As President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology it is my privilege and happy duty to welcome our graduates, their friends and families to our 82nd Commencement exercises.
We have gathered this afternoon to recognize and celebrate the scholarship and achievement of our graduates through the bestowal of degrees. You will notice that there is a formula for the conferral of the degrees: “I confer upon you the degree …with all of the rights, privileges and responsibilities that pertain thereto.” From this day forward our graduates will have the right to claim their degree publicly and the privilege of wearing the insignia –the hood and gown—that accompany it. They will be recognized as having achieved competence in their disciplines. But how are we to understand the responsibilities that pertain to their degrees?
We have declared that an essential element of the mission of DSPT is to engage contemporary culture and scholarship through the Dominican tradition of education, particularly as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas. We therefore confidently expect that engagement on the part of our graduates, and therein lay their responsibilities:
First and foremost, in the words of St. John Paul II, a responsibility for truth: “…a sense of responsibility for truth is one of the fundamental points of encounter between the Church and each man [and woman] and also one of the fundamental demands determining our vocation in the community of the Church” (Redemptor Hominis, 19).
If this responsibility is to be exercised in the manner of St. Thomas, then it will be through seeking the truth who is Christ. But we must seek Christ where he is to be found. Therefore it will also mean seeking the truth – or the reality of our encounters, for that is the same thing — within the encounter with others and not apart from it. It will mean listening so well and so closely to others that our graduates will be able to grasp the truth that others seek, even when they may not be able to articulate it well and even though they appear to be in opposition to them. This, in turn, will require of or graduates two further responsibilities: to listen well and to respond to others on their own terms – notice, to respond and not merely to react.
It is in this spirit that Pope Francis has reminded us that the Church –and the Christian—must never be “self-referential”: “All this demands that we keep our heart and mind open, avoiding the spiritual illness of self-referentiality. When the Church becomes self-referential she … falls ill and ages. May our gaze, firmly fixed on Christ, be prophetic and dynamic in looking to the future. Thus you will remain ever young and bold in interpreting events!”
To be “self-referential” is to demand to be met on one’s own terms, in the light of one’s own sensibilities for the sake of advancing one’s own position. This “spiritual illness” is certain an affliction of the age in which we live. We celebrate today the fact that our graduates have demonstrated mastery in their disciplines of philosophy and theology. But we also celebrate the fact they are bearers of a tradition. That tradition –the tradition of St. Thomas and of the Dominican Order—is not merely a content (not all of our graduates have focused their study on St. Thomas) but is a manner of engagement with others whereby the whole intellectual life is ordered to charity, to love.
Responsibilities such as these can only be undertaken by those who have been educated for them. We well know that the evidence for the mastery of a discipline is that someone is able to teach it to others. (The word “Master” derives from the Latin “magister” or “teacher.”) The mastery that we expect of our graduates is that, like St. Thomas, they possess the ability, not only to teach others, but to attend to others and, through a genuine engagement, to seek the truth with them.
We are delighted this afternoon to recognize the academic accomplishment of our graduates and to confer upon them their degrees, and still more delighted that we judge them worthy of the responsibilities that pertain to them.