Bishop O’Connell’s homily – Vincentian Higher Education Conference
Vincentian College Presidents met with our Superior General at the Vincentian Higher Education Conference “Beyond the Bicentennial: The Promise of Vincentian Higher Education” held in NYC November 11-12, 2016.
Homily for Vincentian Higher Education
This Tuesday, the citizens of the United States of America elected their 45th President, after a long, heard fought and frequently negative campaign. One thing that unites Republicans, Democrats and Independents throughout our nation is the feeling of relief that it is finally over. It seemed like an eternity, didn’t it? With each development over the last year or so — one more bizarre and unprecedented than the other — many of our citizens wondered how will this end, perhaps will this ever end? Well, it finally has.
As we move toward the end of another liturgical year, our scripture readings today contain a little bit of those same feelings. In the Book of Malachi, the author gives voice to attitudes within the Jewish community after the Babylonian exile, 400 years or so before Christ. God had demonstrated such love for his Chosen People but their response, beginning with the priests and leaders, was anything but loving in return. Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, false worship, neglecting the poor were behaviors rampant within the community. In the face of a loving God, Malachi wonders how will this end, will it end? “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like a fire, reducing evil doers to stubble, leaving neither root nor branch … but, for the faithful, the sun of justice will arise.”
In Luke’s Gospel, people were admiring the beauty of the temple when the Lord Jesus reminded them that there was more to their faith than the jewels and stones of a building. They ask, how will this end, will it end? “There will not be one stone left upon another” cautions the Lord. He does not present a very pretty picture of what would be. And yet, he urges believers “your perseverance will secure your lives.”
Sandwiched between Malachi and Luke, between Old and New Testament, Old and New Covenants, Paul addresses the faithful Thessalonians with the encouragement of apostolic leadership that “wanted to present ourselves as a model for you.”
The Church has come a long way since the scriptures were written, good times and bad; successes and setbacks; perseverance and doubt; security and uncertainty; saints and sinners. How will this end? The words of the Psalmist expressed the constant hope that kept us going, “The Lord comes to rule with justice.” Let me suggest that, in the midst of it all, in the last 400 years of the Vincentian charism, the last 200 years of the presence of Vincentian priests, brothers and sisters on our shores believing that the Lord will bring justice, in Catholic higher education, to Catholic education, in the words of St. Paul, Vincentians present ourselves as “a model for you.”
In these recent days, Vincentians and our collaborators in Catholic higher education have come together to humbly reflect upon our past, our present, our future as such a model.
In 1856, Vincentians responded to the Church’s call to establish what would become Niagara University on Mt. Eagle Ridge. In 1870, Vincentians responded to the Church’s call to establish what would become St. John’s University in Brooklyn, here in New York. In 1898, Vincentians responded to the call of the Church to establish what would become De Paul University. I am sure those early Vincentian dreamers and founders wondered “how will this end?” They did not know then. We still do not know. And, yet, we continue to do what we do as universities in the Church, for the Church, with deep and abiding faith in the Lord.
In the environment of Catholic higher education today, Vincentian universities are inspired by the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, who was not an educator as we are but still as a teacher and a pastor. Everything he preached and did and touched was motivated with a love for the poor and those in need. Perhaps he, too, wondered “how will this end?” But the uncertainty never deterred him from his mission. We must follow him still. That is who we are.
As Vincentians, we keep his spirit alive on our campuses. We model that spirit in and for Catholic higher education for our students and those who serve them. We teach the poor and about the poor. We advocate for them, with justice as a priority. We teach them theology and how it speaks to other disciplines. We lead them in prayer, to God, inclusively. We promote care for the earth, our common home. We offer them opportunities that define service learning and social responsibility, in the diversity that characterize our campuses. We create leaders who first follow the Lord.
Vincentian universities are a model for Catholic higher education. How will this end? Building the Kingdom of God.