Why We Do What We Do
Michael J. Graham, S.J.
Sunday, Aug. 28, was pretty much what you expect of an August afternoon in Cincinnati—though not as hot or humid as it might have been. Happily, the rains held off and it was a wonderful setting for our annual Spirit Celebration, the Xavier family’s way of calling down the Spirit of God on the new school year at a Mass (preferably outdoors) before adjourning to a great picnic.
As I prepared to welcome the crowd, I found myself thinking about the Apostle Paul. In a variety of places, he lists the gifts the Spirit bestows. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he lists gifts of faith and healing, power and prophecy, charismatic speech and the discerning of hearts. In Galatians, the Spirit’s gifts are love, joy, peace, endurance, kindness, generosity, mildness and chastity. In Ephesians, he adds unity and humility, and further explains that all the Spirit’s gifts are given for the one purpose of building up the Body of Christ.
It was hard to stand in front of the Spirit Celebration crowd and not wonder how all those gifts were parceled out to the people there, each gift hovering like a tongue of flame over every head. But more, it struck me that not only did each person have a gift of the Spirit that no one else precisely has, each person indeed is a gift of the Spirit that no one else exactly is. All of these people—faculty, staff, administration and especially students—came from so many places, but were here, together, to pray as one for the gifts of the Spirit on each of us individually and on all of us together. And to what purpose?
Beginning with a speech at the University of Santa Clara in October 2000, Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has argued persuasively for a new way of evaluating the effectiveness of colleges and universities—at least the Jesuit ones. How are Jesuit schools to be graded? Not by the size of their endowments or the publications of their faculty. Not by their graduation rates or the academic quality of their incoming classes. Not by where they fall on U.S. News & World Report rankings, by alumni giving rates, by what other college administrators think of them, or by any of the usual metrics we customarily use to slice and dice colleges and their quality.
Instead, Father Kolvenbach argues that the true measure of a university is who its alumni become. Not so much the livelihoods they earn, but rather the lives they create—and even more, the lives they touch and that touch them.
A radically new notion in American higher education, this way of gauging the success of the Jesuit educational enterprise would have made immediate sense to Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius created what has become the tradition of Jesuit higher education by fusing the educational forms of the classical world with the emerging educational needs of the Renaissance, thereby grounding men destined for active lives in the civic marketplace with the wisdom of the ancient world. In this way, Ignatius believed, his schools would shape men of virtue and learning who would bring to contemporary problems habits of mind and heart honed over centuries, and these virtuous citizens would, in turn, shape virtuous societies, ready for—or, at least, open to—the loving influence of the Gospel.
This is why we gathered to pray in the green space in front of the Gallagher Center that Sunday—that God would strengthen us to use the gifts that the Spirit has given us to make a difference in our world. And because this was why we came together, more people joined us than we could ever count—each and every one of you, no matter where you were, were there with us, for surely this prayer of ours is your prayer as well: that we would all be faithful to the grace God gives us for the work God gives us to do.
And so a new school year has begun in the way that it really should—with a big “Amen!” on us all.