By J. Francis Cardinal Stafford
May 17, 2003
The Founding Document of Thomas Aquinas College, written in 1969, states:
"The proper satisfaction of wonder is knowledge of causes. But causes are of two sorts: a cause may simply be primary within some particular order, or it may be primary without qualification, a cause of causes. Knowledge of the latter is called wisdom; the science which treats of first causes in the light of the natural capacity of human reason is metaphysics, which may be called wisdom only with the qualification 'human;' the science which studies God in the light of what He has revealed about Himself is wisdom without qualification" (p. 36).
Your years at this College have been a search for wisdom without qualification. Your concluding days here culminate in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is right and just that you should do so. For the Eucharist is the origin and summit of the search for Wisdom.
The Gospel of St. John presents Jesus, the Word of God, as Wisdom who has come to all peoples, who reveals truth to them and who gives life to them. The Prologue of the same Gospel culls various strains from the Prophetic and Wisdom literature of the Old Testament so as to present Jesus as the Incarnate Word, the Wisdom of God. He is the living interpreter of God. He discloses in his words and deeds the one God who is wisdom and absolute love.
Today's Gospel illustrates that truth. We stand astonished before the claim of Jesus. In response to the question of the Apostle Philip, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied," Jesus says, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father." This is not a statement qualified in any way by Jesus.
Nor is it a claim based upon hearing Jesus. We do not attain "wisdom without qualification" by simply listening to His words. Jesus speaks of seeing, of contemplating His face. Then one begins to comprehend His unqualified claim. "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Seeing Jesus, contemplating His face, observing His deeds, these are required. Seeing Jesus in the flesh is equivalent to seeing the heavenly Father.
No other has ever made such a claim. The disciple trembles before this reality. "What are you saying Lord?," one is tempted to ask. Isn't such an unqualified assertion of divine self-identity scandalous? Thus, Jesus became a stumbling block to many. Christian revelation, unique among religions, proclaims that the unsurpassable goal of the ways of God is through the flesh of one man, Jesus of Nazareth.
It is even more than that. The way to God is through the mortality of the flesh of Jesus. "My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed," he said. His flesh is eucharistic, nuptial; it is the flesh of the primordial holocaust; it is His flesh that is raised from the dead by the Spirit of holiness. It is through human flesh that God reveals the deepest kenotic mysteries of His life. God, in His trinitarian essence, is self-surrender and love. We attain this wisdom only through the Word made flesh.
That should not come as a surprise to us. Catholic piety has always been very much rooted in the physical, in wine and water, in bread and scented oil, in the human body created as male or female. Patristic and medieval piety and theology are elaborations of the opening of the First Letter of St. John in which the "flesh" of Christ is the exclusive and absolute source of revelation:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and the fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete" (I John 1:1-4).
The Logos, the Word made flesh, discloses the inner life and mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This has been the burden of the tutors at this College in all their dialogues with you over the years. They have desired to share this Trinitarian fellowship with you so that their joy may be complete.
"The Word was made flesh." The goal of education at a premier Catholic liberal arts college is the eternal Word of God, the same Word whom John had seen, heard and touched in the flesh. He is the concrete norm of every human life. The experience of your academic life here is rooted in the truth of the Incarnation of the Word. Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. Students seek communion with God through and in Christ's flesh.
While in this College, you have discovered this physical contact with Christ through your experience of the living Church, which is the body of Christ. Through living, walking, laughing, suffering, studying and praying together with others the life, suffering and death of Jesus in the flesh has been again made manifest.
Why and How? The answer is because you have been a Eucharistic community at Thomas Aquinas College. St. Paul teaches, "The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body. For we all partake of the one bread." I Corinthians 10:16-17.
St. John's letter speaks also of fellowship. This academic community has offered koinonia to you in and through the Eucharistic flesh of Jesus. You have come into contact with the wounded sensibilities of others during these years of intense study and friendships and thus have been tested on Christ's identity with his disciples.
"Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).
The prayer to Jesus of the great contemporary laywoman and foundress of the Focolare movement, Chiara Lubich, should ring true for you graduates:
"I feel in my heart the passion that fills your heart for the forsakenness enveloping the whole world. I love everyone who is sick and lonely: I even feel for plants that are in distress, and for animals that are left alone. Who will console their weeping? - Let me be in this world, my God, the tangible sacrament of your love, of our being Love: Let me be the arms to embrace and transform into love all the loneliness of the world."
Chiara's prayer is radically Eucharistic.
This academy has also called you young men and women to transcend your persons as moral beings and to rediscover man the reconciled sinner. To live in a Catholic academic community means to go beyond moralism in religion, that caricature of Christianity when it becomes reductively a system of commandments and nothing more.
In today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles we have heard about a divided community, torn apart by an act of jealousy. The Jews have listened to Paul, a Jew, as they are; perhaps they listened to him with an initial openness, but when they see that his preaching attracts a large crowd they are filled with jealousy.
They assert that the revealed message must be reserved to them, it is their exclusive privilege to proclaim it. The Paschal mystery was offered to "almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God." But the Jewish leaders refuted what Paul was saying: "They used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said." They demonstrated a genuine jealousy in refusing to share a good with others.
This Catholic college is supremely a Eucharistic community. The Spirit of the Risen Lord has made known to you a wondrous sense that, even though the blunders, hypocrisies, jealousies, and even malice of your personal and collective histories have scattered and divided at times the children of Adam here, Christ's mercy has "gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them into the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken" (St. Augustine).
During your years here, you have seen the face of Christ in one another, in your tutors, in the administrators, and in other staff. The Eucharist has revealed Christ's face in their faces. For, as St. John Chrysostom teaches, "[In the Eucharist] we are mutually joined to one another and together united with Christ." The Eucharistic face of Christ has taught you that the problem of life is not simply the problem of suffering. It is that, but it is more. The whole of the problem of life and its violence and its sinfulness finds ample leg-room within the revelation of redemptive pardon and forgiveness.
During your years here, you have looked upon the multiple-facets of the face of Christ. When you have been quiet enough and have penetrated with contemplative eyes the eyes of Jesus, you have begun to fathom "the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Mark 1:1. You have seen that sin and its violence have taken a terrible toll. It has caused the death of the Son of God upon the wood of the Cross. That is the meaning of the Eucharistic face of Christ.
Sin is not simply a matter of breaking the law. It is that but much, much more. It is in the first place a crime against love. The Eucharistic face of Christ has taught you that the God of love responds in his own way and according to own Trinitarian nature. And his own way is by a total, infinite self-surrender pro nobis.
May I address a word to the tutors? Many of the students would have remained strangers to Jesus of Nazareth, the humble and poor man, unless you had first recognized Jesus yourselves. Only through your own personal experience of Christ's pardon and forgiveness have you been able to offer to your students the necessary optic to discern Jesus' Eucharistic identity. "That which we have heard, seen and touched, we also proclaim to you so that our joy may be complete." May your joy as tutors be complete today.
Finally, dear graduates, before you can show others the distinctive and dear lineaments of the face of Jesus, I suggest that today you also ask for the gift of tears while contemplating Jesus' tears. The Sacred Scriptures say that "Jesus offered up prayers . . . with loud cries and tears." Hebrews 5:7. You may perhaps experience such a gift only through what St. Catherine of Siena called "the tears of fire." By that she meant weeping without shedding physical tears. It is the experience of those who wish to weep but cannot. It involves a true and holy longing which consumes the disciple in love.
With St. Francis of Assisi before the suffering face of Jesus, you may wish at times to dissolve your very life in self-giving through weeping for the salvation of others, but you are unable to do so. But be assured that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." II Corinthians 3:18.
The Eucharistic community is the Holy Spirit's greatest pedagogue. These Eucharistic years here have shown that, despite all human sinfulness and perverse cunning, you can still believe that human nature is one and good and overflowing with possibilities. God's love has revealed to you that human existence is unified and comprehensive. For much can be forgiven among those who have "loved much" (Luke 7:47).
“The education teaches you how to think in a structured, ordered fashion. In modern medicine … that is very helpful.”
– Major Paul W. White (’95)
Vascular Surgeon, U.S. Army Medical Corps