2009 Opening Mass Homily

Mass of the Holy Spirit
Opening of the School Year Celebration

August 25, 2009

“I have much more to tell you,” Jesus says to his disciples, “but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of Truth will guide you to all truth” (Jn. 16: 12-13).

Jesus is a good teacher. He does not try to load his students down with more than they can take in; he does not give them more than they can bear at this moment.

In this passage in John’s Gospel, He is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. They are about to witness Jesus’s suffering, crucifixion, and death. They will be amazed by his resurrection on Easter Sunday. They will have a lot to learn, and much on which to reflect. They will need the Spirit on Pentecost to lead them to “all truth”.

Jesus precise words in this passage are very important. He does not say that he will send the Spirit to tell them, to inform them, of all truth. Rather the Spirit will guide them to truth.

You students are now in college, so you must become accustomed to professors quoting words from obscure languages at you. So here goes. In the Greek text, Jesus’s word that is translated with the English word “to guide” is the Greek word, “όδηγέω. That word has a root of “όδός”, which means “road” or “way”. The word might literally be translated as “to lead us on our way”.

We see a lot of that in the Scriptures. When God guides the chosen people out of Egypt, He leads them on a long 40 year journey. During the journey, Moses is delayed on Mount Sinai, the people stray and worship a golden calf, they are punished, they grumble, they rebel again, there is a long wandering in the desert, and, at the end, some battles to fight. There are many opportunities to lose their way—and the people do so with some frequency—but God continues to guide them back to their path to the Promised Land, to which they eventually come.

And in one sense the Gospels can be read as Jesus leading his disciples to Jerusalem, his crucifixion on Good Friday, and then his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

As we see, these examples of God “leading us on our way” are consistent with a lot of missed turns, some straying, a good deal of confusion and disagreement about where the group should be going, and a number of dead ends. Much guidance is needed, and some chastisement when people stay. This guidance is never as detailed as a Google map, but it is enough to lead people back to the right path. These journeys also involve gradually growing insight and eventually the unspeakable satisfaction of arriving at one’s true home.

Great journeys are never a simple, direct route from point A to point B. And as hard as it is to find one’s way individually, the challenges for a group to find its way together can be much greater. I know from experience. As you may know, I come from a large family, and large parts of that family, adults and children, will sometimes come for Notre Dame football games. I am always amazed at—and often frustrated by—how challenging it is to move that group together for just a few hundred yards. “Let’s go to the Bookstore,” someone says. Great, but the trip can be a major logistical operation. My Mom likes to talk to people. With several thousand of them around, she is usually delayed. My nephews will be playing catch, running ahead, and often get lost in the crowd, which requires that someone go find them and bring them back to the group. Someone has a bright idea about a short cut to avoid the crowds, which usually doesn’t turn out to be shorter at all.

I remember once after a game we were going to meet at my room and then go to dinner at a restaurant where we had a reservation. Well, on the trip from the stadium to my room we lost track of an uncle, which delayed us for an hour, which meant we nearly missed the dinner reservation. At the end of those weekends I feel like Moses who led the people through forty years of wandering in the desert.

It is not easy to follow a guide on a long journey. It is a lot harder to do it as a group and stay together.

Indeed, all this might be an image for the Notre Dame community in this coming year. A university is essentially a community that is on a journey of sorts looking for “all truth”, as Jesus describes in the Gospel. We do this through teaching and studying in class, through research and inquiries in labs and libraries, through reading and writing, and through many conversations in many different places. This community is also one that seeks to be led by the sometimes subtle prompting of the Spirit who guides us on our way. We do this communally in liturgies like this one, and privately in our personal prayer and reflection. Both the academic learning and inquiry and the communal and individual prayer help lead us along the way to all truth.

Like the Isrealites in the desert, the disciples with Jesus, and my family on a football weekend, we should expect some challenges along the way in the coming year. At a fork in the road, some will want to go left, some right, and some will want to scurry off the road to find a short cut. There will be some dead ends, and detours, and delays. Some may stray off the path, and we will need to take the time to bring everyone together. And, in the midst of the journey’s challenges, disagreements may occasionally become sharp and heated, which can make it harder to stay together. Yet there will also be exciting new lands, breathtaking vistas, new insights, a deeper sense of community, and, at the end, a richer grasp of the truth. Let’s look for those moments, and savor them.

So, as we embark on the journey of this coming year, let us listen to the Gospel and do two things. First, let us individually and communally find time for quiet and prayer when we can listen again to the guidance of the Spirit.

Secondly, let’s stay together. Let’s stay together, not as a herd of cattle does, thoughtlessly following; nor as a military battalion does, marching in step. Let’s stay together as a community in search of a common grasp of truth, guided by the command to love, patient with one another, challenging one another, supporting one another, looking together for our common home and a grasp of the fullness of truth.

As we go on with Mass, let us pray that we may do both these things. And, then, after Mass and the celebration this evening, let’s get going on our journey together.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame
(edited transcript)