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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Mass of the Holy Spirit

Healy Lawn
August 31, 2010

This is how we begin. This is a timeless practice that is an element of our “way of life.” As our nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit University, there are dimensions of our identity that are revealed sacramentally – today, in this sacred ritual. This ritual is a touchstone. It provides a foundation for all of the work that takes place here. And it reminds us of three of the deepest convictions we share as a community.

In today’s readings, we are first reminded of a promise that we believe has been made to us. Isaiah tells us that “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon (us): a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge….” It is this promise—a promise kept—that is echoed by St. Paul when he writes that if we “have heard the word of truth,” if we have heard the “gospel of (our) salvation,” if we “have believed in him,” “we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” At its core, this is a promise that we are not—and will never be—alone. In Jesus’ own words from today’s Gospel, we will be given “another Advocate to be with (us) always—the Spirit of truth…(We will) know it, it remains in (us), and will be in (us)….”

To know that we enter a new year in the presence of this Spirit of wisdom and understanding—this advocate who will always be with us—is a source of the deepest consolation.

But it should also be a source of challenge. As Paul again tells us in his first letter to those gathered in Corinth: “The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.” What might such scrutiny reveal to us at this moment, as we begin a new academic season on the Hilltop?

We know that this is a challenging time. There is a coarseness, an anger, even a hatred that is present in our world—perhaps in ways that are even more acute in our own country.

But knowing that we are in the presence of the Spirit calls us to remember another part of our “way of life”…a second conviction—one that governs our engagement with one another. Especially at this time, this engagement requires us to be at our very best. We need to ask ourselves, are we bringing out the very best in others? Are we giving each other, even the stranger in our midst, the benefit of the doubt? Are we giving the best possible interpretation of one with whom we may be in disagreement? In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola in his “Presupposition” that begins the Spiritual Exercises: “…it should be presupposed that (we) would be more eagerly disposed to interpret another’s…opinion or expression in a benevolent way, rather than condemning it.”

St. Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated on Saturday, perhaps put it best when he noted: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.” The kind of search that Augustine speaks to is what Pope Benedict, in his visit to Washington just two years ago, called “nothing less than an act of love.”

St. Augustine, when mediating on the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, also offered that “without love they profit nothing.” And this is perhaps the deepest conviction we share as a community: That, as we engage with one another, the spirit of love—the spirit of tolerance, understanding, acceptance, respect, and charity—must infuse everything that we do as we strive to be at our very best…and to seek out the very best in each other.

Let us begin this new year renewing our commitment to this style of engagement—an engagement that is truly an act of love—knowing that we are not alone. We “always” have an “Advocate”…with us, the Spirit of truth….

Thank you.

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