Thank you. (loud applause) Thank you all very much. Thank you, Fr. Despereaux. Please, folks (continued applause), please be seated. A little restraint every now & then. . . (laughter).
Seriously, this is quite an honor for me. I can’t say an unexpected honor, as this invitation was in the cards for some time now. And this despite all the non-attention I’ve received from many of your Catholic intellectuals; wasn’t it your own Fr. Cheever in Ancient Near Eastern Studies who said in your student paper that I don’t exist? (laughter). He’s not alone in thinking that, though I take it that after we got to know each other a bit better last night he has a different take on things. Talk about an ashen countenance when I discussed my background! Suffice it to say that he knows a bit more about ancient mythology & sacrifice than he did before we spoke. It really is too bad he can’t be here today, as he’s much in my thoughts, as are all the fine academics at this institution. Much of the work you do is directly responsible for my being here today, & I am much pleased by it.
To honor the graduates of St. Sincerus, I will focus my remarks on the creative gifts God has so richly blessed you all with, as well as on your sacred responsibility to nurture those gifts, despite the heavy costs. As you know, you live in a world in which the majority of people seek to restrain, to control, & even to deny the creativity of the few. Isn’t it a sad irony that such a gift, which can help you to make & remake your world, & which is an expression of God’s image within you, so badly frightens the unimaginative? I believe the patron of this school would be as pleased as I am with your attempts in recent years to use your creativity to produce such a life affirming environment here on campus, & would hope that you continue forward. “Fear not!” I can almost here him saying at this very moment, as he thinks about the work of your administration, faculty, & student organizations to make more people welcome here.
(loud applause from the members of the audience, who rise from their seats; shouts of “SSU! SSU!” break out)
Yes, by all means, celebrate yourselves. Always. . . At any rate, before we all get too carried away (there is a time & place for everything, remember), I wish to address the following in my remarks: the need for creativity & innovation in forming diverse communities, in thinking through your moral lives, & in applying the benefits of scientific discovery to the improvement of life. As you already excel in the first two of these, it’s likely you’ll have some things to tell me; so I’ll reserve my longer remarks for the third.
I think the most visible accomplishment of SSU is your creativity in opening the doors of your community to make a hospitable place for the least of your brothers & sisters. You have indeed taken to heart the words from the gospel, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Remarkable words, these. . . In fact, to acknowledge your openness to the speaker of these words, I think you might consider renaming your fine institution. How does this sound: “St. Sincerus Multiversity”? (audience cheers) For you all know, as is evident in your student organizations, mission statements, diversity statements, statements of respect, & statements of inclusivity, not to mention your 10K Race for Acceptance & your world-class Center for the Understanding of Love & Tolerance, that there is a bewildering array of opinions, viewpoints, perspectives, doctrines, hopes & fears, & experiences out there. C’est la vie! as the French would say. But you have chosen the path of courage by celebrating the diversity that lesser individuals & communities would feel threatened by. This was apparent to me yesterday as I toured your campus, talked with members of the faculty, ate lunch with students in the student union, & listened with fascination as your very own Fr. Despereaux gave the key-note lecture at the conference that ended last night, “Diverse Worshippers, Diverse Ecclesiologies: An Eco-Vegan Critique of Traditional Eucharistic Theology.” Who knew just how scandalous a simple memorial meal could be? I’ll tell you who knew: you did, & you should take pride at standing up to your bishop’s objections to your hosting such a conference. You must be wary of those who sneer at the mere whiff of innovation, as a true multiversity will embrace innovation & be led by it. And the leaders of this multiversity will always ask, “Did God really say that we will perish if we take the high road of conscience & freedom?” Your bishop, & all those like him in seats of power, fear that by your inclusion of the marginalized you will become the true locus of ecclesial authority. For it is love that binds you together & bears the loudest witness to true gospel values. It is love that is the true measure of holiness & thus authority, & the clearest mark of love is the creative attempt to love those different from yourself. Here you must brook no opposition, for true tolerance will beat down those who stand up against it with the violence of love. The hatred of hate, as Fr. Despereaux suggested to your fine school paper, is essential to the Catholic ethos, & must grow ever-stronger & harsher if you are to prevail.