The following post is a few different things:

1) a copy of a post from my JoaninRome blog

2) a new post for those of you who didn’t have the joy of reading my JoaninRome blog

3) a rerun for those who did

4) a fitting post for this coming weekend, seeing that I first delivered this speech in front of Cardinal Arinze, whom I will see this Sunday, and Mary Ann Glendon, who had been slated to recieve the Laetare Medal up at UofND this Sunday

5) a fitting post for this weekend, when colleges across the country (including the one that employs me) will be saluting their graduates, who leave the hallowed halls of their alma maters having recieved the greatest gifts an institution of higher learning can give: the truth  (Unfortunately, many will leave institutions not having recieved that.  But I’ll refrain from saying too much about that, seeing that I’m aiming to tag this post “happy things” and a defective education is not a happy thing.)

So, without further ado, I give you the speech I gave last March at a gala in Rome to honor Christendom College’s 25th anniversary:

 

First, I’d like to say that I’m honored to be able to make this presentation. It’s given me the opportunity, these past few weeks, of stepping back and looking over the last four years. 

This is the perfect place to reflect on the gift Christendom College has been for me. Three years ago, I was studying here with the College Rome program. Right outside this hotel, on the night of April 7th, I camped out in the street with my classmates, awaiting the funeral of our beloved John Paul II. I was able to be present in St Peter’s Square to say goodbye to the only Holy Father I had ever known. Eleven days after the funeral, I was back in the square with my classmates, welcoming our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. For a history major, and for a passionate Catholic, the months spent here were the most powerful experiences of my life.

When I returned to the States, I chose to continue my education and pursue a graduate degree in theology. It surprised even me, to be quite honest, and I can only explain that it was the urging of John Paul II, guided by the hand of the Father. My Christendom education prepared me for my graduate studies more than I ever thought possible. It wasn’t until I spoke with students with different backgrounds that I realized what a gift Christendom had been for me.

Josef Pieper said that for true learning to take place, a school must be a sheltered place where students can dedicate their time to seek the truth. He reminded us of the original meaning of scholé, – a place for leisure. To quote him: “That is to say, a certain space must be left within human society in which the demands of necessity and livelihood can be ignored; an area which is sheltered from the utilities and bondages of practical life. Within such an enclosure teaching and learning, in general the concern for ‘nothing but the truth,’ can exist unmolested.”

After reading Pieper, I realized this was the environment that had surrounded my years at Christendom College, tucked away in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. No, we did not live perfect, carefree lives – besides our studies, many students had jobs and other concerns. If, during those years, you had asked me if Christendom was a place of leisure, I would have laughed and resumed reading, researching, writing papers, or studying for exams. It was, however, an environment pervaded with the Church, the sacraments, fraternity, and love of truth.

The leisure of which Pieper speaks is a time set aside to pursue truth – not just in studies, but in our daily activities. Truth is more than just facts – it is a way of life. At Christendom, we were able to immerse our daily lives in Jesus Christ, Truth Himself. Not distracted by the cacophony of modern society, we were able to focus on the harmony of reality to hear the whispers of the Triune God.

Christendom’s founder, Dr Warren Carroll, is an educator who knows history cannot be separated from Christ. “Truth exists; the Incarnation happened,” is his favorite phrase, and it encapsulates the vision of education that he has implanted at Christendom. With this Incarnational view of history, the graduates of Christendom emerge, not as one-dimensional minds, but as liberally-educated thinkers that understand where we came from and where we’re going.

For me, Christendom was the sheltered area that Pieper praises. It was not a time to run from the cares of the world, but a time to prepare for them. St. Peter was not sent out the day he was called by our Lord. No, he and all the Apostles first spent time with Christ and were given the necessary formation before going out to all the world.

You must remove yourself from the world for a time in order to prepare for the battle you will face when you return. When you are engaged in the ways of the world, it is impossible to see how the world can ever be different from the way it is. At Christendom, pledging to restore all things in Christ, we experienced true Catholic culture. It was not just something we read about in books; it was something truly embraced. We became participants in true culture, then were sent out after four years to restore whatever places lay in our paths.

Someone recently asked me where I learned to write and think. It surprised me, because I don’t recall taking a class called “Thinking 101.” In fact, I think I took the abilities for granted until the person asked the question. The question had an easy answer: Christendom College. When my friends were at other colleges being taught what to think, I was being taught how to think. While they were being taught to have an open mind, I was having my mind opened to the riches of philosophical and theological thought by professors who actually cared about my education. Professors who sat down at lunch with me. Who talked with me outside of class. Who attended daily Mass with me.

Pieper’s ideal of a school is the answer to the crises of our day. Educate the youth, but educate them inside of solid cultures, so they leave their alma mater’s with truth – both in knowledge and action. G. K. Chesterton said, “It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning, but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.” It may seem as if we have no time for leisure in education – we need to change the culture and change it now! But Pieper’s leisure – and Christendom College’s – is not a leisure of fiddling while the world collapses. It is a time to study the solution to the crisis – truth – and then go forth to restore the world.

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