Crest
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

84th Commencement Student Address

by Michaela Teresa Sobrak-Seaton, MA Philosophy, with honors

Good afternoon Fr. Peter, Fr. Mark, Fr. Chris, Ms. Bitten, members of the Faculty, College of Fellows, Trustees, families, and friends—I’m honored to represent the student body today in gratitude for your support and guidance throughout these years of study. In reflecting upon what DSPT, and you, have given us, and about where we are headed now, a quote came to mind that I had encountered during this last semester. The quote is about the philosopher Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a German Jew who became an atheist at 13, then later studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, converted to Catholicism, wrote several philosophical and theological works, entered a Carmelite monastery, and was martyred at Auschwitz in 1942. When [Blessed Pope] John Paul the Second canonized her in 1998, he said,

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!

Stein certainly exemplified this phrase by her life. Her untiring search for truth led her to embrace the love of Christ and the Cross, and her entire body of work resonates with this connection between truth and love (especially her writings on the Cross). When I read the quote, I found it a very fitting thing to say of her at her canonization.

We’ve sought after theoretical knowledge, have grown in understanding of reality and our place in it, and have practiced expressing that knowledge and understanding to our peers and our professors.

But then I noticed the first part of the quote: “St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all”. The phrase is not just a description of her life. It is what her life attests to us and what she gave to us; it is something we should seek to understand not just in the context of Stein’s life and work but also in the context of our own. And then I began to think about what we have done here in the last several years at the DSPT. Insofar as God is truth, and God is love, it can certainly be said that the very idea of studying philosophy and theology together is a recognition of the relationship between truth and love. But before we can really understand what this means, there is another step that we have to first make in order to reflect the relationship of truth and love in our own lives.

At our time at the DSPT, we’ve studied many ideas. We’ve sought after theoretical knowledge, have grown in understanding of reality and our place in it, and have practiced expressing that knowledge and understanding to our peers and our professors. But hopefully we have also learned that it is not enough to simply understand ideas on a theoretical level. Rather, in order to be truly wise we must seek to encounter truth; not just to know something about it, but to see it, to come into contact with it, to unite ourselves with it. This realization in no way undermines our theoretical grappling with ideas. Rather, through rational inquiry and speculation the door is opened to even deeper understanding and unity with truth. As Fr. Chris Renz has been known to say, there is a difference between knowing the chemical makeup of a piece of chocolate, and eating chocolate. In the same way, there is a difference between simply grasping ideas discursively, and knowing that which is true. This difference is love. We are not just called to knowledge, but to contemplation. As Josef Pieper describes it:

contemplation is not simply one possible form among others of the act of knowing. Its special character does not flow from its being a particular aspect of the process of knowing. What distinguishes . . . contemplation is rather this: it is a knowing which is inspired by love. . . Contemplation is a loving attainment of awareness. It is intuition of the beloved object . . . [contemplation] aims at truth and nothing else.

Contemplation is being called by love toward truth. And now reflecting back on what was said earlier, if God is truth and love, then in seeking truth we encounter love. We see then, just as St. Teresa Benedicta’s life demonstrates for us, that there is no truth without love, and there is no love apart from truth.

This is what we must take with us when we leave the DSPT: the understanding that we are to unite ourselves with truth and love. When we study, let our study lead to contemplation, when we work, let our work never impede our contemplation, and let our lives tell this truth and love to others.

This is what we must take with us when we leave the DSPT: the understanding that we are to unite ourselves with truth and love. When we study, let our study lead to contemplation, when we work, let our work never impede our contemplation, and let our lives tell this truth and love to others. This is what we have been prepared for, and for that we should be thankful. Here I would like to especially thank you members of the faculty, who have instructed us and modeled for us how to engage with these ideas, to strive for contemplation, and to seek the truth humbly, honestly, and courageously. In this you have exemplified a motto of the Dominican order that is familiar to many of us: contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere, “to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.” Through your example, may we students be inspired to follow this directive.

Alongside this motto, there is an image – that, again, all DSPT students have encountered, but may be unfamiliar to some who are here today – that vividly illustrates the call to share the fruits of one’s contemplation:

Before the birth of St. Dominic, his mother dreamed that her son was a dog with a flaming torch in his mouth, who carried it throughout the world, setting it on fire. This image, while perhaps a little more dynamic than the image of sharing the fruits of contemplation, amounts to the same thing. We are called by love to contemplate truth. When we recognize this relationship between truth and love, we cannot but be compelled to set the world on fire. In petition that we may have the grace to live out this task, I would like to close with a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

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