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Ave Maria University installs James Towey as new president

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Oct. 7 at a ceremony appointing James Towey as the new president of AMU.

Like Mary and the Apostles in that upper room, we are gathered in this beautiful Oratory to ask for the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on this University’s new president, James Towey. We pray for him, the administration, the faculty and the students of Ave Maria – and, we lift up grateful prayers for the founder of this University – and this town: Tom Monaghan. Thanks to his vision and his determination, Ave Maria University evolved from a alluring dream to a beautiful reality here in Southwest Florida as “a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth”. (Spe Salvi 4)

Prayer is not the last recourse of the desperate – although one might get that impression around exam time; rather it is the prime resource of the hopeful. For prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God. Prayer, for a Christian, is not self-absorbed navel gazing, rather it is the opening of ourselves to transcendence, to an encounter with the Infinite and Ever-Living God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ as our Way, our Truth, and our Life.

How fitting then that we gather on this day, the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. For the when we pray the rosary, we say lovingly over and over again, Ave Maria - Hail Mary – Ave Maria. Mary invites us – even as we gaze upon her son through her eyes – to embrace life: to understand that life is not a burden to be endured but a gift to be shared.

Ave Maria, Hail Mary. With these words, the Angel revealed to Mary God’s plan for her and for the world. With her humble response, Fiat, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” Mary – in the words of Pope Benedict – “opened the door of our world to God himself.” (Spe Salvi 49)

Pope Benedict says: “Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of reality and…can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.”

The exclusion of God from our horizons is at the heart of the crisis of modern humanism which has lost faith not only in God but in human reason itself. It is expressed in the moral relativism that already made great inroads in our popular culture – a relativism that holds that truth can be what we say it is and not what it is in itself. As the Catholic intellectual and philosopher, Michael Novak, writes:

“A commitment to relativism means that reason is ultimately irrelevant, that there is only preference. In such a world, power trumps. The thugs will win. It will be no good protesting that what they do is unjust ("says who?"), or morally culpable ("oh yeah?"), or a tissue of lies ("say you"). Only a commitment to concrete truths, to argument in the light of evidence, makes humans free. Why? Because civilized people regard one another as reasonable and free and wish to persuade one another only in the light of evidence. Barbarians use clubs.”

But to oppose faith and reason is to create a false dichotomy – as Blessed John Paul II wrote: “Reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way.”

In today’s world, often we find those who feel that they must deny reason for the sake of their faith – faith for these people at best is reduced to empty sentimentality; at worst, a facile justification for murderous ideologies. And just as often, we can find those - especially among the denizens of the ivied halls of academia – who feel that they must deny faith for the sake of reason – reason for these people is reduced to vain pedantry and conceited sophistry.

Ave Maria, as a university committed to authentic Catholic rooted in the teachings of the Magisterium seeks to impart to her students a “believing knowledge” and a “knowing faith”, thus showing that the wisdom that comes from revealed faith and the wisdom that comes from human learning are not necessarily incompatible – as is sometimes thought in this post-modern age in which we live.

As Catholics, we believe that truth is one. In that sense, there can be no real contradiction between belief and science, between faith and reason. The so-called “contradictions” that some would allege are only apparent ones that can be resolved through honest and reasonable inquiry. As Catholics we believe in both the value and power of faith and the value and power of reason. Pope John Paul II said: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

This “coming to the fullness of truth about our selves” is really a great description of what any academic pursuit that aspires to call itself “higher education” should be about. And it is a great description of what Ave Maria is called to be about. Students should come to Ave Maria not just to learn how to make a living but how to make a life.

Your new president, Jim Towey, embodies the type of Catholic Ave Maria University seeks to educate for the Church and the World. He is a man of faith, a man of the Church but also a man capable of being in the world, and being for the world - without becoming of the world. His experience as president of St. Vincent College, Director of Faith-based and Community Initiatives for President George W. Bush, founder of the not-for-profit Aging with Dignity and attorney for Mother Teresa of Calcutta made him a superior choice for this post.

Under his leadership, the faith life of this university community will be well integrated with its academic life. Here, thanks to the original vision of Tom Monaghan and the faith filled leadership of Jim Towey students will be able to experience a faith that is not just sentimentality but a faith that is reasonable – and because it is reasonable, a faith that commits both faculty and students to search for truth beyond what St. Paul calls the “empty, seductive philosophy according to the traditions of men” or a secularized rationalism that holds that one can live one’s life etsi Deus non daretur, as if God did not exist.

Last August in Madrid, more than two million young people gave witness to their faith in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day. In Madrid, we saw once again that the Church is alive – and the Church is young. And today, here at Ave Maria, here in Southwest Florida, the Church is alive, and the Church is young. As the Pope told those young people in Madrid, I also tell you today: “Be not afraid and don’t be ashamed to ‘walk with the Lord’” as his disciples: in this way, you will grow in his wisdom – and he will astound you with his mighty deeds.

Ave Maria…”Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you.

Show us the way to his Kingdom.” (Spe Salvi 50). Ave Maria.

Comments from readers

Jaime Padro - 10/10/2011 12:08 PM
Once again, our Archbishop presents the Catholic faith in a crystal clear manner, quoting form the great writings of Blessed John Paul II and pope Benedict XVI. In our times, it is crucial that we teach everyone in our culture, especially students in Catholic institutions of learning, in places of work and in the streets, that there is no opposition between faith and reason, or faith and science. As Archbishop Wenski does, let's study and reflect on what these great popes have written on these subjects, and we'll have wiser and stronger Catholics.
Jim Furdon - 10/07/2011 09:48 PM
Archbishop Wenski is a superb writer, speaker and leader! Everything he authors rings with integrity, and is supported with an abundance of reason which clearly defines for us a joyous path for our life journey.
Thank you Archbishop Wenski

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