Opening Mass 2006–2007

Mass of the Holy Spirit
Opening of the School Year Celebration
August 22, 2006
University of Notre Dame

We celebrate today the beginning of the 2006–07 school year. Few things are more fresh and exciting than a new school year. I hope you share that excitement. Welcome back everyone, and a special and especially warm welcome to the new students, new faculty, and new staff. May you very quickly feel at home here.

We celebrate today the Mass of the Holy Spirit, and it is a good time to reflect on the kinds of spirits that draw us together.

At this University, we do so many different things. Students, you build lofts and join clubs; you serve in student government, and serve in local schools and social agencies; you play basketball and play the piano; you write for the Observer and write poetry. Your primary activity is your studies, and for this you go to class and lectures; read books and write papers; conduct experiments in labs and peer through telescopes; you paint, act, and play musical instruments; you go on archeological digs and visit museums; you travel to London, Santiago, and Shanghai.

Faculty, too, engage in an array of activities. You teach in classrooms and serve on committees; you grade papers and direct dissertations; you submit grant proposals and conduct experiments; you deliver papers and write books; you put on plays and paint and sculpt works of art; you are administrators and members of professional societies; you serve in the local community, and comment on issues of national and global significance.

The activities we engage in are manifold and, at first glance, may seem disparate and disconnected. But they are not. They are united by a spirit, a spirit which seeks to discover, understand, and express what is true. This spirit is part of our nature as humans—as intellectual, rational beings, and it is given its highest expression, perhaps, at universities. It is this spirit, this urge to understand and make known the truth, which draws all the activities of this University together and makes them one. Among these disparate activities, we are a university—a word that indicates unity or oneness—because this spirit that searches for truth binds us.

The readings today speak of another spirit which seeks truth: “I will send to you…the Spirit of truth,” says Jesus, “who comes from the father, [and] he will testify on my behalf…When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 15:16; 16:13)

The spirit Jesus speaks of here is not the same as the spirit which drives all human beings on to understand truths in general. That spirit is due to the fact that we were created as intellectual creatures who by nature reason and inquire. Because this spirit—with a small "s"—is in us by our created nature, and does not need Jesus to send it.

But Jesus speaks here about sending a further spirit—a spirit with a capital "S"—which will lead the disciples on to further truth. In faith we can find in ourselves the Spirit which guides us, but is not entirely from us. It is most intimate to us, but not part of our nature. And this is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, which works in our hearts and draws us often not to truths that we can grasp through inquiry and understanding, but to mysteries that are beyond our understanding. It wordlessly guides us, counsels us, helps us to act.

In this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge the spirit that is part of our intellectual nature and which guides us through inquiry and reason to the truths we can understand, and we pray for guidance to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who guides us to the mystery of God and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

We are, perhaps, in our time cautious about any claim to be guided by the Spirit of God. In our history and today, many claim to be guided by such a spirit who perform destructive and divisive acts. Destructive religious wars, persecutions, and terrorist attacks have sometimes been justified by appeal to guidance by a higher spirit. The first letter of John warns: “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (4:1). But what are the tests for whether a spirit is from God? There are perhaps several, but I want to speak of one. It is this: the spirit that is from God, the spirit that Christ sends, is a spirit which not only leads us to truth, but also draws us to a more profound and generous love.

Love is often spoken of, and there are many different kinds of love. There is romantic love, love between friends, love of music and literature, and love of things. All these can be important and worthwhile. The love that Jesus speaks of is the one which was expressed most profoundly by his suffering and death on the cross. As it says in John’s Gospel: “There is no greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends”(Jn. 15:13). It is the love that we celebrate in this Mass, and which is represented by every one of the very many crucifixes that are on this campus. The love that the Holy Spirit draws us to is the one which gives of itself without seeking itself.

We are a university united by a spirit that drives us to a greater understanding of the truth. But we are not fully the university we claim to be if that higher spirit, the Holy Spirit, does not draw us also to love. We may write ground-breaking books, conduct illuminating experiments, produce wonderful works of art. Yet if our various activities are not in some way directed toward love, we are not the Catholic university we claim to be.

As St. Paul says: “If I speak with the tongues of mortals and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal…and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

If the spirit that drives us to truth does not also draw us to love, it is not the Spirit of God.

In his encyclical, God is Love, Pope Benedict says that Christian life can be summarized in the line from the first letter of St. John, “We have come to know and believe in the love God has for us” (I Jn 4:16). We are called to return this love, but, as St. John also says, we cannot say we love the God cannot see, if we do not love the neighbor we can see. And, Pope Benedict points out, this must be expressed in concern for those in greatest need.

We have during this year an opportunity to reflect on those in the world who live under a dehumanizing poverty. We speak so much—and rightly so—of globalization. The globalization which comes from rapid travel, technology that gives us instant communication around the world, international trade and politics—all of this makes the world smaller and brings us all together. It has allowed nations like China, Japan, and India to make dramatic advances economically, and to become more integrated in the world economy. But the globalization has also made us aware of peoples and nations that struggle with poverty and disease. The peoples of Sudan, Haiti, Peru, Bangladesh, and many other countries lack even the most fundamental necessities for life and health. Diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, which are rather routinely curable in our country, take more than 5,000 lives each day in developing nations. That means that more people die each day from these curable diseases than are in this auditorium today.

HIV/AIDS remains an infectious disease of epidemic proportions in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where 63 percent of the population are infected and living with the disease. In transitional and developing countries, 6.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDSdrugs, but only 1.3 million of those people will receive them.

In coming weeks we will have the chance to reflect on the lives of those who struggle for basic necessities. Our academic forum—entitled The Global Health Crisis: Forging Solutions, Effecting Change—will bring together some of the world’s most prominent writers and activists on this issue. We at Notre Dame will have the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the challenges the world faces to provide the most basic health care to those who suffer under extreme poverty.

There is no greater power in the world than that which comes from education, and the knowledge and expertise education gives a person. We who are fortunate to be faculty and students at Notre Dame have a share in this power. The readings today challenge us to reflect on whether we will use this power for ourselves or for others.

The Holy Spirit works with the spirit in us to draw us to greater truth. It also draws us to love. At this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we pray that the ardor for knowledge, understanding, and authentic expression may burn ever more. We also pray that this knowledge and understanding serves others in love. Let us pray that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can go forth in this academic year to discover, understand, and express the truth, and to serve others in love, and particularly those in greatest need.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame