Cardinal Edwin O’Brien recently told graduating students of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., that they have been “formed for a mission: and that mission is nothing less than the rescue of the civilizational project of the West.”
Cardinal O’Brien discussed Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome as the “three pillars of Western civilization” and the challenges, including what Pope Benedict XVI termed the “dictatorship of relativism,” that the West faces today.
The commencement address, in part, reads:
… It turns out that, if you throw the God of the Bible over the side — if you throw Jerusalem over the side — the Athenian pillar of Western civilization begins to crumble. Reason, left to its own devices, is diminished, and then begins to question its own capacities. Or, to put it another way, if you no longer believe that the God of the Bible imprinted the divine reason on creation, in his very act of creation, then, sooner or later, you will cease to believe that creation is “reasonable:” that there are truths built into the world and into us that we can get to by reason. And that is precisely where we find ourselves today: in a post-modern world that can no longer affirm “the truth,” only “your truth” and “my truth.”
But as John Paul II pointed out, that collapse of faith in the truth is socially and politically unstable. For if there is only your truth and my truth, and neither of us recognizes anything as the truth, then how do we settle the argument when your truth and my truth come into conflict? Against what horizon of judgment do we resolve our dispute? There isn’t any. So either you impose your truth on me, or I impose my truth on you.
…Pope St. John Paul II, at your age, lived under a draconian Nazi occupation that seemed to mark the end of civilization: the end of faith, the end of reason, the end of law, the end of mercy and compassion and love. Take heart from his example. By holding fast to Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, by holding fast to his conviction that Christ has conquered death and that God’s purposes will be vindicated, the young man who became John Paul II survived the Nazi tyranny and defeated the Communist tyranny.
Thomas Aquinas College is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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