Archbishop Celestino Migliore
Apostolic Nuncio to United Nations
Commencement Address to the Class of 2006
Dr. Dillon, President of Thomas Aquinas College; Mrs. Maria Grant, Chairman of the Board of Governors; Reverend Fathers, faculty, graduates, students, and friends: It is a great privilege for me to be here to address the graduating class of 2006. I am honored to receive the St. Thomas Aquinas Medallion from such a prestigious college known for its excellence in education and in preparing individuals for a life of the mind, of action, and spirituality.
My dear graduates, you, your parents, and your tutors ought to be proud of all you have accomplished during your scholastic career. Some of you may be surprised that a bishop is telling you to be proud. As you know from your good Catholic education, pride leads the list of the seven deadly sins.
Nevertheless, there is a certain kind of pride that is legitimate, even useful and necessary. We can call it by another name, for example, self-respect, or the ability to recognize the good things that we are capable of accomplishing. It is the pride that we find in the Parable of the Talents, where those entrusted with the talents were able to invest them and earn another ten or five. It is the specific pride of a Catholic college like yours. Today I would like to invite you to reflect upon how you can justly be proud of your faith and of your ability to make a positive contribution to society as citizens of the United States and of this world.
Called to Be a Diplomat
I ask your indulgence as I speak a bit of my personal experience. I would like to share with you my first-hand knowledge of this particular pride. Dr. Dillon introduced me as the representative of the Pope at the United Nations in New York. You may think this is something I chose to do or that I may have had an inclination towards this type of work, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I come from a family with no experience or tradition in diplomacy; therefore, I had no idea what this work entailed. I was born and raised in the northern region of Italy, in a town called Cuneo. While you may not be familiar with the name, most of you heard a lot about Torino as it was the site of the Winter Olympics. Well, that’s my region.
When I was a boy I had many friends who were altar boys, and we would spend a lot of time together. There I knew a priest whom I admired very much because he was a wise man and had the ability of using his gifts for the service of others. This priest knew a lot about many things and was a man who was accessible to his people 24/7. His character, his wisdom, his availability to serve the poorest of the poor fascinated me, and I said to myself that I wanted to be like him. I did not yet know at the time what it meant to be a priest, but I wanted to be like that pastor who put himself at the service of all. With this in mind, I entered the seminary, began my studies and gradually learned what it meant to be a priest. At times I was discouraged because I thought it was impossible to realize, but the desire to emulate that model of priesthood always sustained me.
Shortly after my ordination, my bishop called me and told me that I was being sent to Rome to begin specialized studies for the diplomatic representations of the Holy See around the world. I thought it was a bad dream. I knew nothing of this kind of work. In fact, it seemed totally contrary to my ideals. I was afraid that it was bureaucratic work, office work, in which I would not be able to do any good for anyone.
My immediate response was that I was unable to accept. But the bishop insisted saying, ‘Look at the Gospel: Peter was a fisherman; he never attended school — he only knew how to fish — and yet, he began to follow Jesus. Eventually at a certain point, Peter, who always lived in Palestine and spoke only Aramaic, got into a boat and went to Rome which was the capital of the world at the time. In Rome he met many people. He spoke frequently to the first Christian community and had to learn Latin since that was the language of the Romans. From a man who barely knew his own geography of Galilee and the skill of fishing, Jesus made him a man capable of confronting life in the capital of the world. Matthew, likewise, was a tax collector. He knew how to add and to collect other people’s taxes. Nothing more. He decided to follow Jesus and became a writer whom we admire to this day, two thousand years later, whenever we read the Gospel according to Matthew.’
With that, I accepted my bishop’s invitation, having faith in his words, and I never regretted having said yes.
Earlier I spoke of a just pride. Well, I feel proud, not of myself, but of Him who has called me, of Him who proposed things far beyond what I was able to accept; of Him whom I once accepted and who has followed me, has given me perseverance, tenacity, the willingness to go forward, and the courage to start again after difficulties.
This is the difference a Catholic college ought to make: that is, to offer a diploma of the highest academic standards, and to offer the ways and means to obtain the highest level of personal—human and spiritual—and social achievement.
“A Lever Long Enough”
In your study of physics you most likely came across that famous quote by Archimedes: “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can move the earth.” Our world, our society desperately needs a jolt. Any successful Catholic college, such as Thomas Aquinas College, from which you are graduating today, strives to give its students “the lever long enough,” in the form of the highest level of education. In addition, you have been given the most important element, “the place to stand” to use that lever, that is, your personal, communal, and ecclesial relationship with God. Now, it’s up to you to make good use of that lever, and to treasure the transcendent place to stand, which I hope will be for you a source of personal and social creativity. That is one thought I would like to leave with you graduates this day.
The Natural Law Must Take Precedence
There is a second message. When speaking of diplomacy, of the work that I do, one often thinks of hypocrisy. Indeed, diplomacy is a word full of meaning. The popular notion is that which comes from Machiavelli when he said: “Diplomacy is the art of getting what you want at any cost and by any means.” How can the Holy See accept this concept of diplomacy, this vision of things?
My time in the diplomatic service has taught me that what changes the world is not might, but the truth. The truth is not simply reporting facts and verifying the accuracy of words and figures without distortion; rather, it is a natural law that cannot contradict itself and which takes precedence over the laws of any state and deliberations of international institutions.
The Catholic Church is convinced that real democracy cannot be based simply upon the majority opinion of any given moment in time. A viable democracy recognizes the authority it has comes from a set of universally accepted principles upon which every political society is founded. These principles can be found in the national constitutions and in the great international declarations — which merge together in recognizing natural law, a healthy philosophical and religious spirit, and the principles and experiences that have established a national community. For this reason, the subsequent laws voted upon by a particular majority must always be in accord with fundamental, objective values. These values, once acknowledged as true, may be updated and expressed in contemporary ways, but never abrogated.
In Truth, Peace
At the start of this year, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Catholics and all women and men of good will, inviting them to unite their efforts in reflection, cooperation, dialogue, and prayer to overcome terrorism and build a just and peaceful coexistence in the human family. In his message for World Day of Peace, entitled In Truth, Peace, the Pope expressed “the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.”
In particular, Pope Benedict spoke of two trends that are very fashionable today: nihilism and fundamentalism. These two trends “share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God Himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God’s existence and His provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures His loving and merciful countenance, replacing Him with idols made in its own image.”
In view of those risks, “all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty … to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidating the truth of peace. God is Love which saves, a loving Father who wants to see His children look upon one another as brothers and sisters, working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common good of the human family.…History has amply demonstrated that declaring war on God in order to eradicate Him from human hearts only leads a fearful and impoverished humanity toward decisions which are ultimately futile. This realization must impel believers in Christ to become convincing witnesses of the God who is inseparably truth and love, placing themselves at the service of peace in broad cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all men and women of good will.”
Be Proud of God
Today’s ceremony at which degrees will be conferred suggests an ending, an end of a long period of intense study. And yet, ironically, this ceremony is called a “commencement.” This word comes from the Latin which means “a beginning,” “a start.”
Today you are going to start or begin a new chapter in your lives. And so, dear graduates, as you pursue your studies or begin your respective professional lives, be proud of Thomas Aquinas College where you learned to walk side by side with God in your life; be proud of God who at any time can make of you a new creation, a new being. Remember the values and virtues imparted by your Catholic education here at Thomas Aquinas College and seek to use your voice as a means of spreading truth and love.