Opening of the Academic Year at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome (October 8, 2018)
Most Reverend Eminences,
Excellencies, teachers, collaborators,
students, ladies and gentlemen:
The beginning of this academic year coincides with the entry into force of the apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium, with which the Holy Father wants to give a new legislative structure to ecclesiastical universities and faculties (see art. 88). On this occasion, I would like to briefly consider a focus that, in my opinion, can assist the desire expressed in the foreword of this document, namely, the full and vital insertion of ecclesiastical studies in the effort to evangelize the world, a mission to which we are called. In the words of the Pope: “This, then, is a good occasion to promote with thoughtful and prophetic determination the renewal of ecclesiastical studies at every level, as part of the new phase of the Church’s mission, marked by witness to the joy born of encountering Jesus and proclaiming his Gospel, that I set before the whole People of God as a program in Evangelii Gaudium” (Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, Foreword , no. 1).
Hence the view that the world of ecclesiastical studies is a separate “enclave,” enjoying an apparently self-sufficient logic with respect to the real problems of the Church and the world, must be decisively rejected. A merely scholarly vision of these subjects would lead to viewing the academic sphere as enclosed in its growing specialization, far from any concern to proclaim the Gospel, and hence to respond to people’s real concerns. The scientific attitude in research and teaching seems to require a certain detachment from what is happening in the real world and from any perspective of true service.
As Veritatis Gaudium insists, “the most urgent and enduring criterion [for the renewal of studies] is that of contemplation and the presentation of a spiritual, intellectual and existential introduction to the heart of the kerygma, namely the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Foreword, no. 4a). Therefore the soul of theological studies must always be the authenticity of the Christian message, with the fundamental concern to serve the Church and society. Thus there is no risk of confusing freedom in the work of theology and other disciplines and the legitimate pluralism this effort entails, with an intellectual and vital distancing from the only truth that saves, from adherence to Christ and to the Church.
This university was founded with a deeply apostolic concern. Some words of Saint Josemaría come to mind here, which certainly go beyond the scope of the ecclesiastical sciences but which apply perfectly to them: “Since you want to acquire a Catholic or universal mentality, here are some characteristics you should aim at: a breadth of vision and a deepening insight into the things that remain alive and unchanged in Catholic orthodoxy; a proper and healthy desire, which should never be frivolous, to present anew the standard teachings of traditional thought in philosophy and the interpretation of history; a careful awareness of trends in science and contemporary thought; and a positive and open attitude towards the current changes in society and in ways of living” (Furrow, no. 428). The founder of Opus Dei encouraged us to seek unity of life in everything we do, in full harmony with an outlook that unites study with service, while never forgetting that our Christian life is based on the sacraments and prayer.
I remember an informal meeting that Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the founder of this university, had in 1984 with the teaching staff, who were about to begin the undertaking that was then called the Roman Academic Center of the Holy Cross. Among other practical points of advice that he gave were two that showed very clearly how he viewed academic work. The first related to the choice of research topics. Among so many possibilities, Bishop Del Portillo strongly advised us to choose those that could have a greater impact on our service to the Church and souls. The second suggestion, no less practical, was addressed especially to philosophers, but it is valid for everyone: to strive for clarity in what we write, the clarity that he loved and sought in his own writings.
All university work and every aspect of the university needs to be directed to the Church’s salvific mission. Dedicating ourselves as teachers to research and teaching of the sacred sciences is in itself a deeply apostolic work. Spending time in Rome as a student not only does not separate us from service to the Church, but it implies a gift to strengthen that service. Working at the university in the various tasks of management and organization takes on all its value when it is lived as an indispensable participation in our common mission.
I ask through the intercession of Mary Sedes Sapientiae for the gift of the joy of the truth, and declare the academic year 2018–2019 inaugurated.
Romana, n. 67, July-December 2018, p. 276-278.