The first reading that we have just heard presents us with the great Jewish feast of Pentecost. During those days, many Jews were journeying towards Jerusalem. Two months had gone by since the crucifixion. This was the first time that Jesus’ disciples had celebrated this feast without their Master. The city was filled with foreigners, who came “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), including from Rome. After the narration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Acts of the Apostles relates an incident that is relevant for everyone, including those of us gathered here: all those present there heard the disciples speaking about the “mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Today a new academic year is beginning: the thirty-fifth for this pontifical university. We could say that, like the people gathered back then in Jerusalem, we come from every nation under heaven. We could also say that, like the disciples, we too want to speak about the mighty works of God. Therefore we are celebrating the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit; because as Jesus tells us in the Gospel we have just read, the Paraclete is the one who “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), so that we, in turn, may pass them on to others.
I recall some words of Saint Paul who, when a prisoner in this city of Rome, wrote to Timothy: “what you have heard from me … entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). Our Lord is addressing the same words to all of us here at this Eucharistic celebration. Today our Lord is calling us—each and every one of us—to form part of this group of faithful people entrusted with passing on the faith, with a deep grasp of its content, each in our own environment: in seminaries, parishes, religious congregations, and in many ordinary occupations in the world.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the patron of our faculty of Theology, stressed the apostolic value of those who dedicate themselves to studying and teaching others about the “perfections of God.” Although this effort might seem somewhat distant from pastoral concerns, the reality is that those who “form formers” carry out a very important role in making possible the announcement of the Gospel to many others (cf. Quodlibet I, q. 7 a. 2 cor). In reality, many more people are present in our classrooms than might at first sight seem to be the case. The deep study carried out there later becomes nourishment for many souls, who perhaps we will never meet personally.
To carry out this apostolate of announcing the “mighty works of God,” an indispensable condition, as Pope Francis reminded us, is “getting down on our knees before the altar of reflection” (Video message to theological congress, 1-3 September 2015). This is not simply a question of saying a brief prayer before beginning to study. Rather both study and prayer should be fused in our heart: “Doing theology on your knees is daring to think while praying and pray while thinking” (Ibid.).
When we focus on intellectual pursuits without relating them to love for God and the life of our fellow men and women, we run the risk of our efforts becoming a discourse that, in Saint Paul’s words, “puffs up” and does not “build up” (cf. I Cor 8:2). Therefore, when recommending that we strive to acquire a good grasp of “theological doctrine,” Saint Josemaria always stressed the need to combine it with the “piety of children,” which is equally important (cf. Christ is Passing By, no. 10). Let us ask our Lord to grant us a contemplative soul, because only thus will we be able to discover the true depth and beauty of his doctrine.
The study of theology, philosophy, canon law and Church communication cannot be separated from the problems and questions of the daily life of the people around us. On the contrary: our study should be undertaken as a service to the Church. Benedict XVI, when speaking about the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas, said that he carried out his intellectual work “in an encounter with the true questions of his time” (Audience, 23 June 2010).
Let us never separate ourselves from the people around us, out of inertia or comfort-seeking. The aspirations and concerns of our world today should also enter into our study, research and prayer. We see this in Jesus’ life. He listened to the spontaneous questions of those who sought Him out (cf. Mt 19:27; Mk 12:18). He went to the homes of many people (cf. Lk 19:5), and shared in their joys (cf. Jn 2:2) and in their sorrows (cf. Lk 8:42).
So let us ask the Holy Spirit to remind us, as we read in today’s Gospel, of everything our Lord said, and to spur us to follow his example.
It is often said that the saints are the true theologians, in virtue of their knowledge of God attained through love. The life and writings of Saint Josemaria are a very rich source for academic reflection. I encourage you to get to know him better during your years of study in this university, which he himself was eager to see become a reality. And you will discover, as in other saints of the Church, a harmony between a life of prayer, deep study and apostolic zeal.
Like the disciples who, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed Christ’s message in every language, we too ask the Paraclete to illumine our hearts in this new year of study to get to know Jesus better. And in this endeavor we cannot fail to go also to our Lady, our Mother. Mary is the one who, filled with the Holy Spirit, best knows her Son.
Photo gallery from academic act: