits information, but molds mature personalities, guides them towards the fullness of truth, and brings them to the threshold of the mystery of Christ, before which each one freely makes his or her own decision.

By taking on our flesh and coming into the world, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity sanctified all created realities and all upright human activities. Intellectual effort, the work of study and research, receives a new and extraordinary perspective, with a value far superior to that offered by the simple effort of scientific progress, no matter how exciting this may be. When one discovers one’s Christian vocation and lives it in the midst of the fullness of one’s professional work, this task becomes a true salvific mission. Faith and reason meet in a culture, if they have first been united in the life of the university professor. Then his responsibility within the scientific community becomes a responsibility before God, with a true vocational dedication.

We have no right to shirk this responsibility. As John Paul II has written, the university vocation “demands, before anything else, a special solicitude for the development of one’s own humanity, according to the call that we have received from God to be saints. And this implies the duty to cultivate virtues. A mere formal rectitude of thought is not enough. One must strive to live in the spiritual climate of the indispensable moral virtues of sincerity, courage, humility, honesty, combined with a real solicitude for mankind. Thanks to moral sensitivity,” says the Pope, “a very essential link is preserved for science between the true and the good.”[3]

A Christian conception of the university is of special importance in today’s historical context. Today, speaking in general, we have overcome that systematic opposition to the faith that characterized the culture of the Enlightenment. Today another current prevails, even more insidious for the future of truth. Today scientific effort seems to require the support of economic factors or of political expediency within the complex process of globalization. It even, at times, seeks in them the decisive path for its options. Values that cannot be renounced, including the defense of life, respect for human dignity, and the protection of the family, are being deeply threatened by the logic of the market. The university cannot surrender its role of service to society; it cannot delegate its responsibility for the truth and for mankind’s welfare to centers of power outside the university.

Let us recollect ourselves and raise our hearts to God. Lord, before you are gathered this group of men and women who have decided to make their professional lives into an impassioned service to the truth. They have come to Rome, to the chair of St. Peter, because they sincerely desire to drink at the fountain of Wisdom. Grant them, and grant all of us, the clarity of your Word and the breath of your Spirit, so that they never desist from the search for truth with full intellectual honesty. Help them make their scientific work a faithful reflection of the splendor of the Light which came into the world two thousand years ago to enlighten all mankind (cf. Jn 1:9, 14). May they never lose the conviction that “the search for the truth, even when it deals with only a limited part of the world or of mankind, never ends; it always points beyond the immediate topic being studied to questions that open up access to the Mystery.”[4]

3. What does sanctifying university work mean?

I recalled at the beginning that Blessed Josemaria had a special love for the university, since he was always open to the true and the good. On one occasion, speaking to a group of university professors, he said: “In you we see the reality of that human ideal which attracted the praise of divine Wisdom. You are outstanding cultivators of knowledge, in love with the Truth, who are seeking it zealously in order to enjoy the disinterested happiness of contemplating it. You are, in truth, noble servants of science because you have dedicated your lives to the great adventure of unraveling its riches. But in addition, Christianity’s cultural tradition, which gives your tasks their human fullness, urges you to communicate those riches to your students with an open-handed generosity in the joyful work of teaching, which seeks to forge men and women through the elevation of their spirit.”[5]

These words of Opus Dei’s founder sum up a program of life capable of guiding a professor’s efforts of study and teaching to a completeness that can only proceed from the desire to give a full Christian meaning to one’s work. You will make of the university a true center of culture and formation if you know how to sanctify your academic work, sanctify yourselves in your academic work and sanctify others by means of your academic work.

The fulfillment of this program calls for maintaining a profound unity between research and human relations within the university itself, which is at one and the same time a community of fields of knowledge (universitas scientiarum) and of people (universitas magistrorum et scholarium). A university can never be closed in on itself; it has to relate to and cooperate with other similar communities throughout the whole world, thus mutually enriching one another.

To sanctify academic work means, then, two things:

1) To carry out research, study, write and teach in the light of the integral truth about man and nature, striving to gain an ever deeper understanding of the specific field that each is involved in.

2) To respect the demands of charity and justice in the exercise of one’s professional activity, through the fulfillment of one’s own duties and disinterested service of others.

What are the means that enable one day-after-day to give this direction to one’s work?

• Prayer. Blessed Josemaria reminds us that we have to be “contemplatives in the midst of the world,” which means doing our work in constant filial dialogue with our Father God;

• a continual effort to remain up to date in one’s own field, not out of a desire for personal success, but to give God and others the best of ourselves;

• an open-mindedness which prevents us from losing sight of the intrinsic limits of our own discipline;

• a constant effort to increase our knowledge of Christian doctrine and morality, with the goal of understanding its intimate relationship with the human sciences each of us specializes in.

This is the wisdom that the Church holds up to scientists in our time. The Holy Father understands that the words of the Second Vatican Council, to which he frequently refers in his meetings with representatives of the academic world, were truly prophetic: “Our age, more than any of the past, needs such wisdom if all that man discovers is to be ennobled through human effort. Indeed the future of the world is in danger unless provision is made for men of greater wisdom.”[6] And the Pope adds: “The great challenge presented to academic institutions in the field of research and teaching consists in forming men and women not only competent in their field or with encyclopedic knowledge, but above all filled with authentic wisdom.”[7]

This is an inexhaustible program. Therefore it is necessary to continuously call upon new forces. A Christian who works in this field becomes an active source of social cohesion. His work contributes to that of many others in an interdisciplinary teamwork, filling out a picture of the world and of man which is informed by the transcendental dimension of the person. In this way, the Christian spirit works towards the creation of a genuinely universal and human culture, open to dialogue with all and a promoter of peace in the world.

Academic work carried out with this spirit effectively furthers the application of the redemption. “This world of ours will be saved,” says Blessed Josemaria, “not by those who try to drug the life of the spirit, reducing everything to financial questions or questions of material welfare, but by those who have faith in God and in the eternal destiny of man, and who open themselves to the truth of Christ as a light providing guidance for action and conduct.”[8]

This is an invitation to hope. Let us ask divine Wisdom to assist all those in academic life, men and women of culture and science, so that, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, they will allow themselves to be instructed by the divine Teacher and thus be able, without discriminations of any sort, to teach everyone the truth in charity and freedom: “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

Holy Mary, our Mother. You are invoked by Christians as Sedes Sapientiae, Throne of Wisdom, because the Word of God became flesh in your most pure womb. Attain for us an ardent love for Jesus, your Son, so that by fulfilling the command that he entrusted to the Church (cf. Mt 28:20), we may be witnesses and heralds of the Truth that saves. Amen.

[1] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiæ, August 15, 1990.

[2] John Paul II, Address at the Sixth Centenary of the Jagellonian University of Krakow, June 8, 1997.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Blessed Josemaria Escriva, Address at the awarding of honorary doctorates by the University of Navarre, October 7, 1967.

[6] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 15.

[7] John Paul II, Address at the Sixth Centenary of the Jagellonian University of Krakow, June 8, 1997.

[8] Blessed Josemaria Escriva, Address at the awarding of honorary doctorates by the University of Navarre, May 9, 1974.

Romana, n. 31, July-December 2000, p. 245-251.

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