On Tuesday August 18, 2020, Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B., Abbot of Saint Anselm Abbey and Chancellor of Saint Anselm College, delivered the following homily on the occasion of the Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the 2020 Academic Year at Saint Anselm College.
Readings: Ezekiel 28:1-10; Deuteronomy 32:26-27AB, 27CD-28, 30, 35CD-36AB; Matthew 19:23-30
We gather this evening as a community of learning, and as a community of faith, to request the blessing of the Holy Spirit both upon the health of our entire campus population, and upon the academic work of our students and faculty as we begin what promises to be a most unique semester for Saint Anselm College. May the Lord’s Spirit protect us and those we love, and indeed through His healing power may God’s Spirit renew the face of the earth.
There have been many lessons learned over these last many Covid-dominated months, but perhaps the most valuable one of all for us throughout this difficult time is that same lesson given us in our first reading of today’ Mass from the prophet Ezekiel. The prophet’s very stern warning has always been valid (and seems even more apropos today) and has been conveyed again and again to countless individuals down a host of centuries. We are vulnerable, we are mortal. We are not God but creatures. (How true this rings in our current climate.) The prophet strongly challenges those who are haughty of heart, who would declare themselves complete masters of their own destiny. For Ezekiel declares: Thus says the Lord God: “Will you say, ‘I am a God!’ when you face those who would murder you? No, you are a human not a God.”
Acknowledging who we are, and grasping fully our place within the tremendous mystery of creation, is vital to our self-understanding, and will affect our approach to all that we desire to learn and comprehend. We come to a place like Saint Anselm College that we might study and learn, and ultimately grow in wisdom. The Old Testament book of Proverbs, again a message that echoes down from thousands of years ago, counsels everyone who today would study at this school: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It is in discerning our proper place relative to our Creator God, that we are provided shape and direction and meaning to all that we do, whether that be of an academic, or social, or practical nature.
The gospel of today is a continuation of the passage from Saint Matthew proclaimed yesterday, the passage regarding the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to attain eternal life. Jesus tells him that he must obey the commandments. The young man replies that he has done so all his life, and asks what else he must do. Jesus tells him, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and then come and follow me. The young man goes away sad because, we are told, he had many possessions.
Every serious student must ask in all honesty, what do I cling to as my possessions that gets in the way of my education. What do I need to let go of that I might better learn, so that I might grow in wisdom, and make of my life a fitting expression of gratitude and service to the God who created me?
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our work this semester, to assist us in letting go of our ego, our stubbornness, our sense of self-importance. Let us ask that we be good listeners, and sincere in our respect for our faculty who have been called to a career, a vocation of leading others toward what is true, of teaching students to distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, between what is correct and what is incorrect, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
So many individuals have been forced over the last six months to sacrifice or give up completely the things they enjoy, the closeness with friends, and special moments and family activities. So many workers occupying the front lines have deliberately chosen a more difficult path for themselves in order to be able to assist others. We have all learned from this troubled time, and we know from our faith, that it is in giving that we receive.
Dear students, true joy will come into your lives whenever you refuse to see yourselves as the center of your universe, and with eyes fixed on your Creator offer yourselves in love and service to the Lord, to your families, fellow students and co-workers, and to the wider world in which you will take your’ place. Then will you be an educated individual, seeking and grasping and doing what is right and true and good. May the Holy Spirit bless you and bless your good work this semester and all the days of your life.