Homily of His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze
May 15, 2004
1. The Light of the Holy Spirit
My dear brothers in the priesthood, my dear graduates, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Church prays and reflects very much about the light of the Holy Spirit, about God, teaching the hearts of His faithful people by sending them the light of His Spirit, and about that Holy Spirit giving us right judgment. The Church prays also for the joy of the comfort and guidance of God's Holy Spirit, that we be freed and cleansed from our sins, and that we be made rich in love for God and for one another.
At this solemn Baccalaureate Mass, we reflect on the importance of this major milestone in the lives of these young people, these graduating seniors. In the first lesson, just read, Christ promises his Apostles the Holy Spirit as He sends them to be his witnesses everywhere until the end of the world. In the second lesson, St. Paul writes the Romans about the importance of living their Christian freedom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that they produce fruit worthy of this Spirit. And in the Gospel, our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spells out in the eight Beatitudes the manifesto, the way of life, of the Kingdom of God that He was inaugurating.
The road to our reflection is marked out for us. We are educated in freedom in the Spirit. We are to walk in the light of Christ. Our conscience, our practical guide, is to be aligned to the truth. And we are grateful to this Catholic College for its contribution in this whole direction.
2. Human Freedom in, and according to, God's Ordering
These will now be the points for our reflections. First of all, human freedom is in accordance with God's ordering, but it has to align itself to God's plan. God is good. He alone is good (cf: Mt 19:17). He is goodness itself. He created us. He loves us. He knows perfectly well what is good for us. God has written this law into our nature. The ten commandments are an expression of God's plan of good for us. Before giving us the ten commandments on tablets of stone through Moses on Mt. Sinai, God first engraved the ten Commandments in the human heart, in human nature, so much so that peoples and cultures not yet reached by the Gospel of Jesus Christ understand, more or less, the ten commandments. That is the will of God for us, that is the natural law, or, if you like, the eternal law of God with reference to us humans. That is God's, the Maker's instructions for us.
This law of God is for our good. It protects our freedom. When we accept this law and live according to it, we are free. When we go against it, we abuse our freedom and damage ourselves. The railings on top of a 30-storey building are meant to protect the visitors from falling off. The railings are not meant to take away the freedom of the visitors to run around. They are not meant to curtail their freedom to go where they like. If a particular visitor, less advised, ignores this obvious fact and declares that he or she is not going to be bound by the railings on top of a 30-storey building, and they will go where they like, then they will fall headlong down and become orthopaedic cases, that is, if they are still alive! They have abused their freedom.
Freedom does not mean I do what I like. Freedom means I follow the Maker's instruction so that I become all I can become. You cannot reach the height of your potential against the plan of God. You cannot become all you can become against the instructions of your Maker.
It is not we who create the objective order of moral right and wrong. This is God's prerogative. It is not we who make a thing right or wrong. It is God who made it so. Genuine human freedom should not be interpreted to mean absolute moral sovereignty. We become truly free when we recognize and accept God's arrangement. In this sense, Jesus has told us, "If you remain in my word, you will be truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:31-32; cf: John Paul II Veritatis Splendor, 35, 36).
So the truth does not depend on 'I think,' much less on 'I say.' Sincerity is good, but it is not the only virtue. There is another virtue called objectivity. Every professor of mathematics knows that. If sincerity were the only virtue required, all of the students that did arithmetic would pass because all of them were sincere. But the professor is not satisfied with sincerity alone; there will have to be objectivity. Today is Saturday. You may think it is Sunday. You may declare it is Friday. You may actually be a good person, and also very sincere. But it is Saturday.
Original sin took place because Adam and Eve tried to gain superior knowledge by asserting their freedom to act against the clearly known will of God. They knew the will of God. They decided to go against it. They fell. They became slaves. Their lower instincts began to rebel against reason. St. Paul describes the ensuing disorder. In his Letter to the Romans he writes, "I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?" He replies, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rm 7: 21-25), that is, Christ will save us with the splendor of the truth if we will have the objectivity to subject ourselves to the splendor of the truth shining in the face of Christ.
As the Founding Document of Thomas Aquinas College puts it, "Divine revelation therefore frees the faithful Christian from those specious and yet absurd notions of freedom which, because they are false and subvert the life of reason, deceitfully enslave all who believe in them. In particular, it teaches that self-rule is not the same as independence, but rather that the assertion of complete independence destroys the capacity for self-rule" (A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, 1969, pp. 21-22).
To escape this self-imprisonment, human freedom has to learn to walk in the light of Christ. "Self-imprisonment," yes, because every sinner is a prisoner. The sinner is the prisoner of uncontrolled instincts. The sinner built to himself or herself a prison, put an iron door there, went inside it, locked it, put the key in their pocket, and then cried our 'They have imprisoned me!' Who imprisoned you? You have the answer in your pocket. You are the architect of your own misery. You refuse to walk in the light. You cannot be saved against your will. You have to be willing to open your eyes and walk in the light, the light of Christ.
3. Walking in the Light of Christ
Jesus Christ is "the true light which enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9). We are called to become "light in the Lord," "children of light," says St. Paul to the Ephesians (Eph 5:8). We shall be made free and holy by "obedience to the truth" (I Pet 1:22). Obedience to the truth does not humble us. It makes us better. If you are doing mathematics, acceptance of reality [frees you]. If you are doing science, obedience to what is fact liberates you.
For all this to happen in the area of faith, our faith must be dynamic and living, faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is not simply a set of propositions to be intellectually accepted. Rather it is life in Christ. It is lived knowledge of Christ. It is life according to the eight Beatitudes announced in the Gospel just read. It is the whole-hearted entrusting of oneself to Christ. Christ, you have the words of life; to whom else shall we go? You are the truth. You are the way. It is communion of love and life with Christ who described himself as "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). This faith in practice shows itself as love of God and love of our brothers and sisters (cf: Veritatis Splendor, 1, 88).
Jesus calls us to this life in communion with him. He says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15). St. John, the beloved disciple, is clear; he says, "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say, 'We have fellowship with Him,' while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth....The way we may be sure that we know Him is to keep His commandments," says St. John (I Jn 1:5-6; 2:3).
Lived out authentically, faith becomes witness: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me," says our Savior (Lk 9:23). Lived to its final and radical degree, the life of faith ends in martyrdom. It may be martyrdom of blood for those killed for Christ, or it may be martyrdom of an heroic Christian life where a person bears the trials of every day with fidelity and constancy. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13). St. Paul knew what it meant to live for Christ and in Christ: "For me, life is Christ, and death is gain" (Philp. 1:21). The martyrs exercised freedom and life in Christ and defended moral truth to such an heroic degree that they were ready to die rather than commit one mortal sin. Therefore the Church proposes them for our imitation.
4. Conscience and Truth
Truth, yes. But what of conscience. If a person says, 'But my conscience tells me that this is right,' what are we to reply? The voice of conscience is important. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council call conscience "the most secret core and sanctuary of the human being. There the human being is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the person" (Gaudium et Spes, 16).
How we conceive the relationship between freedom and law is intimately connected with how we understand moral conscience. Freedom and law are not to be set against each other. Many people understand conscience to mean, 'For me, this is right.' Another says, 'For me, that is wrong.' You say, 'I am not going to impose my own moral vision on you.' So, for you, this may be Saturday. For me, it is Sunday. Another says its Friday. Another says its Thursday evening."
"In the depths of his conscience," says Vatican II, "the human being detects a law which does not impose on the person but which holds the person to love good and avoid evil. The voice of conscience can when necessary speak to the person's heart more specifically: 'do this, avoid that.' For a person has in their heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of a human being; according to it the person will be judged" (Gaudium et Spes, 16). So, we have to take our conscience seriously.
St. Paul teaches that conscience confronts a person with the law and thus becomes a witness for the person on whether the person is faithful to the law or otherwise: "The demands of the law are written in their hearts (St. Paul speaks of the Gentiles), while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them" (Rm 2:15).
St. Bonaventure teaches that "conscience is like God's herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God's authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of a king. This is why conscience has binding force" (In II Librum Sentent. Dist. 39, a 1, q. 3, quoted in Veritatis Splendor, 58), because conscience is the practical dictate of reason, telling a person 'This is right; do it;' 'That is wrong; don't do it.'
Therefore, conscience gives a moral judgment about what we are to do or not to do, and it assesses actions already done. It applies the natural law to particular cases.
But conscience has to be educated. It is not supreme. It is not exempt from the possibility of error. If a person wants to have a "good conscience" (I Tim 1:5), that person must be ready to seek the truth and to formulate judgments in accordance with that truth. Otherwise the person can lapse into scepticism or moral subjectivism or theological relativism by which you hold that 'This is your view. For you this is right. For me it is wrong. For another person it is half right. For another person it is half wrong. And therefore, nothing is objectively right or wrong.' You are not serious! If somebody takes your car and says, 'For me, it is right,' you are not amused.
Pontius Pilate is an example of one who asked 'What is truth?' And then he turns away from the Truth because he is afraid to be challenged by the Truth. Pontius Pilate is the patron of all those who are looking for the truth on the condition that they never meet, because truth can challenge us.
In front of God, speaking to us through conscience, we have to beg God to help us to follow the light of Christ so that we do not close our eyes to the splendor of the truth. Conscience can be educated.
5. The Role of a Catholic College or University
To conclude, brothers and sisters, from these reflections, we can ask what a Catholic college or university can or should do to educate its students to walk in the light of Christ.
Such a Catholic educational institution should educate its students under the light of the Catholic faith. It should show them how our faith can be our guide in the intellectual and moral life. After all, liberal education is ordered towards genuine intellectual freedom. This freedom is founded on knowing the truth, accepting it, and living according to it.
The Catholic university is not without help for this formation. It has the riches of divine revelation as manifested in Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. It has the light-giving patrimony of the teaching of the Church, presented to us by the living Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, concretized in the Pope and the Bishops in union with him. It is helped by the wisdom of such giants as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure.
No doubt, the Catholic university has to unveil for its students a study of the works and inventions of man inherited for centuries. But the pursuit of truth and wisdom and education to freedom as envisaged as above are specifically distinctive of such an institution as Catholic, to justify the title "Catholic."
May God bless Thomas Aquinas College for its excellent performance as a Catholic college since its foundation in 1971, a college where parents can send their children and be sure that this college is maintaining the best ideals of our faith and is giving not only information but formation. [With parents, it is] in partnership, helping. So, parents send their children and they are not afraid that the children will be damaged. We thank this college, those who gave the very initial vision, those who maintain it today, and those who enable it to continue with this identity.
My dear President of the College, Faculty, Students, and especially you the graduating seniors, but also the parents, relatives and friends of the jubilant graduands, the Board of Governors and all the friends of the College, let us pray our Blessed Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom, who was always obedient to the light of the Holy Spirit, to obtain for each of these graduands, and indeed for all of us, the grace to walk in the light of Christ and so to grow in genuine freedom.
To Christ be honor and glory forever and ever.
“When you’re undergoing an education like this, it teaches you how to think, and forms your intellect, so that you will be able to make well-formed choices once you get out into the world.”
– Sean Wood (’13)