The Catholic University of America 119th Commencement
Remarks of Carl and Dorian Anderson
May 17, 2008
Your Excellency Archbishop Wuerl, President O’Connell, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and administration, graduating students, family and friends, thank you for the privilege of joining in this great tradition of The Catholic University of America.
I know some of you may be thinking if the speaker this morning had to be a Knight of Columbus, why could he not be someone like Vince Lombardi, Babe Ruth or John F. Kennedy? Well, believe me, as I was writing and re-writing these remarks I had the same thought. But I am very proud to be here and very proud of the long relationship between the Knights of Columbus and this university, beginning in 1905 with the establishment of the first endowed chair in American history, our university scholarship and fellowship programs that have helped nearly 3,000 students here, the establishment of the Columbus School of Law in the 1950s, our Bicentennial Fund and most recently the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
Looking across the green to what will soon become Father McGivney Hall, I cannot help but recall a meeting in the 1980s with Pope John Paul II, in fact, it was a faculty meeting for professors of the John Paul II Institute – a two-hour meeting at the Vatican presided over by the pope. It was the first time we discussed the possibility of bringing a campus of “his” Institute to the United States. We proposed Washington, D.C., as the location, and the pope expressed interest in Catholic University because of its historic importance to Catholics in the United States, reminding us that he had lectured here in the 1970s. I replied, that one day I believed this would be possible; and now, this Fall, when Father McGivney Hall officially becomes the home of the John Paul II Institute his dream will become a reality.
We are proud to say our university shines today in a special way – from the glow of thousands of hearts justly proud of your accomplishments and eager for the future you have prepared for so carefully. Before you, a long line of graduates have achieved greatness both for their personal careers and for our society. Without a doubt many of you will join them in this success. But even more, I hope you join this distinguished tradition of an openness of intellect to a life of learning as well as an openness of spirit to a life of service to others.
But our campus continues to have a special glow during these days for another reason. We still remember just weeks ago, the eye of this nation was drawn to our campus by the light of a man of great hope. Pope Benedict’s words still linger with us from his historic visit. But let us be clear, even this momentous occasion will fade into the history books if nothing changes as a result of his visit. Likewise for us, his message of hope will fade into mere memory if we are not changed by it.
CUA President Father David M. O’Connell, C.M., Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, Dorian Anderson and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington.
Your graduating class in particular was prepared uniquely for his message. You are, in fact, the last class to have entered college during the pontificate of the great John Paul II – be true to this. Likewise, Pope Benedict commenced a new chapter in his life of teaching – his pontificate – and wrote two of the greatest encyclicals of our time. These popes have been your companions in an education in hope.
As Pope Benedict said in his remarks to Catholic educators, a Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter God’s “transforming love and truth.” Many of you have found this here at our university – you have had an openness of the intellect to this “transforming truth” and you have had an openness of the spirit to this “transforming love.”
A hallmark of Catholic education has been its personalist approach – an approach which finds strength not in the utility of learned facts, but in the unity fashioned by truth and love. It considers academic commitment an empty icon of success if it does not also provide for the responsibility of building a more just community. It recognizes a greater good beyond self interest, and declares that self-betterment without self-giving is no betterment at all.
This is so much a part of our tradition that we may take it for granted. But we should not – as recent events on Wall Street demonstrate. We must constantly reaffirm that regardless of our different backgrounds, our different stories and our different journeys of faith, we are all – as Pope Benedict reminded us – “brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all.”
But if this is our hope, it is not yet our reality.
It is obvious that we live in a world in which millions do not sit with us around a bountiful table. One billion people in the world today live on less than two dollars a day. Nearly half the persons who do so live in Africa.
But it need not be this way. We can do something about it.
This is the challenge we face today. We are called to build a better society here in the United States. But we cannot stop within our borders. We are called to transform our society in such a way so that it will lead a greater effort to overcome poverty, disease, hatred and violence throughout our world.
Many of you have studied the effects, both positive and negative, of globalization and of what some scholars have called our emerging global civilization. We cannot stop this process. But we can help to shape its direction. We can bring a greater ethical dimension to it.
The challenges confronting us are great, but our response can be greater.
For we have been called to build a civilization: a civilization promoting the sanctity and dignity of every person; a civilization recognizing fundamental human rights for all; a civilization respecting the vocation of every person – a civilization that Pope Benedict has called a civilization of love.
The faint of heart may say the difficult is impractical, even impossible, and our vocation is unrealistic. But it is not.
Standing in front of McGivney Hall is a statute of Father McGivney – founder of the Knights of Columbus. He was an American parish priest; the eldest of 13 children six of whom died in childhood. He worked in a factory as a child, his father died while he was in seminary. He knew what poverty meant, what it meant to be without health care and what it meant for a widow to care for her children without the social safety net that supports us today. And he also knew first-hand the effects of discrimination in employment and housing.
Yet Father McGivney knew something more – he knew the transforming power of faith, hope, unity and charity. He had a steel-like determination to bring together and empower the working men of his time to change their social conditions. For him this work was not idealism, but the very test of realism.
It is a realism that arises from the Lord’s basic commandment – “love one another as I have loved you.” If we have experienced the transforming power of this love, then through love we can bring this transformation to others; first in our own country and then beyond. Only then can our hope be an active hope; and a hope for all.
This commitment begins with each of us – with what John Paul II called “the most important dimension of the civilization of love”. It begins by understanding that we are called to make a sincere gift of ourselves to others.
But where is this “sincere gift of self” first learned? It is, of course, learned in the family – nature’s school of life and love.
Dear graduates, to say that the family is a true school is to say also that marriage itself is an educational process – a process that is helped by what you have learned here; an openness of intellect and an openness of spirit. In other words, marriage must foster a life open to the transforming power of truth and of love. It is the commitment of a man and a woman who seek to discover the truth about themselves in the “school” of their life together. And for that to be truly possible each must be willing to make a “sincere gift of self” to each other and to their children. In this way they can make of their marriage and their family, not only a school of love, but a true building block of the civilization of love.
This year, the Pontifical Council for the Family, of which we are members, has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of the great encyclical of Pope Paul VI on human life and love – Humanae Vitae. And its lessons speak to all of us.
We see all around us the weakness of merely human love. There is more than enough evidence to conclude that our hopes for love and happiness exceed what is possible for us. But to abandon hope would be the greatest deception because it would mean living as if God does not exist.
This is the great temptation of our time and this is the great betrayer of our deepest aspirations. Human love in the light of Divine love can reach its true potential. Married life offers a great promise – the promise of the transforming power of truth and love. It is the promise also of enduring hope and joy.
Throughout his long pontificate, Pope John Paul II reminded us that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” Of course, this is true in the most obvious way. But it is also true in a less obvious way.
The family is that place where the transforming power of love is first experienced and is passed on to the future. If the family is a school of love, then it is a place where the lessons of charity, unity and hope are learned. For this reason it is no exaggeration to say that the ultimate fate of a truly human society lies in the family. And the ultimate fate of the family lies in the integrity of the lives together of husband and wife.
Where the family remains a school of love we may hope to one day build a society and even a civilization of love.
We may think that one family dedicated in this way cannot make much of a difference. But there can be millions of these families – and millions can change a nation. The transforming power of the family can transform society. And all of this begins with a simple, yet profound decision: to make a sincere gift of one’s self to another person.
All of us wish you – the graduation Class of 2008 – great success in your chosen careers. Many of you will find, as we did, that our careers take us in directions that we could never have imagined on our graduation day. And it may seem at times that change in a career can come with an almost dizzying speed. But if careers may lack permanence or stability what does remain is your vocation.
We hope that each of you realize that a career and a vocation are not the same thing and that you find your true vocation in the days ahead. A vocation is the commitment of your whole self to something that will raise you beyond yourself. If you are true to your vocation you will always be true to yourself.
Do not live lives as if God does not exist; but, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said so often, “give God permission” to enter your lives, your marriages, your families and your careers. If you give God permission, you will find your true vocation. And when you do that, no matter what may happen to you in the years ahead you will achieve true greatness.