I wish to thank Dr. McLean for welcoming me back to my “alma mater,” even though I did not receive a degree from this institution. Many of us who have spent even a little time on campus consider Thomas Aquinas College dearer than the universities at which we earned our degrees. Many thanks to our dear chaplains, Frs. Hildebrand, Buckley, Paul, and Michael, for their fraternal welcome. I told Fr. Buckley at breakfast that seeing his rakish academic regalia from the University of Paris alone would have been worth the drive from San Francisco, to which he replied that one should not make fun of St. Thomas’ alma mater.
I can’t tell you what it means to be in this chapel again, filled with our beloved students, faculty, and parents. This chapel, a sanctuary and a home for all of us, recalls solemn liturgies as well as quick visits between classes; it echoes the nightly student rosary and the funerals of the College founders. It is a refuge from a storm-battered world where we make our peace with God in these confessionals. Among its carefully-planned appointments, I point to the papal arms of St. John Paul II and of Pope Benedict XVI, which stand at the head and the foot of our 14-columned nave. John Paul’s motto, Totus tuus, brings us to Our Lady, temple of the Divine Trinity. Benedict’s motto, cooperatores veritatis, recalls us to community’s first end: faith seeking that degree of understanding permitted to the human intellect. And not just do we seek the truth, but we lay hold of it--Carpe veritatem—as we see on so many College sweatshirts.
Caritas in veritate
Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est, sought to express the full truth about love, and his last encyclical treats of the relationship between love and truth: Caritas in veritate. There are plenty of institutions, from universities to think tanks to high tech companies, who are seeking a species of truth; all seek to “develop” society in some fashion. What distinguishes Thomas Aquinas College is our search for the truth precisely as an expression of God’s love. Pope Benedict begins his last encyclical with these words: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and all humanity.”
Our dearest graduates will now move into the world of human development, whether in building a family, a legal career, an education plan, a medical practice, or a consecrated apostolate. As God gave our first parents the mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (that is, to develop creation according to God’s plan for its ultimate end, to its full potential), so your mandate is to develop that part of creation given to your faithful stewardship. We have not immersed ourselves in the truth for four years to keep it to ourselves. Caritas Christi impellat nos, “The love of Christ compels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; … that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him….” Authentic human development, the development of societies and cultures, is driven by this conviction that Christ gave his life for us, and that his sacrifice brings order to all human activity. This is the truth, born of love, that you must take with you into the world.
St. Teresa Benedicta, also known as Edith Stein, wrote: "Do not accept anything as truth if it lacks love, and do not accept anything as love if it lacks truth.” A respected philosopher, lover of wisdom, she died a martyr, a witness to both love and truth, in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.
Let’s consider our Scriptures, beginning with the Tower of Babel. Many of us complain that we can’t rationally discuss contentious issues like marriage and the human person with our contemporaries because we don’t even speak the same language. TAC graduates are particularly susceptible to this frustration: increasingly, postmodern discourse is reduced to mere opinions and feelings. We are progressively reduced to babel.
In the days of Babel, a common language gave men a unifying rational power. It gave them a high degree of techne, and so they began building a great tower. The tower and the city in time collapsed, as will any society that makes man the measure of all things. Our closest expression of this tower without foundations is the 1992 Supreme Court opinion Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” No prescriptive law can take that gibberish seriously, but it rationalizes the abortion license in our country, and could conceivably rationalize any human aggression. It is not a rational expression but quite simply babel.
As the fathers of the Church noted, Pentecost reversed Babel. Only the Holy Spirit emanating from the Father’s love for his Son and Son’s love for his Father can unify this kind of garble. The disciples at Pentecost spoke a word comprehensible to all, and what they spoke were the mighty acts of God, which is to say the love of God. Divine Love is the core dynamism of the universe, and indeed, of any human endeavor. Divine love brings together the scattered tribes of Babel; it inspired our forebears to build a Christian culture; it can rebuild that Christian culture. That’s where our dear graduates come in.
Jesus had promised another Advocate. We pray for the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity before every Class. We prayed for his coming at the beginning of this divine liturgy itself: “Come O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful; enkindle in them the fire of thy love…that we may be truly wise.” “When he comes,” Jesus had promised his disciples, “he will teach you everything.” Isn’t that why we come to TAC? To learn everything? An integrated program teaches math and science and philosophy and theology. It teaches the Elements and searches for bugs with big nets. It muses over conics and discussed Trojan wars and muses on Relativity. And it concludes where it began, with de Trinitate, studying the ineffable love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Truth, will only be known by those who love him; that is, by those who keep his commandments. Study, as distinct from curiosity, is fundamentally an act of love. “We propose,” wrote the founders in the seminal document, “the founding of a four-year Catholic college … [that] will explicitly define itself by the Christian Faith and the tradition of the Catholic Church. Thus theology will be both the governing principle of the whole school.” Philosophy is the love of wisdom, but theology is the study of God, who is love itself. A college that defines itself by the study of love—that is the surest foundation of truth.
No Truth Outside of Love
Jim Heilman, a friend of my family in Pennsylvania, was a student at this College in 1980. Towards the end of his freshman year he was diagnosed with melanoma and came home that summer to die. A few weeks before his death, he made a quiet observation that I will never forget: “I wonder how there can be any truth outside of the Church.” Jim faced his death with the peaceful conviction that even his mortality was a truth spoken by a loving Father. He grasped this truth at Thomas Aquinas College when the campus was still a bunch of trailers on a muddy hillside.
Those deeper truths have all but been clouded over by the babel of competing desires incessantly shouted at us by modern media, desires so shallow that they last only the length of a 9-second internet ad. Our College has given you all to drink from deeper truths, and you thirst for more. It is yours now to give these truths, to do your modest part in sustaining what is authentically human in our culture. Pope Benedict concludes his third encyclical with these words: “Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God's love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace. All this is essential if “hearts of stone” are to be transformed into “hearts of flesh.”
Our Lady, Mediatrix of all love and truth
There are plenty of stony hearts out there. You have learned to love truth by loving God first, and love of neighbor as an ineluctable corollary. To speak this truth, we all must maintain an intense interior life: the Mass, the rosary, spiritual reading, regular confession, penance for our souls and the souls of all the world. I recommend you to Our Lady, who gave herself completely in love. Only a love that gives itself absolutely is true. As our Lady is the mediatrix of all graces, so she is the mediatrix of all truths. The patroness of this chapel, she stands at the head of this College, her benevolent image drawing students of truth through these portals to her Son. Carpe veritatem, yes, but caritas in veritate.