Opening Mass

University of Dallas

August 1971

For many, the first step taken onto the campus of the University of Dallas proves a fateful experience. It is the first step in a long journey -- the length of a lifetime -- which is a quest for the harmony of one's own mind. It is a matter of principal concern, here at this University, that all who pertain to it have a disciplined view of all that is. Now there are many disciplines, as you have already learned, or will shortly discover. Your pursuit of one of these, decided by yourself ultimately for reasons of your own, will be an attempt to achieve a unity of vision in your own mind; to bring the manifold elements of reality under the steady gaze of unified view of things; to make things intelligible by making of them an intellectual unity. The appreciation of true intellectual discipline is a rarity in these pragmatic days. Its canonization at this University can make of your life something that you might hardly have expected.

But the quest for unified intellectual experience is, of itself, an incomplete approach to the worlds of the mind and of reality. For no intellectual discipline, neither philosophy in all of its branches, nor art, nor poetry, nor science, nor theology can fulfill the deepest desire of the human soul; the desire to know all that is. Now the fulfillment of that desire is known as wisdom -- wisdom which is not, however, merely human wisdom, but a direct experience of God which is achieved in those who properly dispose themselves by the free movements of God the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is such wisdom that alone brings to perfection the strictly academic goals which are the primary purpose of this University.

In speaking here of that divine wisdom which God the Holy Spirit achieves in those who try to dispose themselves for true wisdom, I do not intend to demean your academic responsibilities. It is useful for a man to have much information about matters of fact; although, of course, that is in no sense wisdom. It is useful to have scientific knowledge, to know the immediate why and what of things; but that is not wisdom either. It is better to have a philosophic view, a disciplined view, which is the knowledge of things, not in their immediate, but in their ultimate causes, or more universal explanations. And that is wisdom, although it is not the highest form of wisdom. It is wisdom because it does reduce facts and features of reality to a kind of unity. Surely there are far too few men in our time who are wise in that sense -- who have a unified vision of the real.

But there seem to be even fewer men who have true wisdom; that co-natural knowledge of God as he is in himself; that vision of the One through which one can see all things in God and God in all things; that direct experience of the divine that fully unifies a life and so brings into focus the goodness, and beauty, and truth of every person whom one encounters in this world, and of every creature. This is supreme wisdom, the supreme harmony of the mind.

That lesser intellectual harmony which is the immediate goal of your education at the University of Dallas is an apt disposition for the higher wisdom which God can implant within you. God, of course, is not restricted to such dispositions. He can make men and women who have no education truly wise. Yet in the ordinary workings of God, who has given us our human minds, it is expected that we use powers which we have, and the opportunities which we enjoy, to perfect ourselves humanly. And so in God's providence we have the enviable possibility -- it is indeed rare in our age -- of pursuing a careful, structured, disciplined view of all that God has created. Still, our intellectual pursuits will remain incomplete, and the work of this University unfulfilled, unless we also seek that wisdom which is from above. To seek this, we must acquire at every stage of life the dispositions of the young.

In the early years of Christianity, artists frequently portrayed Jesus Christ as the puer aeternus, the eternal youth. He was seen as the new Apollo, with slender grace and supple strength of body, with clear and serene intellectuality. But unlike Apollo, he was usually presented with the divine gentleness of a shepherd. It is perhaps unfortunate that artists no longer present the Savior in this fashion. For there is in the image of the puer aeternus the gracious receptivity of youth, the openness to the world, the wide-eyed vision that is not clouded by prejudice nor twisted by pragmatism.

In the scriptures, particularly in the gospel according to John, Jesus Christ is seen as the wisdom of the Father, eternally begotten as Son, proceeding from the Father as an idea proceeds form the mind; the Word, that is to say, the Idea, the Wisdom of the Father. The Word became incarnate, eternal wisdom entered our world in human flesh, both to exemplify and to lead us toward that true wisdom of the puer aeternus. Thus he is more than a new Apollo. He is also a shepherd leading his flocks toward the divine sheepfold. And that sheepfold is the true home of wisdom which is nothing more than a childlike vision, a clear and steady gaze at the Eternal.

Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. True wisdom is from above. It is a gift offered to those who have the humility and the docility to receive it -- to those who have become childlike. This wisdom is a working within us of God the Holy Spirit. It is not something which we achieve of ourselves. Of course, one must prepare himself for this gift by striving for the proper dispositions. That is to say, he must seek to become like the puer aeternus -- to have a care-free attitude about the unimportant things, to have one's mind at rest in designated times of solitude, to be self-conscious, to have the untroubled vision and the docility of a child. In the attempts to establish proper dispositions of soul, God the Holy Spirit can begin to work within the soul, and so to implant there the beginnings of wisdom. Under continually improving dispositions of the individual, that wisdom will grow, will take hold, and will transform every feature of one's human life.

The human soul has often been thought of as feminine. Anima, the Latin noun, is feminine. For the soul is as a womb in which God brings forth true wisdom. And, again, in the generating of wisdom, what in fact happens is that God takes possession of the soul, as a man takes possession of his wife. But even more, the wisdom of God is not the masculine of science or rational thought, but the feminine disposition by which an individual might become, in the words of St. Gregory Nazianzun, "an organ played upon by the Holy Spirit."

Wisdom, then, is not a vast store of information, not scientific knowledge, not a critical ability, not an acquisition that comes with character-training. It is a supernatural experience of a supernatural reality. It is a direct, if obscure, union with God Himself. It is the knowledge of God that is direct because it comes from being one with Him Who is Known -- a direct experience of divinity. Do you recall the prayer of Solomon for wisdom? "God of our ancestors," he prayed, "Lord of mercy, who by your word have made all things, and in your wisdom have fitted man to rule the creatures that have come from you ... grant me Wisdom, consort of your throne. For I am your servant ... a feeble man with little time to live, with small understanding of justice and the laws. Indeed, were anyone perfect among the sons of men, if he lacked the wisdom that comes from you, he would still count for nothing... It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth; [it is] laborious for us to know [even] what lies within our reach. Who then can discover what is in the heavens? As for your intentions, who could have learnt it had you not granted wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from above?"

Your days at the University of Dallas may indeed prove a fateful experience for you. But that will depend, not only upon your successful academic application, but also -- and principally -- upon your search for that wisdom that is from above, but which is also within us by the working in our minds and hearts of God the Holy Spirit. May he make each of us truly wise.

Sermons and Lectures by Damian Fandal, O.P.