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Mass of the Holy Spirit 2010

September 9, 2010

September 9, 2010


“The primary purpose of a truly Catholic education is to illuminate our lives and our world with the power of truth and love…. Be love…do love…let the Spirit of Caritas Veritas shine through you this year and the rest of your life.”

Read on to view the illuminating homily given by Fr. Richard Woods, O.P. at the Mass to open our Academic Year.

1 Cor 12:31-13:13
Ps. 104
John 14:15-26

In Hebrew scripture, the Holy Spirit is always linked to prophecy, inspired words and actions that guided the Chosen People to their destiny. In Christian scripture, we find the same association — always the living presence of God, ultimately the Spirit of Jesus, that leads, guides, inflames, loves, and guards us. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence, surrounding us at every instant, lovingly inspiring us and leading us to recognize the truth. As Jesus says in the gospel, the Spirit lives with you and in you.

For generations, going all the way back to the Middle Ages, Catholic universities have begun the academic year with a Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, of Counsel and Fortitude, and godly reverence. The Spirit of Jesus.

Being at a Catholic university is not entirely the same as attending other institutions of higher education. Our students, staff and faculty are not primarily here (whether or not we always remember it) just to secure a well-paying job, now or later. The primary purpose of a truly Catholic education is to illuminate our lives and our world with the power of truth and love. Any other reason for being here must be secondary.

In a few days we will be observing the 9th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in which so many people lost their lives. That memory also shadows our celebration today, as it does our lives as Americans and citizens of any future world in which the clash of civilizations can prove to be incendiary. The question members of a Catholic university must ask in this regard and others like it is whether we will be peacemakers, promoting and practicing understanding, forgiveness, and reconciliation or whether we, too, will set fires of vengeance and persecution. Or perhaps just do nothing to put them out. Burning anyone’s sacred books can only be an affront to the Holy Spirit.

Our celebration is also tempered with the memory of a tough year – the devastation of Haiti, the disaster in the Gulf, the harrowing tragedies of floods in Pakistan and China, flash fires in Russia and Colorado, the plight of the Chilean miners… As Christians and Catholics, all such events are tied together in our concern for what our Jewish sisters and brothers call tikkun olam, the healing of the world. To them, a Happy New Year, and to our Muslim sisters and brothers, a joyful Eid as Ramadan comes to its conclusion later this week.

All of that frames our celebration of faith, hope, and love, and our hunger and thirst not only for learning, but for the wisdom, knowledge, counsel, insight and understanding, the courage and holy reverence that flow from the heart of God that can enable us to heal the hurting world.

Later this month we will be exploring the motto of the University, Caritas et Veritas. It is not accidental that both love and truth are designations of the Holy Spirit. Where love and truth flourish, we can be sure the Holy Spirit is present among us. And we not only know that presence but feel it in the quality of our life together. St. Paul tells us in that beautifully poetic passage what the effects of the Spirit are in our lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… not exactly qualities promoted in video war-games or current films, but worth considering as a real measure of spiritual health.

Looked at another way, these are the signs of civility, of good citizenship, and considerateness — features all-too lacking in the fast-paced, hectic world we live in where people are regarded as commodities or obstructions or simply ignored as we pass them by without a thought.

I recently read an article in which several psychologists worried about the effect of cell-phones, iPads, smartphones and their kind on the way we encounter others in our daily life. They fear, it said, “that people are spending enormous amounts of time cultivating virtual relationships at the expense of getting to know the flesh-and-bone folks standing right in front of them.” One psychologist, Stacey Rosenfeld, wrote, “People are in some moment, but they are not in the moment.” As a consequence, she says, “Etiquette has somewhat been thrown out the window.” I would add, not only etiquette, but basic kindness, courtesy, and civility. How can we be civil, much less kind, to someone we don’t even see?

When I saw Avatar early this summer, I was struck by the refrain that became a kind of slogan for a while, but has become even more meaningful than it seemed at the time. “ I see you.”

So here’s a challenge – if you find yourself inseparable from your i-gadgets, give yourself a spiritual breather. Put them away for a while when you walk across campus. Not forever, but occasionally. Look at the flesh-and-blood people you actually pass as your go from building to building. See them. Smile and say hello. It can brighten their whole day. Yours as well. And if someone greets you, smile and return the greeting. It’s a simple but vanishing courtesy. Looking up from your cell phone might also keep you from tripping over something, but the main thing is to be love, to do love, to let the Spirit of Caritas Veritas shine through you this year and the rest of your life. For you – we – , as St. Paul says elsewhere, are the true temple of the Spirit, the channel of God’s mercy, forgiveness, peace, and healing. So let’s get on it with it.

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