Father President, Your Excellency, Bishop DArcy, my dear brother priests, my dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life, members of the faculty and administration, my dear fellow graduates of the Class of 2008 and, in a special way, your mothers and fathers and your families. I want to say that the valedictorian really set the bar very high for the rest of us this afternoon.
First of all, may I greet my dear brother and friend, Bishop John DArcy.The Bishop has been a wonderful, thoughtful and courageous servant of the Church, especially here in Indiana, for so many years.He has also been a great and loyal friend of Notre Dame.It was at his encouragement that I accepted the awesome privilege of talking to you all today, a task which I approach with deep recognition of the honor and the responsibility of trying to say something that will truly be meaningful and not just for today, but for your future.
On that note, I want to mention that I had heard that a number of my fellow graduates had hoped that the famous Bono might be our commencement speaker.Now as a friend of Bono, I also thought that would be a good idea, and so I did the next best thing.I called him and I told him about our graduation and I asked him to give me a thought that I might share with you.I told him it could be serious or funny.His serious thought was very powerful.For me it was like a short meditation.
He asked me to tell you to choose your enemies carefully, because you will be defined by that choice.He suggested that often times, our enemies are within us, and he volunteers that his enemy had been indifference.I answered for all of us that he had certainly conquered that enemy, and that his extraordinary commitment to the poor and the sufferings of the world, especially the underdeveloped nations of Africa, was a great testimony to the victory.I just thought I would share with you this powerful message today and at the same time, to give you his regards.
I want also to greet our Laetare Medalist, President Josiah Bart- I mean, Martin Sheen, who in so many ways has been a great example to every one of us.I suspect there may be a number of write-in ballots to return him to the West Wing next November.
Truly, it is really an honor and a privilege for me to be giving this talk.I know that I join an extraordinary group of distinguished Americans and citizens of the world who have stood before a graduating class of Notre Dame over the years.I realize that I am very much out of place among them, but I join them with great recognition of the honor which you do me today, which I have in speaking to you.
I want to offer my joyful congratulations to all of you as you achieve this great milestone in your life.To graduate from the University of Notre Dame is an honor and a distinction that will be with you for the rest of your lives.Allow me too, to congratulate your parents and your families and to thank them for the sacrifices which they have made to make it possible for you to come to this University.For them, there is a justifiable pride today as you graduate from Notre Dame.
Let me begin with a story.Its a personal story, but hopefully it will give you a smile.Some weeks ago, I was visiting one of my nieces who has been blessed with a large number of children.In the course of a conversation with her six-year-old – very difficult to have a long conversation with a six year-old – but in the course of that conversation, I mentioned that I was going to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame.The little guy said:Notre Dame, WOW!He said it so loudly that his mother came in from the kitchen and asked what that was all about.When I told her, she looked at me and smiled.And then she said,WOW!(As you see, we are a bit vocabulary-challenged in my family.)That is not the end of the story.When my 13-year-old nephew came home an hour later, his little brother told him immediately about the honorary degree.He got it right, although he pronounced it somewhat heroically.The teenager, on hearing the news, turned to his mother in disbelief and said in his high, subtly changing falsetto:Uncle Ted, a degree from Notre Dame?REALLY!
Two WOWS and a REALLY – and from three different age groups!What an enormous tribute to any institution.There is probably not a college in the nation that can do better than that.Lets talk about why for a few minutes this afternoon, and reflect on the challenge and responsibility that comes from being that kind of a place in the hearts and minds of people.
For most people in our country, I would guess that Notre Dame is a combination of a number of great and wonderful things.It is an outstanding house of studies, a true educational powerhouse, a center of scientific and sociological research, a welcome harbor for reflection and spiritual values, a place where learning and athletic excellence tend to go hand in hand, an ever-developing think tank for the nation and for the world.Notre Dame, indeed, is all those things, but as a Catholic university it is more.My own Archbishop, Donald Wuerl, who has been a great grace to the Church in our country as a major Catholic educator and leader, spoke to a national educational association a few months ago in these words:A Catholic university has the unique capacity to deal with and emphasize the spiritual dimension of human life.Revelation, religious conviction and faith enable the student and professor to carry our understanding of human existence beyond the natural and physically viable into the spiritual dimension needed for full and complete human life.
Our own Professor Scott Appleby – you note that I sayour ownbecause I already feel that I am close to graduating – mentions that diversity is one of the great strengths of Catholic higher education.He speaks of different types of Catholic institutions, one of which mighturge retreat into a Catholic enclave walled with great books, others which would stress the centrality of a vibrant campus ministry and liturgical life.Still others, which would prioritize social outreach and justice and peace activism or awareness as the guarantor of Catholic identity.But as we look at Notre Dame, it can claim all three of those models to mirror and so to represent what is best in Catholic higher education.
In a sense, Notre Dame faces an enormous challenge. It is not an ordinary university.It is not an ordinary Catholic university.Oftentimes, the fact of your singular prominence and your scholastic excellence in fields of study both classic and prophetic implies a greater responsibility.The world of academe has always understood that to those to whom more has been given, more may be required.In the world of Catholic universities, a leader must strive to be first not only in scholarship and in vision, but first in example and in the courageous witness to the truths which it holds and teaches.
That is true, I believe, not only of those who profess our faith or who are guided by our rule of life, but in a real sense true of all who sign on as crew or passengers on this exciting voyage on the high seas of university education.
Pope Benedict, just a month ago on his historic journey to our country, summed it up with eloquence and clarity:First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the Living God Who, in Jesus Christ, reveals His transforming love and truth . . . in this way, those who meet Him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true.Notre Dame fits that description, and perhaps nowhere more than in the great spiritual and pastoral life it offers to its students.
And so, today is for me – your new and rather ancient classmate – a very great honor to sign on with you as you come to the glorious conclusion of this adventure, sailing these waves of higher education through calm seas and sometimes turbulent ones.I pray that this sail has been a happy one for you.It has, of course, not been without the challenges that taught you how to grow in your ability to stand fast as you learned to navigate the weaving decks of changing times and shifting currents, to gain a balance of your strengths and opportunities, and to seek the signs that are necessary to understand as you join the multitudes of other travelers along the paths that hopefully lead to the fulfillment of your dreams.
But we still need to discover what is it that Notre Dame deserves two WOWS and a REALLY.What do people look to see in the men and women of Notre Dame?Maybe another story will help.This past year has been a specially blessed one for Notre Dame.It was the year in which the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross was solemnly recognized by the Church as Blessed.Brilliant educator, zealous missionary, prudent leader and meticulous administrator, Blessed Basil Moreau made a difference in his own lifetime – and, through the Congregations he founded, in the lives of millions of men and women, just like you and me.
We should not be surprised if the kind of education we receive at Notre Dame bears the mark of Blessed Basil Moreau, so that if we look at him and his history, we may deepen our understanding of why the reputation of this University brings out the OHs and the AHs, the WOWS and the REALLYs of so many.
Born in 1799 and died in 1873, Father Moreau lived the challenging political and religious life of France in an age of vast and rapid change.The great blessing of Basil is that he never changed, he was always the same person, dedicated to education, especially dedicated to the education of the poor.A humble man, and yet a strong man.A man who could be direct, and a man who could be stubborn, but always a man who loved the Church, embraced the Holy Cross and loved his Congregation.
It was his extraordinary trust in God and his confidence in Gods help which allowed him to face challenge and difficulty, obstacle and disappointment. Blessed Basil found it most important that education be filled with hope.Constantly he would talk of his priests and brothers as those who have cause to bemen with hope to bring, those who could make God known, loved and served, for there is the promise we are called to live.It is interesting that Pope Benedict when he came to America last month spoke clearly to this in a very similar way:Catholic education is an outstanding apostolate of hope. To all of you I say bear witness to hope, account for the hope that characterizes your lives by living the truth which you propose to your students.
The Pope is very clear about what real Catholic education is all about.He said,Catholic identity is not dependent on statistics.Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content.It demands and inspires much more:namely, that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberate with the ecclesial light of faith.Basil Moreau is not far behind him.Listen to his words:Education in its proper sense implies the expansion and cultivation of all the faculties, mental and physical – the cultivation of the heart as well as the mind, and of these the formation and enrichment of the heart is undoubtedly the most important of the two.He goes on to say the education of the heart and the development of a family spirit in each school at every level was what embodied the educational vision of Blessed Basil.
Yet it was not just the family spirit that ensummarized the educational vision of Blessed Basil.He wanted an institution that was excellent.He would suffer no compromise with excellence.That was a quest that every one of his schools should have and he is very clear about it.He was determined that his schools, the schools of the Congregation, be not only equal to and able to compete with the schools of the state, but that they accept in every form, in every field the challenge of being better.Here is a quote from Basil on education:No one need fear that we shall confine our teaching within narrow and unscientific boundaries; no, we wish to accept science without prejudice and in a manner adapted to the needs of the times.But we shall always place education side by side with instruction, the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.
In the quest for excellence in education, there can always be shades of opinion.The Holy Father spoke of them in his great homily at Yankee Stadium last month.Pope Benedict says,Authority, obedience, to be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays.Words like these represent a stumbling block for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which places a high value on freedom.But the Gospel teaches us that true freedom is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love.Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves.Blessed Basil would have no trouble with that, believing it, teaching it and organizing his religious Congregation on the basis of those principles.He says in the preface to his book on Christian education a wonderful statement,Society . . .needs people of virtue more than people of learning.This comes from a man who was really an educator and determined to make sure that people learned, but he never lost his compass.He never lost the value system which was so important for his life and his work.
There is still another element that we can always see clearly in the reflection of Basil Moreau.We must be able to see this always as we look at Notre Dame and, indeed, as we look at ourselves as well.It is Basils dedication to the education of the poor.He writes to his brothers,If at times you show preference to any young person it should be to the poor, to those who have no one else to show them preference, to those who have the least knowledge, to those who lack skills and talents and to those who are not Catholic or Christian.He was determined to reach out to those who didnt have the opportunities that he and others had, the grace, the chance, the gifts!The wonderful story when as a youth, he entered the seminary at Le Mans, his father walked with him the 50 miles of the journey, embraced him and walked back home again on foot.Basil knew what it was to be poor.He would never turn the poor away.
He also knew that the whole person is not just mind and body, but mind and body and soul.And therefore, this institution, so firmly founded in this family in the Church must never cease to give the clear signs that it has never lost its character as a place where the inspired teachings of its founder are revered and modeled and where the values of the Gospel are lived and proclaimed.I truly believe that it is on this foundation that all those WOWS and REALLYs are brought to life.
In an eloquent talk in Rome to the trustees of the University, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, a member of the family of Moreau, speaks very clearly and beautifully.He asks the question,Is there any other single Catholic school you know about that has at last count, 64 chapels where Mass is celebrated and the Eucharist is reserved?Is there any place on earth, except perhaps Lourdes and Rome, where Mary is more deeply and universally reverenced than at her school and at her campus?Blessed Basil once wrote to his religious community,An education that is complete is one in which the hearts and hands are engaged as much as the mind.And that is certainly what he had in mind when he launched this great enterprise of Catholic education.
Shortly after his inauguration as President of the University, Father Jenkins convened a national task force on the future of Catholic schools in the United States.The teaching of Basil Moreau is echoed on every page of that document and initiatives, like Notre Dames Alliance for Catholic Education, are signs not just of the importance of Catholic education that is seen so clearly here, but a desire to be faithful to the teaching of Blessed Basil to give the poor the very best in education to break through the cycle of poverty and to proclaim the dignity of every human being.To that accomplishment we can proudly add the work of The Catholic Peacebuilding Network, to which Notre Dame has given a home, like the Kroc Institute, as well as many of the countless other initiatives, which have put Notre Dame in the forefront of initiatives for a better, a more just and humane and peaceful world.
I guess I give a lot of credit to Blessed Basil Moreau.I believe that his spirit is still present here in a special way.It is the spirit of a combative, zealous, brilliant and courageous man.His life is an adventure of faith, an adventure of generosity and what we say of Blessed Basil, we must be able to say of Notre Dame.This then is the challenge.Whatever your faith, whatever your background, whatever your talents, use them for others, build a better world, strive beyond your own abilities, reach beyond your grasp, make a difference.If a man whose long life was almost totally confined to a middle-sized city in the northwestern part of France could be responsible for the revolution in American Catholic education that Notre Dame has accomplished, and continues to accomplish, then you and I can accept no lesser challenge than that of making our globalized world more human and more humane, more committed to the protection of life and dignity, of peace and justice, of faith and love.It is because of this commitment that Notre Dame merits at least two WOWS and a REALLY and why you and I must live so that we deserve them, too.
May God bless you on your journey, dear friends, dear fellow graduates, and may angels go with you and keep you safe along the way.