By Rev. Paul Harman, S.J.
Your Excellency, Bishop McManus, Bishop Reuger, Abbot Damien, Father President, my brother Jesuits and members of the clergy, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, and staff of the College of the Holy Cross, honored guests:
First, some words to the family and friends of our new president. We do not know what high resolves Phil might have made in the waning hours of December 31, 2011 as he anticipated his move to Worcester. Did he, for example, resolve to set aside one full day each week for rest and relaxation? Did he resolve to spend the first months of his presidency primarily in a listening mode? What we do know is that he moved into the President’s Office on January 9th, 2012, and January 9th, according to national surveys, is the day when most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions!
As is to be expected, Phil has missed his many good colleagues and associates at Georgetown University. He still cherishes the strong ties that bind him to family and friends in the Northwest and he continues to take rightful pride in the fact that, to the surprise of some, he is a citizen of Canada.
But let me tell you: after eight months at Holy Cross, Philip Boroughs seems downright happy and content on Mount St. James. He has commented often and favorably on the quality of the air, on the vistas of Worcester’s hills and valleys, the beauty of the College campus, the dedication of faculty, staff, and employees, the welcome of the Jesuit community. He has enjoyed exploratory car tours in the city and surrounding towns, and long walks in the local neighborhoods. If “home is where the heart is,” there is every indication that this College on ”the Hill” has become his home. May it long be so!
In 1859, there was another Jesuit who arrived at Holy Cross from Georgetown full of praise for his new surroundings. His name was Edmund Young and he wrote to friends saying:
“There is no hill on which grass grows to be compared with Holy Cross Hill. ‘Tis the gem of hills . . . Give me the laughing hills of New England and the pious Yankees with all their honesty, enterprise and unimpeachable integrity. Give me plenty of pork and beans and pumpkin pie by the square yard . . . a good library, good superiors and good students such as we have here. . .” (Kuzniewski, “Thy Honored Name,” p. 111)
Alas! Fr. Young’s love of Holy Cross was fickle. When, later, he was assigned to Santa Clara in California, he found it far more to his liking than New England and
he happily relinquished the pumpkin pies and honest Yankees so as to be able to enjoy sunny California.
Most Jesuit institutions of higher education are named after the city or town in which they were established; others are named after a Jesuit saint or generous benefactor. The College of the Holy Cross is named after a cathedral. When Benedict Joseph Fenwick, S.J., the second bishop of Boston, came to Worcester to lay the foundation of the College in 1843, he purposely chose to give it the name of his cathedral church in Boston: Holy Cross.
September 14th, in the Christian churches in the West and Orthodox churches in the East, is observed as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross — or, as it is termed more simply in the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches, “Holy Cross Day.”
For Christians, the Cross is not simply something we place atop church steeples or on gravesites or wear on a gold chain around our necks. It is not a badge of distinction that sets us apart. The Cross is how Jesus draws us all to himself and it is where we, as a believing community, learn the mind of Christ who poured out himself for our sake.
The Cross is where we can look closely at the human face of Jesus, and then look again, until the awesome knowledge comes over us that we are looking into the human face of the living God. It is an invitation to a new way of living.
Everything that the New Testament understands by by the word “love” is embodied, concretely, in the Cross. As we heard from the Gospel of John:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)
When John says in his Prologue “we have gazed upon his glory,” (Jn 1:14) he is thinking first and foremost of the Cross, because humble love, redeeming love, self-emptying love, is glory. There is nothing more exalted.
Given the name of the College, this chapel has resounded with the hymn, “Lift High the Cross,” more times than anyone can count. And we will sing it again this morning. It is a wonderful, spirited hymn, inviting Christians to follow the same path that Jesus trod.
The sad truth, of course, is that Christians are not always very good at following where Jesus trod. Sometimes we take up the Cross and lead rather than follow; sometimes we carry the Cross in comfortable directions of our own choosing, rather than the more difficult paths of His choosing; and sometimes we have made the Cross a mark of self-righteousness, rather than a summons to love and to serve.
The true power of the Cross is this: God’s redeeming love can heal us and transform our human frailty. This day invites us to bring to memory the countless holy women and men of every generation – some of them known to us personally – who did take up the Cross, letting themselves be drawn by its pull, often at enormous personal cost, and sometimes even to the point of death. In the measure that their shining example lives within us, the darkness and chaos of the world grows smaller.
At a Catholic college, taking the Cross seriously means the hard work of forming a community in the patient search for knowledge and truth. It means struggling with the difficult questions: “Why evil?” Why human suffering?” It means listening humbly to the wisdom of other religious traditions and to both believers and non-believers. It means entering the broken world of the poor and powerless. But above all, taking the Cross seriously means rejecting whatever is superficial in our understanding of the world, in our common life, and even in our own souls. It means going to that place in our thoughts and imagination where life meets mystery, and where the only way forward is contemplation and wonder. (Cf. Adolfo Nicolas in “Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today”).
Phil, this beautiful and joyful celebration of the Eucharist is an occasion of prayer and thanksgiving for all of us. September 14, 2012 , stands as an important moment in the 169-year-history of the College — and the day’s festivities are just beginning.
We are not gathered here simply to wish you well, though our good wishes for you are heart-felt and abundant. We are here in this chapel to give witness that you are accepting an important mission from the Society of Jesus – a mission which is part of your life-long commitment to serve Jesus “under the banner of the Cross.” You are being asked to carry forward the Jesuit educational tradition which now, perhaps more than ever, is of “critical importance for the Church’s vitality as well as for the understanding of cultures which deeply affect each person’s way of thinking and living.” (Cf. GC 34, Decree 16:2 )
Each year at Commencement, as happens at every college and university, we urge our graduating seniors to go and leave their mark on the world. Today, our hope and confidence is that, under your Spirit-filled leadership, the College of the Holy Cross will already have left its lasting mark on each one of them.
God’s blessings be upon you, Philip Boroughs!
Rev. Paul Harman, S.J., is vice president for mission at Holy Cross.
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