Inauguration of the Academic Year, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross Rome, (October 10, 2011)

Your Eminences, Excellencies, and Illustrious Authorities

Professors, students, and all who work at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

Ladies and Gentlemen:

A few weeks ago, in the context of the recent World Youth Day celebrated in Madrid, I had the joy of taking part in the meeting of the Holy Father with young university professors in San Lorenzo de El Escorial. I am sure that you have read and reread the words of Benedict XVI spoken during those unforgettable days, and that you have deeply assimilated the content of that speech, directed in a special way to us, because you who form part of this University were also present with me in spirit. Nevertheless, I think that the inauguration of this academic year will be even more fruitful if we meditate once again on the Pope’s words, so that they continue being a light that will bring to maturity, in our lives and in our university work, the motto of those days: “Rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the Faith.”[1]

It is a great motive for joy, faith, hope, and optimism to see the positive effect brought about in so many men and women in the world of culture, by the Pope’s effort to make the intrinsic harmony between reason and faith shine forth. A good number of intellectuals, inspired by his magisterium and profoundly influenced by his love for the university, have recognized that a fully human culture can never exclude religion, and that being open to transcendent realities is indispensable for our society.

Another motive for special joy is the fact that this year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Apollinare Institute for Advanced Religious Studies. The Institute, which Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, of venerable memory, promoted with penetrating pastoral foresight, was erected by the Congregation for Catholic Education on September 17, 1986. In 1988 the Servant of God, Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo, first Chancellor of our University, joyfully supported the petition of Cardinal Palazzini that the Institute be put under the academic guidance of the School of Theology, in order to offer the Church in Italy a well-qualified service in this area as well.

The words of the Pope to which I referred above encourage us to begin this new year of study and work with the deep awareness that we are “a link in that chain of men and women committed to teaching the Faith and making it credible to human reason.”[2] We should do so with the clear conviction that it is not sufficient to limit oneself to teaching or studying the various subjects: faith needs to be lived, incarnated every day.[3]

The orientation of our university work has to contribute to deepening the roots of faith and Christian life in ourselves and in today’s culture. Therefore, we need to be forewarned against the risk of seeing the university’s mission as purely utilitarian, limiting ourselves to forming competent and efficient professionals in the sacred sciences, giving priority to “purely technical skills” in the fields of teaching, pastoral government, church management or institutional communication.[4] No: ours is a much higher aspiration that goes beyond mere utility and immediate pragmatism.

In this “‘house’ where one seeks the truth proper to the human person”[5] —as Benedict XVI likes to define the university—we strive to enkindle and nourish apostolic yearnings and desires for intimacy with God. For as St. Josemaría wrote, “there is no human undertaking which cannot be sanctified, which cannot be an opportunity to sanctify ourselves and to cooperate with God in the sanctification of the people with whom we work.” And he added, in words that can be applied very well to university 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.”[6]

I am certain that you professors are convinced, as the Holy Father says, that “young people need authentic teachers: persons open to the fullness of truth in the various branches of knowledge, persons who listen to and experience in their own hearts that interdisciplinary dialogue; persons who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth,”[7] the truth about God, man, society, and the Church.

You know very well that “this lofty aspiration is the most precious gift which you can give to your students, personally and by example,”[8] and always keep in mind that “teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength.”[9] As St. Josemaría stressed on a memorable occasion, “a university properly speaking is not found where, together with the transmission of knowledge, no effort is made to provide an integral formation of the young personalities.”[10] Therefore I repeat, with the Pope: “Be for them a source of encouragement and strength.”

In addition, those of you here who carry out non-teaching tasks—which are equally important—help to form the students to serve the Church better, by the example of your well-done work, your care for even the smallest details, capable of expressing a great love for God.

And finally I direct myself to you, dear students of this university. May you live “the years of your formation in deep joy, humbly, clear-mindedly and with radical fidelity to the Gospel, in an affectionate relation to the time spent and the people among whom you live.”[11]

At the beginning of the academic year, it seems important to me that all of us recall that the sanctification of university work—the reason why we are united here—entails a love for study, since “we cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable.”[12]

At the same time, we have to love all those—professors, students, non-teaching personnel—with whom we share this task. Limiting oneself to a selfish desire to acquire knowledge would never be an authentic love.

We also know that the touchstone of love is suffering.[13] In moments when studying or getting along with others might seem more difficult, we need to persevere, not simply out of the desire to attain wisdom, but because we have the security that we are loved, “rooted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the Faith.”

As St. Josemaría urged, the university, rooted firmly in Christ, “knows that objectivity in the search for knowledge justly rejects all ideological neutrality, all ambiguity, all conformism, all cowardice. Love for the truth guides the researcher’s entire life and work, and sustains his strength of spirit in the face of opposition, because this commitment and rectitude does not always receive a favorable reception in public opinion.”[14]

To make progress on the path of sanctification, which leads us to love perseveringly, firmly grounded in faith, one virtue is indispensable, expressly highlighted by Pope Benedict XVI in regard to intellectual and teaching work: humility, which “protects us from the pride that bars the way to truth.”[15]

If we are humble we will know how to dialogue, because we will know how to listen. And we will be ready to acknowledge our mistakes. For “truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp. We can seek it and draw near to it, but we cannot completely possess it; or put better, truth possesses us and inspires us.”[16]

As St. Josemaría liked to say, humility is the truth,[17] and therefore it is an indispensable virtue for all those with the mission of cooperating in the spread of truth. Let us ask for this gift from Jesus, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, when we go to greet him in the Tabernacle, where he presides over this institution, and we will have the assurance of being firmly rooted in him.

Let us invoke our Lord, and also go to our Mother Holy Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, so that she make us humble but efficacious collaborators of her Son in the spread of the truth, throughout this academic year 2011-1012, which I now declare inaugurated.

Romana, n. 53, July-December 2011, p. 270-273.

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