Jesus is Lord of The Catholic University of America. In the age of secularism, in days of disorientation in the Church on earth, it is important for us to hear again the simple truth of the gospel. Jesus is Lord of The Catholic University of America. What does that mean? The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas offers an answer, and a special grace of knowledge and love.
“God is my light.” Such is the motto of The Catholic University of America: God is my light. The Constitutions of the Dominican Order make a similar statement: “God is the light and source of our study.” These are the principles we profess. They sum up what together we want to be, and where we take our stand in this world. For we have heard that Jesus Christ “is the true light who enlightens everyone coming into this world” (Jn. 1:9), and we believe that God is now present teaching us who he is. God gives us light in many ways. God gives us the light of reason. God has given us his Son Jesus Christ who is called the light of the world. God has given us sacred Scripture and the light of faith to believe what he says. God gives us the Spirit of Truth to remember the Word and to lead us into all truth. The Father of lights is not close-fisted, but is generous and gives, because he wants us to know him and to know his very great love for us. All our acts of prayer and study, reading and discussing, lecturing and listening, for a Catholic these are ways of learning from God. “All truth by whomsoever it is spoken is from the Holy Spirit.”1 In the midst of our prayer and study, reading and discussing, something mysterious happens. God lights things up for us. No one knows how. It is a mystery. A good agent of truth learns to count on the Light of God, and to work with the Light in appropriate ways, “according to the grace given to each” (Rom. 12:6), so that we might be “coworkers in the Truth” (3 Jn. 1:8). In his inaugural lecture at Paris in 1255, St. Thomas says teachers are “the first to be enlightened with rays of divine wisdom” and “they need to be enlightened so that they can suitably teach by lecturing.”2 He means that teachers need to know how to work with the Light of God who is present and active among us, how to refer all truths of human learning to God, so that people might be educated principally by the Eternal Truth – God – and learn to see every truth of every discipline in his Light.
The motto of Catholic U. is surprising: God is my light. For the world around us daily sends a certain unspoken, subliminal message. The message is that you and I do not really have the right to be Catholic. Even if we enjoy a measure of political toleration, so that violence is not done to our bodies or goods, there is a powerful social pressure that bears down on us psychologically, and works relentlessly to secularize our interiority: our ways of thinking, our choice of words, our research aims, our methods, and everything that goes on in the most intimate places of the mind. Even in the heart, the message goes, all must take place as if there is no God. Every day the message is sent: you are not allowed to be Catholic, believe as a Catholic, think as a Catholic, study and write and teach as a Catholic. But that is not true. We are allowed. Jesus is Lord of The Catholic University of America, and you and I are free to say together with all our hearts: God is my light. God is the light and source of our study. We are free to work with the Light of God, according to the grace given to each, for the manifestation of the Truth.
Now, the manifestation of the Truth is not for the sake of knowledge alone. St. Thomas says this: “And this is the ultimate perfection of the contemplative life, namely that the Divine truth be not only seen but also loved.”3 And in another place he says: “The spiritual life consists principally in charity.”4 St. Thomas does not say that the spiritual life consists principally in learning, or erudition, or intelligence. He does not even say it consists principally in theology. Rather, in all his great learning, erudition, and intelligence, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the the spiritual life consists principally in charity. Love. How could he teach otherwise? Scripture is clear: “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-2).
For St. Thomas, charity is friendship with God. The good news is that God himself has overcome our incapacity for friendship with him, and he has shown us his gracious love. God has sent his eternal Son into the world: Jesus who loves us. “He loved those who were his own in the world, and he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). Thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, “the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). And the Gift of God transforms us into friends of God. In this friendship, God himself says good things to us like: “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (Jn. 15:15) and “fear not, little flock, it pleases the Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). In this friendship, God is full of affection for us: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (Jn. 11:5). In this friendship, God shares his secrets with us: “I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn. 15:5). Friendship with God is personal, but not private. We live it together in communio. In the communion of light and love, ancient curses are broken, and old infidelities washed away. We receive the forgiveness of our sins, the healing of our wounds, and even the very presence of God.
What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord of The Catholic University of America? It means that at this moment, as I speak, God is with us offering us all the grace of a new heart, a profound liberation from evil, a renewal in the love of Eternal Truth and the eternal truth of Love. When it comes to this mighty grace of renewal, to consent is to be saved. How badly we all need healing from the effects of the culture of death! How badly we all need healing from the practical atheism that permeates our minds, our methods, and our daily life at every level. Yet, God breaks through the age of secularism. He gives us his light and his love. Gently but firmly, God moves our hearts to welcome the Word who breathes Love, Jesus, to go deeper into communion with him, and receive new life, especially in the Eucharist.
On this Feast of St. Thomas, may we be consecrated in the truth again and again. May God grant us to use the means he has given us to know his Wisdom and Love: prayer and study, reading and discussing, designing and experimenting, yes. But let us do everything in the conscious conviction that in the midst of our communion Our Savior Jesus Christ has “destroyed death and brought life to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
1 Ambrosiaster, frequently quoted by St. Thomas.
2 Inaugural Lecture Rigans montes
3 ST II-II q.180 a.7 ad 1
4 Liber de perfectione spiritualis vitae, ch.1