Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Broadway musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, about a poor Jewish man who lived in Russia in 1900, there’s a song called, “If I Were a Rich Man.” The last verse of this song goes like this: “If I were a rich man, I’d have the time I need to sit in the synagogue and pray, and maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall, and I’d discuss the Holy Books with the learned men seven hours every day, and that would be the sweetest thing of all.”
The person who sings this song reflects an aspiration of the human race since its beginning, which is to know God. The fact that we have intelligence draws us on to try to understand the “why” of the world, why our world exists, why we exist. What our very humanity is can never be fully appreciated until we know God. Thomas Aquinas says this in one of his writings: “Since God is infinitely distant from creatures, no creature possesses toward God who is equal Him, either in what it receives from Him or in knowing Him. So the goal of the creature’s progress is not something infinitely remote from the creature but every creature is drawn to be more and more like God as far as it is able. So also the human mind should also be aroused to know more and more about God in a manner characteristic of it.”
St. Hilary says, “The person who with piety pursues the infinite may find it beyond his reach, but by advancing, he makes progress.” Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, said, “All of philosophy was caused by wonder at the causes of the world, the love of wisdom, but such wonder can only be still when a person could actually experience the primary reason the world exists without medium, and man cannot do this by his own power.” In other words, the more we understand about this world, the more we know we don’t know what the final explanation is, and we need God. Though man can know God’s existence through reason this can never be enough as he needs to know God in himself. He cannot do this unless God reveals himself. We need revelation. We need faith. And the fascination with trying to know God is what’s really been at the source of all peoples who search for Him throughout the centuries—discuss the Holy Books with the learned men seven hours every day.
That’s what we try to do here. Here we attempt to help people who are going to be priests, religious, or those who are going to be Catholic leaders instructing the faithful; to understand the Holy Books. We try to do this for many hours every day. We do this, again, because it’s not possible for us to be complete as human beings until we see God’s face in Heaven. We prepare for Him while we are here on earth.
When I was studying theology many years ago, I survived Berzerkley (that’s Berkeley to you people). I went to the seminary there from 1967 to 1973. What a time to be at Berzerkley! It was customary in those days to make banners in churches, and one of the banners used to read, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Now this would seem to present a humanism to us where we became happy by just our own power. Well the people who put this banner up—and this is truly a quote from St. Irenaeus, an early Father—forgot the second half of the quote. What the quote actually says is this: “The glory of God is man fully alive, but a man fully alive is a man who sees God.”
The entire history of the world and our own lives is a preparation to see God, and it’s absolutely necessary that we put this at the center focus of all that we study. We realize that in order to see God, God is not someone we create from our own emotion; He’s not someone we create from our own ideas. Philosophy in the nineteenth century was full of these mistaken ideas. The famous British cultural historian, Paul Johnson in his book Modern Times, which is about the twentieth century, says that the twentieth century began with two characteristic thinkers who basically presented the keynote for the twentieth century. The first was Einstein. He discovered the Theory of Relativity, but to his horror, he discovered that people took this, which was a physical theory, and turned it into a blueprint of life for everything that exists, so that it produced relativism in morals, something that Pope Benedict, as you know, spoke very strongly against when he became Pope, the dictatorship of relativism. Paul Johnson relates that Einstein was so horrified by this development that at the end of his life when he saw his little equation, E=mc2 turned into the atomic bomb, he actually said that if he had it to do all over again, he wished he’d just have stayed a simple watch-maker.
The other thinker was Sigmund Freud, who, because of a flawed theory of the soul, even though brilliant in his research, decided that we were products of forces beyond our control. As a result, he did away with the concept of personal responsibility. Relativism in truth, and no personal responsibility produced the horrors of the twentieth century in which more mass murder occurred than at any time in the history of the world. We can see this in even such a thing as the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes. I don’t know if you remember this cartoon strip or not, but Calvin says, “Nothing I do is my own fault. I’m the product of dysfunctional forces of which I have no control. Therefore, I’m free from all responsibility.” Remember his toy tiger, whom he imagines to be real but is actually his conscience, says, “One of us needs to stick his head in a bucket of ice water.”
This desire to know and experience the truth is what is behind all we are and only God can fill this. Again, St. Thomas says this: “Because our perfection consists in our union with God, we must have access to the divine to the fullest extent possible using everything in our power, that our mind may be occupied with contemplation and our reason with the investigation of divine realities. The psalms say, ‘It is good for me to adhere to my God.’ Aristotle, the pagan philosopher, rejects the opinion of those who held that we should not meddle with what is divine but only with what is human. He says, We must not follow those who advise us being human to think of human things and being mortal of mortal things, but in so far as we can make ourselves immortal and strain every nerve to live in accord with what is best in us.’”
We cannot become immortal without grace. We cannot become immortal without faith. When we experience this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we realize the final truth is a truth where God elevates us to see the world as He sees it, to see time from eternity, to get beyond, as Elizabeth of the Trinity used to say, the “secondary causes,” and enter deeply into God’s way of looking at the world because that’s not our way. And until this—Isaiah’s prophecy, “Oh you afflicted and storm-tossed and not comforted”—this is what will characterize the human race.
This seminary and all that Fr. Mosey has done in all the time he’s been here and the other people such as Fr. Mesnard who founded this place, everybody who’s ever worked here, what we’ve primarily been interested in is helping us to experience the divine that God gives us through grace and faith and to pass that onto others. This should be something we are most assiduous about pursuing.
Now this is, of course, what we’re here for, but the reality is sometimes a bit different. I came across something on the internet the other day. Some of you have heard me use this before, but I think it expresses, in some ways, my experience of the reality of teaching the faith even to seminarians for the last forty years. It begins with Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount, the Holy Books with the learned men every day. “And Jesus took his disciples up the mountain, and taught them saying ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
Then Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?”
Andrew said, “Are we supposed to know this?”
And James said, “Will we have a test on this?”
And Philip said, “What if we don’t know it?”
Bartholomew said, “Do we have to hand this in?”
Yeah this is the faith, the Holy Books with the learned men every day . . .
And John said the other disciples didn’t have to know this.
Matthew said, “When do we get out of here anyway?”
Judas said, “What does this all have to do with real life?”
One of the Pharisees present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plans, and inquired of Jesus’ terminal objectives in the cognitive domain.
This ends by saying, “And Jesus wept.”
And I know exactly how he feels.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, many prophets and kings have longed to see what you see and didn’t see it, to hear what you hear and didn’t hear it. Not only that, we have Vietnamese here, we have people who lived in the Iron Curtain, we have the privilege of being able to study our religion and to listen to the Holy Books from the learned men and not be persecuted for it. How can we possibly take this for granted? Our faith is the most precious thing on earth. It is not just another academic subject to be studied like math. It is the very center of God’s knowledge of Himself that we are asked to penetrate in Christ through Holy Mother the Church. Therefore, as you receive these degrees, let me encourage you to several things.
First, never stop studying the mystery. Christ is something we can never fully understand. I hope, especially the priests, will actually pick up a book sometime in the rest of their lives once they leave here. I’d be happy if they actually read the Summa once a year.
Secondly, in your presentation of your religion, strive for accuracy. In sermons, in confessions, in classes, strive to actually teach what the Church teaches. Sometimes when people come to me in schools, especially in the seminary school, they’ll say, “Be easy on them.” And I say, “Now let’s see. If you were going to go to a medical school and you were going to have surgery, what kind of doctor would you want to have performed surgery on you? Someone whose professor had been easy on him? Or someone who’d actually taught him medicine.” And then I say, “Where would you rather fail? Here, where I can correct you? Or in the confessional where you may destroy a soul?” You know, we’re dealing with life and death realities in this school. It’s not just another subject.
Thirdly, be loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in its past and present form. Many of us who teach religion realize that we’re dealing with three generations of uncatechized adults. How can this possibly be when we have an infrastructure in place to try to evangelize? Remember, it is Christ’s doctrine we’re speaking. We have to do this as Catholic through Holy Mother the Church.
Lastly, remember that theology is the science of God. It is our participation in the knowledge which the saints and angels have in heaven after they die. As a result, it’s as much a matter of prayer as it is study, although, we must never underestimate study.
When I first came to this school, people showed me over and over again this film The Reluctant Saint, about St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Franciscan who never studied, and they asked him the one question he knew on the exam and passed. I guess the students thought this was supposed to encourage me never to ask them questions or encourage them to study. I said, “Yeah, well just remember, St. Joseph of Cupertino also used to levitate. The next time I see you flying around the room, you won’t have to study, but until then, I’m sorry, you have to do it the hard way.” Grace, remember, doesn’t destroy nature, it builds on it. So it isn’t going to do any good if you’ve said all these prayers but never read the book. God expects you to open the book and look at it occasionally in order to pass the tests.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we should be about. The dictatorship of relativism has taken over our world. So many people lie in so many places. So many people cheat in so many places. Our morality has been shoved into a cocked hat. We must not allow that to happen to us. But as we are permitted to listen to the Holy Men and study the Holy Books seven hours a day, let us always look deeply to Christ who, after all, is the final wisdom.
St. Thomas Aquinas, who’s reputed to be one of the most holy men to ever live in the Catholic Church, received a vision from Our Lord. Jesus asked him, “What reward can I give you, Thomas, for all you have written, taught, and studied about me?”
St. Thomas’ answer must be ours. “Non nisi te, Domine.” Nothing but You, O Lord.
Sites That Link to this Post
- LISTEN: Fr. Mullady's Commencement Address | Spero Laus | May 30, AD 2014