Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
Advent Reflections: Gaudete Sunday
December 12, 2010
It is always reassuring when we come together in Advent. We are bringing a close to the first semester. It is Christmas time and we anticipate the joy of time with family, with those we love and those who love us. And the readings at this time of year always provide such consolation.
I always found reassurance, particularly when I was a student, in exam time, in lines like: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!”
The words we are presented this evening — the emphasis on patience — are so appropriate for the work that shapes an academic community. Just as the “farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it…” we are asked “to…be patient…because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
So much of what began more than three months ago—those first papers, experiments, and early seminar discussions—we now await our own “precious fruit”—the “fruit” of the countless hours of study, and conversation, and engagement in the life of the Academy.
I think what is so powerful about the Advent Season is the juxtaposition of the sheer beauty and joy of this moment, as we collect ourselves and remember the coming of our Savior, with the presence of a Prophet, in fact, someone who is “more than a prophet”—John the Baptist.
Prophets are not easy to listen to. It is hard to recognize them when they are amongst us. We tune them out or don’t hear them at all. As Rabbi Heschel reminds us: “The prophet…employs notes one octave too high for our ears….”1
It can be hard to identify a prophet. One of our colleagues, here at Georgetown, holds the Ignacio Ellacuria Chair, named for this Jesuit martyr of El Salvador. Father Ellacuria once wrote: “A university is a Christian university when its horizon is the people of the very poor….”2 Ignacio Ellacuria was a prophet.
When in 1973, Father Pedro Arrupe asked, in the speech entitled “Women and Men for Others”: “Have we Jesuits educated you for justice?” His answer is a prophetic answer: “No, we have not. If the terms “justice” and “education for justice” carry all the depth of meaning which the church gives them today, we have not educated you for justice.…”3 Pedro Arrupe was a prophet.
Christians are asked to live with some very difficult questions:
Do we love others as we are commanded to? Do we forgive those who do not treat us with love—those who treat us unfairly, with contempt or disdain? We asked to love one another, even our enemies.
Do we “presuppose” the best in one another? Do we begin every encounter with the assumption that first we are to understand, to inquire, and not to condemn?
Do we seek the “magis”—those ways in which we can serve more, love more, care more—to fulfill the promise of the words right above me: Ad Majorem de Gloriam inque Hominum Salutem—“for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humankind.
A hard truth of the Advent Season, amidst all of the joy and beauty of Christmas, is the reminder that in addition to these questions, there are questions that will come to us from prophets, prophets that will be hard to recognize and hard to listen to.
In Advent, especially on such a special day as this, we all share in the consolation of knowing that ours is a God who has come to save us. That we will be “crowned with everlasting joy.” That we “will meet with joy and gladness,” that “sorrow and mourning will flee.”
A blessed Christmas for everyone.
1. Heschel, Abraham J. The Prophets. New York: Harper & Row, 1962, 10.
2. Ellacuria, Ignatio. “Is a Different Kind of University Possible?” 1992. Towards a Society That Serves Its People. Ed. John Hassett and Hugh Lacey. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1992, 207.
3. Arrupe, Pedro, S.J. “Men and Women for Others.” 1973, Valencia, Spain.