Making the Best Use of Our Time
By Michael J. Graham, S.J.
It’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving as I write these words, and the same question is on the minds of just about everybody at Xavier University these days: Where the heck has this semester gone? It seems just yesterday we welcomed the new freshman, but that was months ago now. Two weeks of classes after Thanksgiving, a week of finals, and that’s it. Another one for the books. When I mentioned my amazement at how fast the semester is going to a friend of mine, he consoled me by telling me it’s because I am getting old. I prefer to think that it’s because I‘ve been busy, but no matter. It’s almost gone all the same. And here I am still wondering, just where has this semester gone?
But—maybe because I’m both a president and a priest I think of things like this—here is an even more important question: not where has this semester gone, but how has this semester gone?
It’s an interesting time of year to be asking this question of “how”—an interesting time of the Church year, I mean. This Sunday as I write this letter is the Feast of Christ the King, and its Gospel is Matthew, a chapter that, were it the only fragment of sacred scripture to survive, would still give us everything we need to know. There on His throne of judgment sits the Son of Man. But instead of wielding the sickle of last harvest or the sword of final judgment, it’s a question that the Son of Man carries with Him, a question to cleave sheep from goats as surely as Moses split the sea with his staff. It is not a question about creeds or commandments or beliefs. It is a question about food and water and clothing and comfort, about how you and I have attended to the needs of the hidden Christ wherever we have met Him.
To frame the question of how this semester has gone against this scriptural background is to be reminded of the important observation by the last General Superior of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, that Jesuit universities are best measured not by their
acreage or their endowments or the SAT’s of their incoming classes, but by who their students become. And so maybe the real question is how our students are becoming who they are becoming, in the course of this last semester.
Well, here’s a quick scan of select calendar items from the course of the past month.
• On Nov. 7, the University celebrated its third annual Sustainability Day in which we recommitted ourselves to the greening of the Xavier University campus both in academic offerings and concrete practice.
• On Nov. 8, the Xavier Women’s Center presented a national
conference on gender-based violence that convened experts from across the United States and students, faculty and staff from the University itself to reflect on this important topic, in part to reduce sexual assault on campus.
• On Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day, a large number of members of the Xavier family met with the families of two alumni who died in Iraq at the Shrine of Our Lady, Queen of Victory and Peace, overlooking Victory Parkway, where they unveiled new plaques that added the names of those two alumni to the shrine and then they stirringly rededicated it with “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.
• The Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice recently celebrated another successful semester of the Philanthropy Program, where Xavier students awarded $12,000 in grants to nine non-profit organizations in Greater Cincinnati, bringing the total of such grants to $151,000 since the program started in 2002. Since then, it has been embedded in 38 classes, involved 870 students and granted awards to 94 partner organizations.
• And then, on Nov. 17, students too numerous to count stripped down to their gym shorts and shoes for the “Nearly Naked Mile,” an annual fundraiser that is a lot more chaste than it sounds and which raised money to send 12 pre-professional health students on a service project to Guatemala from Dec.31-Jan. 7. “Mega-silliness,” to be sure as Xavier’s Rabbi Abie Ingber put it, yet it lets off a little steam, provides big smiles all around and goes to a very good cause.
In addition to Matthew 25 concerning the last judgment, another favorite scriptural passage of mine is 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in you.” Just so, Xavier University must always be ready to give an account of its own fidelity to our Jesuit Catholic mission, especially against the background of these ringing words of Christ from Matthew 25.
And so looking at the last few weeks, and folding all of that into everything else that has been going on here, from classes and seminars and lectures to student liturgies and retreats, I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job. Those students seem to be becoming the kinds of kids that you and I would like them to become, and Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach as well.
But there is always next semester. And we can always do better. And with your help, we will.
Between now and next semester are the wonderful holidays by which we take leave of the year—Advent, Christmas and New Year. I trust that this warm and resonant season will be a special time for you and those you love best.