Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Cardinal Arinze's Sermon at the Academic Mass

Here is the text of the sermon preached by Cardinal Arinze at the Academic Mass for London University's Catholic Chaplaincies, held at the Cathedral on 19 November:

"It is with a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God, and of joy in his service, that we gather at this Academic Mass in this sacred place, to commemorate and celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the foundation of the Catholic Chaplaincy to the London Universities. I thank His Eminence, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Father Peter Wilson for this invitation. I bring to the entire Chaplaincy staff and to the Universities’ Staff and Students the blessings and good wishes of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. For a person like me who studied in the University of London Institute of Education in the 1963-1964 Academic year, participation in this day’s celebration brings special joy.
In the Responsorial Psalm 15(16) which we sang after the first lesson on this 33rd Sunday in the year, we rejoice at the Lord’s presence because of the guidance which he gives us through our Catholic faith. Verse 11 summarizes this state of soul:

“You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever”.

What does my Catholic faith do for me? How does one live this faith in a multi-religious academic community? How does my Catholic faith inspire my vocation in life?

These are the three points on which we shall now reflect.

Let me put to myself a question. What does my Catholic faith do for me? What has it meant for me in my more than seventy years of life? How has it served me and guided me in days of joy and sorrow, light and cloud?

My Catholic faith gives meaning and a sense of direction to my life. It offers me indispensable light to know where I come from, where I am going, and how I can get there. The most important piece of information when a person is going to a place is to know where he or she is going. Then it will be crucial to know the means to get there.

The Second Vatican Council already documented that people seek in the various religions some answers to the fundamental questions which accompany, and sometimes torment, human existence here on earth: “What is a man? What is the meaning and the purpose of our life? What is goodness and what is sin? What gives rise to our sorrows and to what intent? Where lies the path to true happiness? What is the truth about death, judgment, and retribution beyond the grave? What, finally, is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, and whence we take our rise, and whither our journey leads us? (Nostra Aetate, 1).
My Catholic faith supplies me a clear and dynamic answer. God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him for ever in the next. St Augustine found this out after making many expensive mistakes in his youth. He cried to God: “You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it repose in you” (Conf I, 1). Realizing late in life that his final joy could not be found in the creatures of God but in the God of those creatures, St Augustine confessed: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you, yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace” (Conf VII, 27).
My Catholic faith gives unity and meaning to my life. Otherwise the various things I do, or bear, or receive or hope for in life would be like scattered mosaics without a unified meaning. My daily duties would be one monotonous and dull detail after another, without connected meaning. I would be facing heat, cold, traffic jam, insistent telephone calls and endless office meetings which make every new day saluted with lack of enthusiasm, if not with a sense of boredom, meaninglessness and growing tiredness.
On the contrary, my Catholic faith is a dynamic and bright lantern for my path in life. It shows me Jesus as the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn 14:6). It harmonizes my duties as a citizen and as a Christian (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43). It excludes all divorce between my Sunday Mass and my duties on Monday to Saturday. My plans and hopes, my achievements and failures, my pains and aches as one grows older, and my joys and celebrations of milestones in life are all given a vital synthesis and sense of direction. I do not live with a pessimistic melancholy outlook on life. I have no temptations to suicide because such are often based on seeing no meaning in life. With St Paul I can humbly say that I know in whom I have believed and I have every reason to put my trust in Christ Jesus (cf. II Tim 1:12).

How does a Catholic professor, lecturer, student or other university staff live the Catholic faith in the academic community which in our times is becoming more and more pluralistic from the religious point of view?

We start by noting that religious plurality is a fact particularly in our times. Some elements such as the following have contributed to people of many religions living and working side by side: increasing ease of modern travel, the mass media, especially the television, the radio, the computer, the internet and their derivatives, and change of address for reasons of study, diplomatic service, trade, business or cultural exchange. A Catholic, indeed any Christian, should have an attitude of respect, listening welcome, open heart and readiness for co-operation with persons of other religious convictions.
A prior and necessary requirement, however, is that one be properly and clearly inserted in our Catholic faith community. It is a risk to try to meet people of other religions if one does not have a clear idea of one’s Catholic identity and a calm insertion in it. A country does not send as its ambassador a citizen who cannot distinguish the flag of his country from two other flags, who has forgotten the name of the President or King/Queen of his country and of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and who cannot sing the National Anthem!
A Catholic who is not well inserted in our Catholic faith and community is threatened by many dangers in the academic community. There is the error of secularism which lives or wants to conduct society as if God did not exist, as if religion were a private property which must not be allowed to show its face in public. There is religious or theological relativism which denies objective truth in any religion, which assumes the attitude that one religion is as good as another, and which is practically saying that your religion is true for you and my religion is true for me, as if sincerity were the only virtue and were the objective criterion of truth! Every teacher knows that sincerity is not enough, otherwise all students would pass the mathematics examination. Practical materialism can become equivalent to implicit or practical atheism when only material things are taken seriously and the existence of God is denied or ignored. The error of liberalism, which can sometimes approach indifferentism, is that of people who regard themselves as superior to all considerations of adherence to a definite religion or set of beliefs and who look on all religions with indifferent and benign compassion.
If a Catholic is to live his or her faith in the academic community in a healthy and robust way, and to be able to avoid the above-mentioned risks, then the person needs religious information, formation and conviction. It will be necessary for the person to be a constant reader of Holy Scripture, especially the Gospels, of major documents of the Church such as in our times the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council, papal documents and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Moreover, an academician needs deeper study in the areas of Catholic teaching which have special reference to that person’s profession as doctor, lawyer, business executive, etc. St Peter advises his fellow Christians: “Always have an answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have” (I Pet 3:15). There are people who attack or ridicule Catholic beliefs or Catholic moral teaching on honesty in public and private life and on chastity. How can a Catholic in an academic community meet the situation without adequate and growing knowledge? How can the Catholic faith remain that person’s lantern and guide in the difficult life decisions and choices in a world that challenges those beliefs?

The Christian life is a call, a vocation to follow Christ: “Come after me.. (Mk 1:17). “Follow me” (Jn 1:43). Everyone has a vocation and mission in the general mission of the Church which is to spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. “In the Church there is diversity of service but unity of purpose” (Vatican II: Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2). There are no spectators in the Church. Everyone — cleric, consecrated person or lay faithful — has a definite mission to carry out.
There is a temptation for some lay faithful to expect holiness from clerics and consecrated men and women rather than from among themselves. But the correct theology is that stated by Vatican II: “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 40). The Church has therefore canonized saints from all three major states of life: clerics like St Augustine, St John Mary Vianney and St John Fisher; religious like St Theresa of Avila, St Benedict and St TherĂ©se of Lisieux; and lay faithful like Saints Thomas More, Charles Lwanga, Maria Goretti and Gianni Beretta Mola.
A Catholic in the academic community becomes holy by living a dynamic life inspired by our faith. That Catholic is to be the witness of Christ among colleagues in the arts and professions, in trade and commerce, in science and culture, in law and medicine, and indeed in the various arenas of private and public life where the person is called to be present. It was Cardinal John Henry Newman who said: “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission”. None of us should be afraid to stand up and be counted for Christ and his Gospel.
God will not fail to show us the path of life, the fullness of joy in his presence. If we allow our Catholic faith to be our light and our guide, we shall have full and lasting happiness in his presence, as the Church prays in the Collect of this Sunday. May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Queen of Apostles, obtain for the Catholic Chaplaincy to the London Universities, for all staff and students and for all of us here present, the graces of light, joy, courage and apostolic dynamism in our Catholic faith."

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