“Per Aspera ad Astra”
Homily at the Votive Mass of St. Gladys: Wife, Mother, Queen, and Contemplative
On the occasion of the Groundbreaking of St. Gladys Hall
By Rev. Cornelius Buckley, S.J.
April 18, 2013
First of all I would like to welcome some of our distinguished guests here today, namely Mr. Rex Rawlinson, who is the president of the Fritz B. Burns Foundation, and Mrs. Maureen Rawlinson, and also Miss Cheryl Robinson, who are trustees of the same foundation. And they are gathered here today, our very honored guests, along with members of the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors and the Board of Regents and the President’s Council.
It’s a very special day of course, because it is the day on which we dedicate the new building in honor of St. Gladys. I did a little research on St. Gladys, and I found out that the word gladys in Welsh means “crippled or lame.” As so often happened in the 6th century, people were given patronymics and also first names by the characteristics they had, by what they showed. So maybe Gladys had another name, a Christian name, but she walked with a limp. Therefore they called her “the one who was limp,” “the one who was crippled,” the one who was, in a sense, handicapped.
I thought this was very interesting under the circumstances, because we are honoring a woman who has come to us with, we can say, a handicap. If we look at the dictionary, we find that a handicap is “any disadvantage that makes success more difficult,” or “any physical or mental disability that makes success difficult.” Reflecting on that, in light of some of the other buildings on the campus, I thought of this building — dedicated to a cripple, to someone who was disadvantaged, someone who was handicapped — as somewhat of an anomaly.
Look at the saints we have buildings named for: First of all, there’s St. Joseph, and he’s completely out of the consideration. He’s the foster father of Jesus, the husband of Mary, so we don’t compare him with anybody. Then there are Peter and Paul, and they are the foundations, the pillars of the Church, and so they are also beyond compare.
Besides that we have a building named after Thomas Aquinas, the very essence of the relationship between faith and reason, the man whom we consider our great leader, our preceptor, the one who is our patron. Along with him we have St. Augustine, a man who was influential in forming Western civilization. Then we also have Albertus Magnus, a teacher of Thomas Aquinas, a scientist, and a model for the students that attend Thomas Aquinas College.
After that, we have St. Katherine of Alexandria, a great woman philosopher, and we emphasize the fact of the importance of women in philosophy and other disciplines as well, so she stands as a particular model. Then there is St. Bernard. Bernard was the most important man in the late Middle Ages. He was a Renaissance man, if you will, born a couple of centuries too early, but he dominated that particular period in which he lived. Then, of course, there is St. Thérèse — she is a Doctor of the Church. After that there is St. Monica. We know that behind every successful man there’s a woman, and if Augustine was successful, then Monica was the one that we should look to as the one who inspired him.
Finally there’s St. Bernardine and Bl. Serra. Bernardine was the one who walked up and down all of Italy, and must have been in tremendous physical shape, preaching the Word of God. Junipero Serra did the same thing in California. So again we have people who are extraordinary. We also have Loyola Hall, and St. Ignatius told his followers to go out and set the world on fire.
The last building we have is St. Patrick, and St. Patrick was much like St. Gladys. He, too, was handicapped in a sense. He had everything going for him as a teenager, as a young adult, and then he was captured by pirates and sent off to Ireland. There he had to take care of the animals for a while, until he finally managed to escape. All of his plans, all of his dreams, were shattered; and then he had a very difficult time making up his studies afterward. So it was one frustration after another, the personification, if you will, of a handicap. So he’s the one exception, and I was thinking, in the age of women’s lib, isn’t it reasonable to see that the handicapped Gladys is pushing the handicapped Patrick off the field? In other words, St. Gladys Hall is going to be built where St. Patrick’s Hall is right now, moving Patrick aside.
What’s important, though, is that here this woman — a crippled woman, a handicapped woman — joins this group of extraordinary saints, extraordinary leaders, not only in the Church but in society has well. How do we account for that? Gladys can add something that these other people can perhaps contribute only in an oblique way, but she adds it in a very positive way just because of who she is. And she is exactly what we need.
But how does all this fit into the readings today? Well, we see in the first reading, when we meet a eunuch. I don’t think anyone will really disagree with me if I say that a eunuch is, by nature, disadvantaged — if we use the same terminology as someone who has a physical or mental disability that makes success difficult. At one time, maybe this eunuch’s father dreamed that he would be a great man, maybe a successful 1st century Ethiopian CEO or something like that, or a great landowner, something extraordinary. And what happens? He becomes a eunuch; he becomes handicapped — disappointment, frustration.
Yet it is precisely because of that that he was able to be chosen to be in the Queen of Ethiopia’s entourage, and along with that duty came a free carriage. So he was tooling around Palestine, and he runs into Deacon Philip, and he’s doing some serious reading, and Philip answers his questions. There is some water there, and Philip, says “Let’s go down and baptize you,” and he baptizes him and goes off. (It’s a lot different today. If that happened today, Philip would have to say, “Well, let me introduce you to the RCIA program, and maybe in two years you will be baptized.” But in those days it was a bit different.)
What happened, then, to the eunuch? The eunuch continued on his way, rejoicing. So what we have here is a situation — we meet it all the time — when something happens to a person that makes him handicapped. That can be physical handicap, that can be a moral handicap, a mental handicap — whatever it is, it’s a handicap. But what we don’t see is that sometimes just because of this handicap, there is something even greater in store for the person. There’s a Latin expression, per aspera ad astra —from the bars we see the stars. That is to say, from the difficulties we have, we are able to see what goes on beyond and what is beyond. If these handicaps were not present in our lives, we would not be able to see the great plan that God has for each and every one of us, and has also for societies and institutions like Thomas Aquinas College.
St. Gladys enables us to see that. I meet students all the time who encounter handicaps. They’re doing very well, and what happens? A handicap. Who causes the handicap? Well, it could be Euclid. It could be “The Faerie Queene.” It could be Martin of Denmark. They cause handicaps, and the student says, “Oh, how are we going to do this? How am I going to get through this? How am I going to achieve this?” And it is precisely because of overcoming those handicaps that the person sees something even greater.
So these are handicaps in a way, but it is precisely through these handicaps that we are able to see God’s plan for us. I can envision people coming to St. Gladys Hall, looking out and seeing the beautiful gardens that Dave Gaston will create. They will sit there and realize that our handicaps are blessings, blessings to enable us to grow in love of God and of our neighbor, and if we didn’t have these handicaps, we would not be who God enables us to be.
The Gospel assures us today that Christ has come because He loves us, and He has assured us that he will be with us and be with us in a very special way. I think that St. Gladys, then, emphasizes that aspect of the education that we try to give the students here at Thomas Aquinas College. It’s not all intellectual. It’s not even all moral. It’s not even all religious, but it’s beyond that. All of these elements work together to form men and women who are integrated Christian human beings. For that reason, we should be particularly grateful to the trustees of the Fritz B. Burns Foundation for enabling us to see this aspect of the education of Thomas Aquinas College.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Posted : April 18, 2013
“At my alma mater and in the Marines, hard work and high standards are the norm.”
– Major Brooks Braden (’97)
Judge Advocate, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves
“Thomas Aquinas is already the preeminent Catholic college in the country.”
– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)
Archbishop of New York