Abbot Lawrence, President Main, distinguished faculty, members of the university administration and board, members of the monastic community, students, alumni, friends and family, and most especially you, the St. Gregory’s University Class of 2012, it is a great pleasure and distinct honor to greet you on this joyful occasion and to offer a few words in celebration of today’s commencement exercises and your achievements.
There is no doubt that this has been a remarkable and eventful year here at St. Gregory’s University. You have survived an earthquake and inaugurated a new president. The indomitable spirit with which the university and monastic communities responded to the former and the energy with which President Main and his team have taken the reins of leadership give evidence of the determination of this proud university to blaze a way forward by creatively seizing opportunities in the midst of formidable challenges.
Each of you graduates today has reached a truly significant milestone in your life. Whether you have been a traditional residential student here in Shawnee or a learner in the College of Working Adults, your achievements in completing your degree programs are evidence of your hard work and determination. They are evidence of the great value that you place on education.
Today you join the distinguished alumni of the oldest institution of higher education in the state of Oklahoma, and the only Catholic university in this great state. You have become part of an institution which has deep roots in Oklahoma. Reaching back to the pioneer days of those early Benedictine missionaries who came to Indian Territory in 1875, and rooted in the classical Catholic liberal arts tradition that the Benedictines have preserved for over 1,500 years and handed on through their distinctive monastic values and way of life, you are heirs to a great heritage of faith, learning and culture. St. Gregory’s University draws its life and mission from the heart of the Church and its distinctive approach to education from its Benedictine values and spirit.
No doubt your education at St. Gregory’s has afforded you an excellent opportunity to prepare yourselves with the intellectual, professional and technical proficiency you will need to move into your chosen fields of endeavor. For some of you the next step may be further education, for others an opportunity to advance in your current careers, and for others it is the beginning, a time to make your way in life as you seek new opportunities equipped with your new degree.
But in choosing St. Gregory’s University, with its distinctive educational values as a Catholic liberal arts institution in the Benedictine tradition, you have chosen to pursue more than a business, scientific or even a professional education. The genius of a liberal arts education is that it does not have as its first and foremost goal merely the training of accountants, nurses or teachers. The liberal arts educate and form good men and women, the whole person. The liberal arts provide not just a skill set, but a preparation for life. The liberal arts core with its traditional focus on the good, the true and the beautiful seeks to instill integrity and virtue in students who through the careful and rigorous cultivation of both mind and heart, intellect and will, are uniquely equipped to take their places in business, the professions, the family and public life as well-rounded and productive citizens.
The focus of a Catholic liberal arts education is on developing the whole person: body, mind and spirit, created in the image and likeness of God. Its focus is on cultivating virtue, developing character, bringing the light of both faith and reason to bear on the very real challenges which our society faces today. Your education has prepared you to make a significant contribution to the life of both Church and society.
In Oklahoma, we Catholics constitute only a very small minority of the population. Still, as a whole, Oklahomans retain a stronger Christian awareness than Americans in many other parts of this great but increasingly secular nation. Even in Protestant Oklahoma, however, the dominant secular culture is making its inroads. This secular mind-set may not explicitly deny the existence of God, but thinks, judges and acts in practical matters as if God does not exist. It privatizes faith and religion in order to keep their influence out of public discourse and public life. This is one of the challenges we are facing today as religious liberties are increasingly coming under assault in the United States and around the world.
One of the valuable and distinctive contributions that St. Gregory’s University offers amid the various educational options available in Oklahoma is that it is able to provide a thoroughly consistent and integrated education rooted in a Catholic and Christian world view. This world view recognizes the inalienable dignity and transcendent destiny of every human person, the central importance of marriage and the family as the basic unit of society, the value of solidarity and communion and the right and responsibility of everyone to contribute to the common good. It does not settle for a truncated vision of the human person or society, but promotes the integration of faith and reason as understood and handed on through 2,000 years of living tradition in the Catholic Church.
For several hundred years, since the dawning of the period of intellectual history known as the Enlightenment, the cult of progress has been eclipsing the true cult and worship of the Living God. An unquestioning belief in the inevitability of progress is the only permissible dogma in the postmodern secular creed. But as Pope Benedict XVI has cautioned, “Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness.”
Authentic progress must have as its goal a steady advancement toward the truth about what is good for the human person and society. Stretching out before you, graduates, is a life that all of us hope will be long, productive and purposeful. But it is unique and unrepeatable. Do not let it pass in vain.
Live it with enthusiasm and with joy, but most of all live it with a sense of responsibility. Be good stewards of the gifts and opportunities that have been entrusted to you! Make choices that demonstrate your faith and most deeply held convictions. Cultivate love of God and love of neighbor and strive always to put yourselves, your talents and your abilities at the service of the common good and of the truth.
May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfillment in the years before you.