Note: Due to technical difficulties, the very end of Archbishop Aquila’s address is missing from the audio file below. Please pardon the inconvenience.
The Will of God is Always for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful
By the Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver
August 25, 2014
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks to each one of our hearts and gives us the invitation, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink.” My dearest sisters and brothers, in that invitation Jesus invites us to encounter Him, to enter into relationship with Him. We can recall the words of the Gospel, too, in which He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
It is precisely in the personal encounter with Jesus that we come to discover the depth of God’s eternal love for each one of us. In His eternal love for the world, Jesus has laid down His life for each one of us. The Father in His eternal love has given to us His Son, Who loved us to the end. Every time we look at a crucifix, we see the very revelation of the length to which God will go to show the human person His love for them.
And humanity, thinking that it had conquered God through the death of Jesus, did not understand how powerful His love is, that Jesus rose from the dead. And not only did He rise from the dead, but He also poured forth his Holy Spirit upon us, so that we may be the adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Man’s rejection, man’s hatred of God, man’s pride, cannot ever separate us from God’s love. The Father never ever stops loving us.
We are told in the second reading of today from Romans that we await adoption and the redemption of our bodies. St. Paul reveals within that the truth of our true identity as Christians: We truly believe that, in Christ and in our baptism and confirmation, we have become the adopted sons and daughters of the Father. That is the true identity of each and every one of you. And if you hear a voice within you saying, “That cannot be; I am not,” that is the voice of the devil. That is the voice of the evil one, denying the truth of who you really are.
It is essential, as Christians, that in our encounter with Jesus we receive that truth. St. Paul says elsewhere that it is through the Spirit living within us that we cry out, “Abba, Father” in our prayer. He speaks in today’s readings of the groanings that are within our hearts. Within our weakness the Spirit comes to aid us. We must be open and receptive to the truth that God is truly for us in His love for us. He seeks only the true and the good for us in the encounter with His Son. He even tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes within us, for the holy ones according to God’s will. And we know that the will of God can never be for evil. The will of God is always for the true, the good, and the beautiful. The will of God is for the salvation of the world, that we receive His love and encounter His Son.
You, my dearest young people who are beginning another academic year here at Thomas Aquinas College, and you who are faculty, must come to know that truth within your own encounter with Christ. The Father has a unique plan and a unique and particular love for each and every one of you. One of the most important things that you can discover in your education is that particular love and that particular plan that the Father has for you. You truly are His beloved daughter. You are truly His beloved son, and He has given to you the gift of the Spirit. You must open your heart to that gift and receive that gift.
One of the greatest problems for us as Americans is we think we have to do it ourselves. It all depends on me, or it’s all about me. My brothers and sisters, it does not depend upon me, nor is it all about me. It is about receiving the love of God and living that love out. That is what it is about, discovering the truth of who I am in Christ.
I remember one time a confessor saying to me, “Have you ever confessed your sin of self-reliance?” I kind of choked, and I said no. I said I hadn’t. I had been formed so well by American culture that I had failed to see the pride within it, that I thought I had to earn God’s love, that I had to prove myself, that everything depended on me. It really prevented me from receiving the gift of the Spirit, because I did not have that hope and confidence that St. Paul speaks of, or that trust, in the Spirit.
It is essential for you to pray to the Holy Spirit. Listen to the promises of Jesus. He tells us that the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Love, the consoling Spirit. He also promises us the Gifts of the Spirit, those sevenfold great gifts of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and piety. All of you who are baptized and confirmed have received those seven gifts! Do you desire them? Do you run to them? When you sit down to study, do not look at the book and say, “Ah, I need to read this,” or think ,“I’ll never understand this.” All of those are words of discouragement, and all of them are words of the devil. They are not of God.
In your studies, my dearest sons and daughters, open your heart to the Spirit. Before you sit down to read the great books that you will read, whether it be Dante, whether it be the Iliad, whether it be the works of Thomas More, or St. Augustine and his Confessions, always pray before you study: “Lord open my heart in understanding. Grant me understanding as I read.” It is a simple prayer that you can speak from the heart. It takes you away from your pride, your own self-reliance, and turns you to the Spirit so that you may be led closer to the Father, to Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit. Pray for those graces. Desire wisdom. Desire understanding, and turn to the Spirit in the midst of that.
Our education is not about ourselves, or to make a name for ourselves, as the people of Babylon and Babel wanted to do. They desired to do whatever they presumed to do, and the Lord sees right through that. It is still a problem in our culture today. The situation of our culture and our society is not something new. If you truly know history, you can see the rise and falls of cultures. It is because we abandon God and move away from Him. We as a people are not called to be those to make a name for ourselves, but to give worship and adoration to God. And then God will make the name.
All you have to do is look at the two great saints within our own lifetime, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul the Great. They were not ones who sought things about themselves. They were not ones who ran out to make a name for themselves. They were ones who were faithful to Our Lord. One, yes, was a scholar and intellectual, a brilliant philosopher and theologian. The other was a simple, humble woman. And both of them transformed our Church and world because of their faithfulness, because of their trust, because of their humility.
Each and every one of us here — and especially you, the young people — have the same call. You can either receive it and say yes to it, or you can fret and be anxious, and if you are that, hear the words of Jesus, “Be not afraid.” Or you can say no to it completely. But it is only in saying yes to the word of Jesus and responding to His invitation that you will truly become great.
As we continue with our celebration today, my deepest prayer for you is that you may come to hear in your own hearts the invitation of Jesus, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink.” Encounter Jesus, open your hearts to Him, He Who will give you happiness. And even in the midst of the struggles, the temptations, the trials, and the sufferings that every human being endures, always remember Jesus endured them, too. He went so far as to die on the Cross for us, and when we really meditate upon that suffering and the love revealed within it, then you realize that even when I am suffering, because I am joined with Christ, I have nothing to fear.
Secondly, always open your hearts to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Remember those sevenfold gifts! At times when I am at confirmations and celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, I will go to the parents and to the adults present and ask them, “Name me the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit” — and I lose eye contact very quickly. They cannot remember those gifts they have received. It is important to remember those gifts, to desire them. They are there, but we have to want them, and we have to pray for them and open our hearts to them.
Pray before your studies. Open your hearts to the Spirit. Faith and reason are not separate. As St. John Paul II reminds us, they are together.
Finally, as we come to Holy Communion today, I encourage you, as you return to your places, that you open your heart to Jesus and you speak to Jesus, heart to heart. Each and every one of you has your particular relationship with the Lord. You have your own identity, your own anxieties, your own desires, but turn to Jesus and drink from Him. The closest and the most intimate you will ever be with Jesus is when you receive the Eucharist. Open your hearts, my sons and daughters, and speak heart to heart with Him, expressing your desires, expressing your hopes, sharing with Him your fears, your anxieties.
And yes, if you find during the course of the year there is a professor you struggle with, hold that professor up to the Lord, or hold that student up to the Lord, and pray for that person. Hold that person up to the Lord. It is essential that we have confidence in the promises of Jesus.
May our hearts burn ever more fully this year with a deep love for the Lord, and may that love continue to grow as it does, and did, in the life of every saint. And may we hear the invitation of Jesus today, “Anyone who thirsts, come to Me and drink.”
“If you come to the College with any spark of faith at all, it’s fanned into flames. That’s certainly what happened to me.”
– Dr. Jean Rioux (’82)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Benedictine College