Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
Address at the Mass of the Holy Spirit
September 1, 2009
Good afternoon. Each year we begin by gathering together here, as a
community, to witness to one another our shared commitment to a faith.
We might say, it is a "tradition," that we begin each year this way.
This word gets used quite a bit at times like this, at the opening of a
new. I wish to share a few reflections with you this afternoon on the
nature of a tradition and how it connects, within our tradition, to the
presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is a community shaped and informed by a tradition. The word can
mean many things. It can refer to a "long-established custom," like this
annual celebration of this Mass. It can refer to "social conventions,"
like the respect our undergraduates show for the University Seal on the
front steps of Healy. Perhaps the definition that comes closest to the
most appropriate meaning for our community is "a body of teachings
transmitted...from generation to generation...." (The Oxford English
Dictionary, Second Edition, Volume XVIII)
We are the heirs to an extraordinary tradition. It is a tradition
captured in the sacraments; it is a tradition captured in canonical
texts; it is a tradition captured in sacred art and architecture; it is
a tradition captured in acts of social justice; it is a tradition
captured in the practice of inter-religious understanding; it is a
tradition embodied in the lives and example of the 50 Jesuit saints; it
is a tradition that is animated by an Ignatian imagination and in the
practices that have captured this "way of proceeding"-no set of
practices more significant than the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
The Exercises offer us an ever deeper way of thinking about the meaning
of tradition. And in a way that is especially appropriate for this day.
In the final exercise of the Spiritual Exercises, called the
"Contemplation to Attain Love," Ignatius invites us to reflect on how
the Creator "dwells in creatures" and further, how the Creator actually
"works and labors on our behalf in all created things on the face of the
earth." And the prayer concludes in words that will be familiar: we
offer God our "liberty, memory, understanding and entire will," making
ourselves completely available for God's project in the world.
If we recall the Latin root of the word tradition, traditio, refers to
the action of "handing over." In this final scene, we can see the mutual
"handing over" taking place between God and us. God "hands over" to us
the work of bringing about the fulfillment of God's project on earth,
and we "hand over" ourselves to God in making ourselves completely
available for God's work in the world.
It is this understanding of "tradition" that we recall today. This
mutual "handing over" comes about through the work of the Spirit, a
Spirit, present among us, right here, right now. By calling on the Holy
Spirit in this sacred liturgy, we pray as a community that this mutual
"handing over" may be fully realized in all that we do in the coming year.
We launch our work and labor together, at the beginning of this academic
year, as we do every academic year, animated by our tradition, and
sustained by the Word of God.
We ask the Spirit to be our "Advocate," to ensure we are open to the
grace of God and completely available for God's work in the world-for
God's work that will take place here, on this Hilltop, in the coming
year. An "Advocate," who is with us "always."