The Pursuit of Truth

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The following is Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ homily at the opening Mass of the 2021-22 academic year at the University of Saint Francis Aug. 25.

It is wonderful to be with you today to celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit as you begin a new academic year here at the University of Saint Francis. A special welcome to all the new students, faculty and staff who join the USF community!

Why do Catholic universities begin an academic year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit? We do so because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and a Catholic university’s fundamental mission is to pursue the truth. Jesus said to the disciples in the Gospel today: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you to all truth.” It makes sense for a university that is dedicated to the pursuit of Truth to call upon the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. That is what we do at this Mass. We are praying to the Holy Spirit to guide you, lift you up and inspire you as you begin this academic year. We are praying for His gifts, the gifts enumerated in our first reading today from the book of the prophet Isaiah: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. When we are open to and receive these gifts, our lives are enriched. The Holy Spirit opens our minds to understanding better the meaning behind the things we learn and to grasp the greatness and love behind everything we learn about the universe and about human life.

Students, you will be studying many things in your different classes, accumulating knowledge and expertise in your various majors, learning skills for your future careers. The same would happen if you were attending Purdue Fort Wayne or Indiana Tech or Ivy Tech. But here at the University of Saint Francis, you encounter something more because this is a Catholic university. What is this “something more”? If you look at the mission statement of the University of Saint Francis and Franciscan values that are listed, you get a little idea of what “this something more” is. The mission statement says that USF is rooted in the Catholic traditions of faith and reason. It lists values like reverencing the unique dignity of each person and respecting creation. Looking at the mission statement and the values, one can ask: “Well, what is behind them? What is their basis?” Their basis, their foundation, is the pursuit of truth! This is why the Catholic Church started the first universities in the world over 800 years ago.

Nowadays, colleges and universities express their mission and purpose in various ways. Often, they refer to improving the world or educating leaders to serve society. They often articulate utilitarian purposes — like educating people for jobs and professions. Of course, these are fine and important goals. But our lives are more than what we do or will do, more than careers and jobs. Catholic higher education gets at this something more. As I said, this “something more” is the pursuit of truth, the pursuit of truth for its own sake. The pursuit of truth transcends pragmatics and utility. It should involve our hearts as well as our minds. A full pursuit of truth involves the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. Education then becomes a truly joyful