Audio file

Commencement Address
By Francis Cardinal Arinze
Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
May 15, 2004

Cardinal Arinze receives the MedallionPresident of Thomas Aquinas College, the Board of Governors, the Faculty, parents, and friends of the graduands, my dear brothers in the Catholic priesthood, and especially you, the young graduands, this is your day.


1. You are being sent forth
For four years you, dear graduating seniors, have been very much a part of the life and work of Thomas Aquinas College. Within these hallowed walls the many-sided educational process of formation and information has been taking place. The faculty and yourselves have been the chief actors. But all the other people who contribute to the life of such an academic institution have also played their part. They are represented here today.

You have spent four years perfecting yourselves in the arts and the sciences, learning what past generations have written, said, done or made, and yourselves learning to contribute to the patrimony of humanity by also writing, saying, doing, and making. And you have done all this and striven to develop your reasoning powers under the light of the Catholic faith. You believe in Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His Church that he founded to continue His work until the end of time.

Now you are being sent forth. Thomas Aquinas College is sending you into the wider world to bring the good news of what you have seen and heard to your brothers and sisters. It was our beloved Savior Jesus Christ who said to Simon Peter in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch" (Lk 5:4). In an analogous way, your Alma Mater is saying to you: 'Go out into the world, outside this College, and share with humanity what you have been enriched with in this institution these four years.'

There are many aeropagi in which you can do this. Let us select three of them: the family, your profession, and in the direct sharing of your faith with others. You will be able to do all this as witnesses of Christ if personal prayer and sacramental practice are the climate in which you live. Our reflections will now focus on these four points.


2. Witnessing to Christ in the Family
You will want to witness to Christ in the family. The family, the fundamental cell of society, is the primary place where you will be called upon to witness to Christ. And marriage is the gateway into the family.

If we want a machine to function well - for example, a computer or a 747 Jumbo Jet - we will have to follow the maker's instructions. Marriage and the family come from God the Creator: "Male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them: 'Be fertile and multiply.' God looked on all He had made and found it very good" (Gen 1:27-28). Number one is marriage and the family. If we want marriage and the family to function well, we will have to make up our minds to follow the plan of the Maker, God, Creator, who is the origin of love and life. What would you say of a person who bought a computer and rejected to look at the instructions, and refused to switch on the electricity, and says he will ignore even the mouse and all those gadgets because the computer is his? Well, what would you say of a rich person who bought a Jumbo Jet, a whole 747? He wants to fly from JKF to Heathrow. You say to him, 'What of the control tower?' He says, 'I don't take notice of that.' 'What roadmap will you follow?' 'I couldn't care less.' 'What of the maker's instruction? This machine is rather complicated. What of aviation regulations?' He asserts, 'This Jumbo Jet is mine.' That's what he says. But what I say is that I will not be anywhere within 100 miles of his route. If you want a machine to function well, it is in your own interest to follow the maker's instructions.

The Second Vatican council calls the family a "community of love" (Gaudium et Spes, 47). In marriage and the family, husband and wife grow to human and spiritual maturity by their mutual love which necessarily includes readiness to make sacrifices for each other. Every successful husband and wife knows that you build that big basilica called 'marriage success' by the stones and brick walls of sacrifice and mutual surrender.

The family is the place which God has made for the origin and nurturing of new life. We don't come into this world independent, catapulted from the sky. "By their very nature," says Vatican II, "the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown" (Gaudium et Spes, 48). The child needs so much attention. A goat born can walk on the same day; not a child. The child needs nine months, and some don't even at that time. And then care, and then school, and then college, and then.... before the child can stand on his or her own.

Therefore, the Maker has His instructions. You know the usual controverted areas, which some people decided to discuss: premarital relations, contraception, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia. These are against the Maker's instruction. They are not Church law. They are not Catholic regulations. They are just in-built by the Creator into the nature of the human person.

Tomorrow, in the Vatican City, the Holy Father will canonize half a dozen people. I will mention one of them: Gianna Beretta Molla. She was a medical doctor from around Milan. She had three children, a very happy family. She was expecting a fourth child. Her fellow doctor said, Gianna, you are a doctor. You know very well that this pregnancy is going to be a very difficult one. You will probably die. Let's do what we can do. We'll remove the baby' - which some prefer to call the tissue. (Imagine a person calling me "tissue." Just because I am one month old, you call me tissue. Then you, yourself, are a tissue of 70 years!) So, they said, 'Gianna, we'll remove this tissue, and you will be alright. You have a happy husband. He is a scientist. You have three children. Why die now?' She said, 'I will not consent to kill my baby. No. If I die doing my duty as a mother, God receive my soul.' They said, 'Gianna, it's your decision.' She discussed with her husband and the little children and said to them, 'Don't hold this against the child expected.'

To cut a long story short, she got the child alright, but she was not well, [she was] sick. The doctors did what they could, but she died within two weeks. That was in 1964. In 1994, the Pope beatified her in St. Peter's Square. The husband was there and her four children, [and] the fourth one, that one she brought into the world just before dying, she is now a medical doctor. I met them after Mass. I greeted them. Tomorrow, because there is another miracle God has done through her, tomorrow she will be declared a saint. That's the stuff of which saints are made. They are not born in the sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica. They are human beings who have gone through the rough and tumble of daily life and showed themselves to be faithful. So, she's a mother.

As graduands of Thomas Aquinas College, you are convinced of the sacredness of the family and of human life. This wonderful institution, the family, gift of Divine Goodness and Providence, has to be supported and defended. The Christian in promoting the family has to have the courage to witness to Christ, even when this means going against the current of what the prevalent society thinks, says or does.

Every Christian is called to holiness of life, and holiness is the perfection of charity according to the person's state of life (cf: Lumen Gentium, 40). For married people, the road to sanctity is marriage and the family. The sacrament of matrimony gives them special grace which builds on Baptism and Confirmation. This call to holiness is nourished by the Holy Eucharist. When on October 21, 2001, the Holy Father beatified Mr. and Mrs. Luigi and Maria Beltrame-Quattrocchi in St. Peter's Basilica, he was delivering a powerful message - husband and wife beatified in the same ceremony. Three of their children were there. One of them, whom I know very well, Fr. Paulino, is a Trappist. (He is a very young man, he is only about 98 years now!) He and his brother priest concelebrated Mass with the Pope -- it was wonderful -- at the beatification of their parents. And then he came to me later in the Congregation for Divine Worship to regularize the Mass for his parents. He asked me, 'You don't have in the missal a common Mass for husband and wife. Now work on that now.' We have Mass for holy men, we have Mass for holy women, but we don't have one yet for husband and wife.

My dear graduating students, go out into the world and share this good news on marriage and the family with others. Let the light of the Gospel guide your steps as you learn to establish your own families in the world of today.


3. Witnessing to Christ in your Profession
But there is also your profession. Thomas Aquinas College has given you basic education for life. Many of you will specialize further in one field or the other. You may want to serve society as teachers, journalists or writers. Or you may become medical personnel, law people, industrialists. Some of you may want to fly Jumbo Jets. Very good. And some of you may turn out to become congressmen or women, engineers, architects. No matter what your profession is, that is one of the major ways in which you are to contribute to society as a follower of Christ.

From every professional are required and expected efficiency, competence, reliability, and a sense of solidarity with others. Your work is your way of holding the right hand and the left of solidarity with your sisters and brothers in the pilgrimage that is life on earth. The Christian sees in work contribution to making this world a better place in which to live.

God could have created everything in its perfect form. He preferred to give us intelligence to work on what He had made. So, we can make tables. We can make houses. We can make the new chapel which will occupy here in the next few years, depending on the number of digits signed on the checks from the benefactors. And God also gives us capacity to make omelette and mixed salad and, also, to write Macbeth. But we must work.

The Christian must not be an absentee citizen in this world under pretext of preparing for the next world, for the kingdom of heaven is being prepared for from this world. As the Second Vatican Council puts it: "The expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one....Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's Kingdom. Nevertheless, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of God" (Gaudium et Spes, 43).

To put it in simple words, the Christian must not, under pretense of preparing to go to heaven, become an irrelevant citizen of this world. The Christian must not reduce religion to one hour on Sunday morning. The person must not become like Paddy Smith. (Paddy Smith is not from California at all.) But of Paddy Smith it was said, 'Paddy Smith always went to Mass. He never missed a Sunday. But Paddy Smith went to hell for what he did on Monday!' Because for him, religion was simply Sunday morning, one hour. But on Monday, you see him as a trade unionist, or a dock worker, or even as a parliamentarian, or a senator. You couldn't believe that was the same fellow we saw on Sunday morning, singing hymns.

The Christian must not introduce a divorce between professional duties on the one hand and religious duties on the other. Rather, the Christian's religion should help that person to make a vital synthesis of their earthly activities - domestic, professional, social, technical and political - and harmonize them all unto God's glory (Gaudium et Spes, 43). Vatican II insists on this in the famous paragraph 43 of its document The Church in the World of Today. At the end of the Mass, the priest says to us, "Go, the Mass is ended." It doesn't mean 'Go and rest,' but, 'Go and carry out what we have prayed and sung so that the whole week is like an offertory procession, and the Mass gives it a sense of synthesis, a sense of direction, a sense of offering.

Political engagement needs special mention. This is one of the major areas in which the lay person's specific vocation and mission to animate and Christianize the temporal order will manifest itself. By temporal order is meant the ordinary situation in which people live: school, family, work, recreation, culture, science, art, politics, government, trade, national and international relations. The Vatican Council speaks of "the difficult but most noble art of politics" and exhorts Christians to "work to exercise this art without thought of personal convenience" (Gaudium et Spes, 75; cf: also Christifideles Laici, 42). (Many people would regard that as pious advice!)

If Christians shy away from participation in political matters, who will do it? Who will help to promote respect for the rights of others, especially of the weak and the defenseless? Who will be there to see that public funds are used wisely and honestly? Who will show in practice that it is possible to gain or retain power in an honest and efficient way? Who will build up justice and peace at the national and the international levels? The 1997 Synod of Bishops for America exhorted the lay faithful to help to shape society according to God's will. Among other things, it said: "On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to deep and evangelical virtues such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart, and patience in difficult situations" (John Paul II, Eccl. In America, 44).

We have examples like St. Thomas More who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in England at the time of Henry VIII, who gave his life rather than mortgage his conscience. We have Matthias Malumba in Uganda, and we have examples in St. Louis of France, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and other people in public life. Some people say politics is dirty. Politics is not dirty. Some politicians could be!

Graduating seniors of Thomas Aquinas College, over to you! It is better to light a candle than to condemn the darkness.


4. Witness to Christ by Sharing your Faith
You will also witness to Christ by sharing your faith, not only by being good family members, not only by being efficient in your profession. That is true. But it is also true that there comes a time or place where you are called upon to share your faith directly, to speak to another expressly about what you believe in Jesus Christ, to invite another to share that faith, in short, to proclaim or announce Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ gives meaning and a sense of unity and direction to your life, if your faith in Christ is a pearl of great price for which you are ready to sell all you have and buy it, then is it not to be expected that you would like to share this good news with others? You want to go to heaven alone? Why do you want to keep this good news all to yourself? Joy shared is joy multiplied.

Someone may be tempted to say: 'But I am not a priest, I'm not a religious brother or sister. I am not even a catechist. Where have I the guarantee that I know enough of the Catholic faith for myself, before I presume to lecture others? Moreover, I fear that some people may laugh at me and call me names.

These concerns can be addressed. Although you may not be a priest, a religious or a catechist, you are a baptized Catholic. And Baptism is our radical call to evangelize. Every one of us is called to proclaim Christ according to our vocation and mission, and taking note of our differing abilities and opportunities. Everybody cannot be Thomas Aquinas, everybody cannot be St. Bonaventure, but everyone can be yourself and evangelize as you are. "Woe to me," says St. Paul, "if I preach not the Gospel" (I Cor 9:16).

You are not required to obtain a Doctorate in Divinity at the Catholic University of America before you tell another person about Jesus Christ who means so much to you. And you are not left without equipment. You have the Bible, the Sacred Tradition of the Church, the Teaching Authority of the Church. You have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and those who do not have it, I suggest you sell the overcoat - you don't need any for the next six months - and buy one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has only 700 pages. If you read a page a day, you finish it in two years. And there is a mine of information, giving you the very best that can be put into our hands in our times. And a Compendium is being prepared. Cardinal Schönborn, who was with you already on two occasions, he told you everything about it because he was at the key of it. If you haven't it, well, you just have to get one.

As for the fear of what people will say about you if you talk about Christ (and many Catholics tend to be shy), when will you courageously put that fear aside, seeing that Christ clearly declared: "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in His Father's glory with the holy angels" (Mk 8:38)? None of us wants Christ to disclaim us on the Last Day. Therefore, do not hesitate to gently persuade your lapsed Catholic friend to return to the sacraments. To propose the faith to one who is free and willing we do not impose; we only propose. [Do not hesitate] to join Catholic movements, associations, to be involved in diocesan or parish programs, or even to consider becoming a priest or a consecrated brother, religious, monk, nun. I understand that the 34th graduate of this great college was ordained priest last year, Father Gary Selin, Class of 1989, for the Archdiocese of Denver, and I'm informed that one is being ordained today in New York and two more next week - those who have studied in this institution - and that a total of more than 30 have already been ordained, and those who are professed sisters are more than 20. This is good news. This is something to write Rome about!

In life, you will meet people who in practice take little or notice of God in their lives. They live as if God did not exist. They may not even take the trouble to positively deny the existence of God. They are too busy even to do that much. They just live secularistic lives. It is for you, not by argument, but by example, and, when feasible, by word, to show them that life would lose its meaning and sense of direction without God. Religion is not an optional in our lives. It is not marginal. It is not additional. It is very much essential. A person without religion should fundamentally be pitied because that person is like a person on a journey and you ask him 'Where are you going?' 'Oh, I never thought of it.' Oh. Religion is a normal dimension of the human earthly existence. It gives a sense of direction to our lives and a sense of meaning and a synthesis to all the mosaics that make the beautiful peace that is life on earth.

Graduands of Thomas Aquinas College, launch out into the deep to evangelize the world for Christ.


5. In Prayer and Sacramental Life
If a Catholic graduate is to do all this, to witness to Christ in the family, in professional life, and in direct proclamation of Christ, then deep growth in prayer and in sacramental life are absolute requirements. We cannot do it all by our own power.

Prayer is necessary because without life of union with God and without God's grace, we can do nothing useful for salvation. Christ has told us that He is the vine, and we are the branches. We cannot have life unless we abide in Him: "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). By prayer, as it were, we have link with God.

Prayer, personal prayer is that which is particular to each person. Your prayer will be like you, my prayer will be like me. It can be without words. A child does not always speak to the mother. There are exchanges between mother and child - just looks, just presence - which are already eloquent. Or, prayer can be based on a passage of Holy Scripture, or it can be long, it can be short. It is best in front of the Blessed Sacrament when possible. But you can also pray everywhere.

Did I hear anybody say they haven't enough time? There is always time for what you consider important. Many people read newspapers. Calculate how much time you give the television and how much time you give the newspaper, which says a lot, most of it good, but not always. Sometimes what is said is true in the morning, debatable at mid-day, and false in the evening. I am not against newspapers; we need them. But prayer with God is, of course, much more important. Reading the Word of God is, of course, much more substantial.

Liturgical prayer is the public worship of the Mystical Body of Christ, of the Church, Head and members, Christ praying with all these people. Baptism gives us the initial capacity to share in it. The three main parts of this liturgy are the Sacraments, then the Sacramentals (blessings and rites instituted by the Church), and the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the prayers of the Church for the different times of the day: morning prayer, 9:00 prayer, mid-day prayer, 3:00 prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer. Many Catholics are gloriously ignorant of all that. You notice that prayer book priests hold and religious - its not forbidden to other Catholics!

The highest point of the Liturgy is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, "the fount and apex of the whole Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). Every Catholic will strive to take part at Holy Mass at least every Sunday, if not more often, and to receive Holy Communion after a suitable preparation. The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation restores grace, increases grace, and strengthens our resolve to fight the battle that is the Christian life. No soldier of Christ will ignore it.

A third area of prayer is covered by devotions such as the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, Family Prayer, Devotion to various Saints and Pilgrimages. These also contribute to strengthen us, nourish us and enliven our life of witness to Christ.


6. Conclusion: Go Forth with Courage and Faith
Graduating students of Thomas Aquinas College, rejoice and be glad. Your College President, your Faculty, and your colleagues are with you. Your parents, relatives and friends rejoice with you and expect great things from you. Church and society are awaiting your contribution. The grace of God is there to guide, encourage, and protect you.

In the name of Christ, put out into deep water. Go forth and bear fruit, fruit that will remain.

God bless you.