The Contribution of a Catholic University to the Life and Mission of the Church
Commencement address at Thomas More College, Merrimack, NH
by Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
1. A Day of joy
It is a joy to participate at the Commencement events of a young and dynamic
Catholic liberal arts college such as Thomas More College. From what I have
learned, this dear institution is dedicated to forming students intellectually
and spiritually within the Catholic intellectual tradition and with unapologetic
fidelity to the Magisterium, or the Teaching Authority of the Church.
May I, therefore, propose to you some reflections on "The Contribution of a
Catholic University to the Life and Mission of the Church'*.
A serious and authentic Catholic College or University has to strive to provide
its students rigorous education on relations between faith and reason, on
Specialization and Orientation, and on Science and Ethics. Students need a
realistic and dynamic philosophy of life that shows them how to make a synthesis
between religion and daily life. There will thus result an acceptable integral
development of the human person. And the Catholic College or University will
have succeeded in forming and turning out model Christians who are good
These will now be the elements for our reflection.
2. Faith and Reason
There is no doubt that human reason is capable of arriving at objective truth.
The natural sciences and the field of sound philosophy are examples of what the
Human mind has been able to achieve. Reason, however, cannot arrive at the depth
and height of everything, especially as regards the deeper truths concerning God
Faith is knowledge of divine and spiritual realities made available to us by God
who freely reveals himself without any merit on our own. By faith, God brings us
to knowledge which we would never have attained by natural reason.
Reason and faith are related. "Faith asks that its object be understood with the
help of reason; and at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it
cannot do without what faith presents" (John Paul II; Fides et Ratio, 42).
Both reason and faith come from God, the first in the natural order, and the
second in the supernatural. God is truth. Truth does not contradict itself (cf
Fides et Ratio, 43; Summa Contra Gentiles I, 7). It was Thomas Aquinas who said:
"whatever its source, truth is of die Holy Spirit" (I-II, 109, 1 ad 1). Faith
needs reason in order to be articulated in a sound theological synthesis. Reason
needs faith in order not to deprive people of the riches of God's revelation.
A Catholic College or University is expected to make a dynamic presentation of
this basic truth. Sound philosophy and healthy theology go hand in hand.
Reflections on Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church are thus
presented, under the guiding interpretation of the Church's Magisterium, in a
way that does honor to a university.
As Pope John Paul II says in the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae,
Catholic Universities "ate called to explore courageously the riches of
Revelation and of nature so that the united endeavor of intelligence and faith
will enable people to come to the full measure of their humanity, created in the
image and likeness of God, renewed even more marvelously, after sin, in Christ,
and called to shrine forth in the light of the Spirit" (Ex Corde Ecd, 5).
If a Catholic College or University adopts this attitude of "courageous
creativity and rigorous fidelity" (op. cit., 8), it will be able to contribute
much to promote a healthy synthesis between faith and culture in society. We all
recall the famous statement of Pope John Paul II: "The synthesis between culture
and faith is a necessity not only for culture, but also of faith... A faith that
does not become culture is a faith that is not fully received, not entirely
thought through and not faithfully lived" (John Paul II: Autograph Letter
instituting the Pont. Council for Culture, 20 May 1982, in AAS 74
3. Specialization and Basic Orientation
We need specialists in the various fields of human endeavor: law, medicine,
surgery, physics, biotechnology, psychological sciences, computer science,
aviation, space exploration and various industrial technologies.
But the growing citizen, the student, and indeed every adult needs an important
basic orientation in life. Before being a neurosurgeon or a legal luminary, a
person is first of all brother, sister, spouse, parent, citizen or colleague. A
basic orientation of the human being to human love and life, to family, to
citizenship, to work, to solidarity and interdependence, and indeed to life on
earth in general, is necessary. It is not an optional.
It would be risky to produce citizens who specialize in one little area of life
but have no viable vision of the whole of life. While no one pretends to know
something about everything, it would be even more dangerous to have to deal with
a person who parades himself as knowing everything about a tiny aspect of life,
and who is therefore lost in discussing or understanding anything except his own
area of specialization.
A Catholic College or University has an important role in providing this basic
orientation in life. Inspired by the Catholic faith, it strives in the light of
the Gospel to bring students to appreciate the beautiful, the good and the true.
The meeting with Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, in the Church and
through the Church, provides a viable Church community in which life endeavors
can be seen in a healthy synthesis. A young and lively liberal arts Catholic
College is well positioned to provide this orientation.
4. Science and Ethics
The human being who explores the frontiers of science and technology is the same
human being who is spouse, father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, ruler,
company director, bank official, medical doctor, merchant, or otherwise.
Relationship with one's neighbor is an important dimension to be considered in
Even more important are man's relations with God. He is our Creator. We are his
creatures. "It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the
sheep of his pasture" (Ps 100:3). Divine Providence keeps everything in
existence and in the divinely established order. A human being who dares to deny
God theoretical and practical recognition should be considered ridiculous.
"Without the Creator", testifies the Second Vatican Council, "the creature would
disappear... When God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible"
(Gaudium et Spes, 36). Secularism stands condemned because it is an effort to
conduct life as if God did not exist, as if God were interfering. Pope Benedict
XVI condemns this ideology because it "presents itself in culture as planning of
the world and of humanity without reference to Transcendence, invades every
aspect of daily life and develops a mentality in which God is in reality absent,
totally or in part, from human existence or consciousness" (Address to Plenary
Assembly of the Pont. Council for Culture, on 8 March, 2008).
The scientist, therefore, should not regard whatever is physically possible as
also morally lawful. Human action has to take into account the natural law, the
eternal law of God written into human nature. Pope John Paul II, when he visited
Mount Sinai in 2000, said that before God wrote and gave the Ten Commandments to
Moses, he already wrote them into the human heart. That is why people of all
religions and cultures, when they are not weighed down by ideology or human
weakness, can recognize most of the dictates of the Ten Commandments.
A Catholic College or University educates students to appreciate that moral
rules of right and wrong apply also to science, technology, politics, trade and
commerce, and indeed to all human endeavors.
5. Philosophy of Life. Map for Life Journey
Nostra Aetate notes that people seek in the various religions answers to the
profound and fundamental questions which accompany and torment human existence
on earth: what is man? Where do we come from? What is the purpose of life? What
is goodness and what is sin? How do we explain sorrows, sickness, death? What is
the path to true happiness? What happens after death? What can we know about
A Catholic College or University has the hard and important task of orienting
its students to face these fundamental questions. Providentially, God has not
left us only at die level of philosophy and reason alone. The Eternal Father has
in the fullness of time sent his Only-begotten Son to be our Savior (cf Heb 1:1;
Roman Missal: Euch. Prayer IV). Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light,
has shown us the way to the Father. He himself tells us that he is "the way, the
truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). Those who follow him will not be walking in the
darkness but will have the light of life (cf Jn 8:12). "The trudi is that only
in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For
Adam, the first man, was a figure of him who was to come, namely, Christ the
Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of die Father and
his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear"
(Gaudium et Spes, 22).
Jesus Christ is the key to our understanding ourselves, of the purpose of our
life on earth, and of what we should do or not do in order to make a success of
our earthly pilgrimage. A Catholic College or University helps its citizens to
get oriented by this philosophy of life, by this essential road map. Jesus is
the light that has come into the world (cf Jn 3:19), the true light that
enlightens everyone (cf Jn 1:9), "the light of the world" Qn 8:12) who says to
us: "Walk while you have the light" Qn 12:35).
6. Religion and Daily Life
The person who goes to Mass on Sunday is the same person who goes to work on
Monday. The same person is Christian and citizen. The believer is the same
person who is a family member, a work colleague, a medical practitioner and a
member of Congress, an official of the United Nations.
The Christian must learn to make a synthesis between his duties as a citizen and
his religious practices. There must be no divorce between these two dimensions
of his life. The Second Vatican Council is rather clear: "The split between the
faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the
more serious errors of our age... Therefore, let there be no false opposition
between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life
on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties neglects his duties
towards his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation"
(Gaudium et Spes, 43). These are strong words coming from a General Council of
Apply this to Mr. Paddy Smyth of whom it has been said: 'Paddy Smyth always went
to Mass; he never missed a Sunday. But Paddy Smyth went to hell, for what he did
on Monday". The reason is that for Paddy Smyth, religion was an affair of one
hour in church on Sunday. But on Monday where he was in parliament or Congress,
or in the trade union meeting, or in the medical unit, he did not allow his
religion to influence his action. He had not learned to make a vital synthesis
between religion and life.
We can also in this light see the mistake of politicians who regard the Church
as interfering in politics when the Pope or the Bishops speak on contraception,
abortion, strange new definitions of family, the rights of workers, the
education of children or what moral standards should guide the mass media. While
the Church has no mandate from Christ to produce recipes for the solution of
political or economic questions, the Church has the duty to invoke the light of
the Gospel on various areas of human Endeavour, on matters of right and wrong
and on the morality of human acts in general (cf Benedict XVI: Deus Caritas Est,
In the complicated world of today, where all kinds of ideas are struggling for
the right of citizenship, a university student needs a clear and viable
orientation on the relationship between religion and life. The Catholic College
or University is ideally positioned to help him see the light and equip himself
for a significant contribution in society.
Here may I recommend to every Catholic student or graduate the "Compendium of
the Social Doctrine of the Church". This excellent 525-page document produced by
the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace contains the best presentation of
Catholic doctrine on such social matters as creation, the human person and his
rights, the common good, social life, family, marriage, work, economy, the
political community, the international community, justice, peace, war and
7. Integral Development of the Human Person
The Catholic College or University can do much to provide an education for the
human person which is not partial or incomplete, but integral and all-embracing.
Such education should help the human being to develop in all dimensions:
physical, mental, spiritual and religious. The Christian thus becomes and
behaves as a "new man in Christ" (cf Eph 2:15).
Too often people equate education with certificates, or with what can be tested
in written or oral examinations. No doubt, we absolutely need intellectual
development. But what does it profit us if a student is an intellectual giant
but a moral baby; if he or she knows the year of the Battle of Waterloo and the
amount of rainfall in Brazil; if he or she can shoot out mathematical or
historical facts like a computer but is unfortunately a problem for the parents,
corrosive acid among companions in the College, a drug addict and sexual
pervert, a disgrace to the school, a waste-pipe in the place of work and Case
number 23 for the Criminal Police? It is clear that intellectual development is
Deserving of special mention is education in the use of freedom. Pope Benedict
stressed it when he spoke to Catholic educators in the United States on 17 April
2008 in the Catholic University of America. "While we have sought diligently to
engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will.
Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted.
Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in — a participation in Being
itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God.
Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to
The Holy Father continues and says that educators owe it in all "intellectual
charity" to lead their students to the truth so that they exercise freedom in
relation to truth. We can add that this is very necessary in the intellectual
world of today where many people deny the objectivity of moral truth and where
moral relativism is regarded as the accepted thing. A person who holds that
certain actions, like direct abortion, are always objectively wrong, is regarded
as "judgmental", or as imposing his views on others. The exercise of freedom in
pursuit of the truth is very much a part of integral education. If a Catholic
College or University does not help in this way, should we not say that it has
failed in one of its important roles?
8. Catholic University to form model Christian Citizens
If a Catholic College or University answers to its vocation in the ways outlined
above, then it will be educating, forming and releasing into society model
citizens who will be a credit to their families, their College, the Church and
the State. It will prepare for us members of Congress or the Senate who will not
say "I am a Catholic, but..."; but rather those who will say "I am a Catholic,
and therefore..." They will be coherent both as Catholics and as citizens. Their
religion will not be just a matter of an hour or two on Sunday, but will also
provide a vital synthesis for their activities on Monday through Saturday, and
from January to December.
A Catholic College or University is also expected to inspire a generation of
model Christian parents and to motive some students to opt for the priestly life
or for the consecrated state.
This is our prayer. This is our hope for Thomas More College and for all
Catholic Colleges or Universities. By the intercession of the Blessed Virgin
Mary and St Thomas More, may God pour his abundant blessings on the new
graduates, all the students, their parents and the President, Faculty, Friends
and Supporters of Thomas More College. May your contribution to the mission of
the Church be dynamic, constant and to the point.
Francis Card Arinze
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