The Strength To Be Counter-Cultural

Homily at Benedictine College’s 2013 Baccalaureate Mass
St. Benedict Abbey Church, May 10
by Archbishop Joseph Naumann

I. Introduction

It is always a joy and an honor to celebrate this Baccalaureate Mass. It is a moment in which we prayerfully give thanks for our Graduates and all that they through God’s grace and with their hard work have accomplished in their years at Benedictine. Four years ago or more, this day seemed so far away. To get to this moment, there were many classes attended, many books read, many papers written, many oral presentations given and many tests taken and evidently passed. Many of you have had to overcome obstacles and challenges known only to yourself. We give thanks today for your discipline, your determination and your perseverance to reach the goal of graduation.

This is a special moment also for the parents and families of our graduates. Their achievement is in many ways the fruit of the encouragement and support you have given to them throughout their lives. We give thanks this afternoon for our parents whose love has given life to our graduates and whose families have been the first and most important schools in which our graduates have developed the Faith, virtues and discipline that were instrumental in their success at Benedictine.

We also give thanks to God for President Minnis, Dr. Kim Shankmann and the exceptional leadership team which surround him, the faculty and staff of Benedictine College. This College is a very special place not primarily because of its beautiful setting on the bluffs of the Missouri River, but because of the people who lead it are great men and women of Faith and Learning who create a culture at this Institution where truth is pursued as vigorously in the chapel as in the classroom.

We give thanks for the two sponsoring communities — the Benedictine Monks of St. Benedict Abbey and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. Your communities have given birth to this great College. Your Benedictine charisms of abiding Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as an eagerness to pursue the truth in every area of study makes this College such a unique and special place.

It has been a special year for the Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica with the celebration of the 150th anniversary commemorating the faith, the courage, and the boldness of those first seven sisters who came to Atchison, Kansas in the midst of our nation’s Civil War. Their bravery in responding to God’s call, despite so much uncertainty, set in motion what would become a rich history of witness and service that especially was focused on education. Similarly, this has been an important year for St. Benedict Abbey with the election of Abbot James Albers, chosen by his brother monks to lead them in building upon the rich legacy of this monastic community, a critical part of which is this College and its formation in Faith and Reason of young adults.

II. Lou Holtz and the Natural Law

I am always amazed at the quality of national and international leaders who come to Benedictine College in the course of a year. What a blessing to have Lou Holtz on campus for the Academic Convocation in August.

Lou Holtz does not pretend to be an academic. Nevertheless, it is obvious to everyone he is a keenly intelligent man who has worked hard at becoming one of the best in a very competitive profession. Coach Holtz has developed a wisdom that is as uncomplicated as it is profound. He attributes his success both on and off the football field to three principles:

  1. Do the right thing
  2. Be passionate about what you do always striving for excellence
  3. Care about people

Great teachers are able to take the complex and make it simple. There is actually a great depth to Coach’s formula for without ever using the term, Lou in his first principle is making an argument for Natural Law. In order to “do the right thing,” one must be able to know what the “right thing” is. Coach Holtz’s first principle presumes moral truths that are engraved upon the human heart that allow us to know in any given situation what is “right” as well as what is “wrong.”

Of course, this principle strikes at the heart of the relativism pervading our more and more secularized culture so prevalent on many college campuses. Relativism questions the very existence of truth. In essence, it claims that what might be “right” or “true” for you is not necessarily “right” or “true” for me. It is this nihilistic philosophy that is responsible for the moral chaos in our culture.

III. Immaculee — Seeking What Endures

Just a couple weeks later Benedictine College hosted another truly remarkable speaker, Immaculee Illabigiza, a survivor of the Rwanda Holocaust who travels the world speaking a message of mercy and forgiveness. Immaculee in her college years had to endure the most horrible ordeal imaginable, living for three months hidden in a crowded tiny bathroom with seven other women under the constant fear that if discovered they would be raped and brutally murdered.

Immaculee survived those three months because of prayer. With unspeakable horror surrounding her, Immaculee entered into this intense time of prayer where she grew in her Faith and her capacity to follow Jesus in the way of mercy. When she emerged from hiding only to discover her worst fears realized — her parents and two of her three brothers killed along with the massacre of a million others of her tribe, she did not become embittered and angry, but was led to embark on a mission of reconciliation and mercy.

During her visit at Benedictine, Immaculee challenged us with the question: Why do we spend so much time worrying about this life that quickly passes away and so little about the eternal life. Dear Graduates, Benedictine College has sought to equip you with the tools to make a contribution in this world, while at the same time setting the gaze of your hearts beyond this life to what endures forever. The goal of this College is not just to get you into Graduate School or to be hired for a good job, but to assist you on the way to heaven.

IV. The Legacy of Pope Benedict

This has been a very historic moment in the life of the Church. Your senior year has coincided with the resignation of a Pope that had not occurred for 600 years. When I received my Pallium from Pope Benedict 8 years ago in June, 2005, I told him there was a College in Kansas that shared a patron saint with him and where the students were thrilled by his election as the Successor of Peter. Now that he has more time, maybe we can get him to visit B.C.? Pope Benedict has given the Church a very special legacy.

In his final audience, Pope Benedict gave a beautiful personal account of what was going through his mind when he had been chosen as the Successor of St. Peter 8 years earlier. He said that he wondered in his prayer:

Lord, what do you ask of me? It is a great weight that you are placing on my shoulders but, if you ask it of me, I will cast my nets at your command, confident that you will guide me, even with all my weaknesses. And eight years later I can say the Lord has guided me. He has been close to me.

The Pope remembered beautiful and exhilarating times as well as difficult and stormy ones but constant in every season Jesus was faithfully beside him:

I felt like St. Peter and the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Lord has given us many days of sunshine and light breezes, days when the fishing was plentiful, but also times when the water was rough and the winds against us, just as throughout the whole history of the Church, when the Lord seemed to be sleeping. But I always knew that the Lord is in that boat and I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but is His. And the Lord will not let her sink.

I pray that our Graduates have this same experience as you reflect on your years at Benedictine. There have been beautiful days of sunshine and light breezes where everything seemed to be going right and the fishing was easy, but also difficult and stormy ones as well when you did not know how you would make it to the shore — to this moment of graduation. Hopefully, you discovered like Pope Benedict, no matter the external conditions around you, Our Lord was always in the boat with you — a boat He was not going to allow to sink.

I believe Pope Benedict’s greatest legacy has been his encouragement to all Catholics to realize that the essence and foundation of our Catholic Faith is and must be a personal encounter, a personal friendship with Jesus Christ. This was the heart of the Holy Father’s message to Youth gathered in Madrid, Spain almost two years ago for World Youth Day.
He said to the almost 2 million young people assembled from every corner of the earth:

Yes, dear friends, God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in his love, then, means living a life rooted in faith, since faith is more than the mere acceptance of certain abstract truths; it is an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God.

The Holy Father continued:

If you abide in the love of Christ, rooted in faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfects those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.

V. Strength to Be Counter-Cultural

It is only with this friendship in Jesus Christ that we can find the strength to live the truth of the Gospel in a progressively secular culture. Frankly, we should not be surprised by the opposition to living the Gospel, because Jesus warned us.

If the world hates you, realize it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

We should not be surprised that we find ourselves opposing the prevailing winds of our culture. My dear graduates you must be prepared to defend the Christian foundations of our American society which are becoming increasingly imperiled.

You should not be surprised that you have to stand up to a culture of death that advocates a right for mother’s to kill or authorize the killing of their own children in the womb.

You should not be surprised that you have to stand up to protect the family from a culture that has become so confused about something so fundamental as what constitutes a true marriage. You have to be ready to stand up and defend marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman for their good and the good of the children born from their union.

You must be prepared to stand up to protect children from a culture that can no longer distinguish beauty and art from pornography and its dehumanization of the human person.

You must be prepared to stand up and defend those with profound disabilities or the frail elderly against a culture that has become so utilitarian that it would discard the lives of those it considers non-productive.

You must be prepared to defend religious liberty and conscience rights against those who would trample on these most fundamental of American principles. .
To remain faithful in such a culture, you must have a close friendship with Jesus whom you know is in the boat with you and who alone can give you peace in the midst of storm.

 VI. New Evangelization and the Church of Yes

However, we are not called to be a people who just say “No!” to the moral chaos around us. Indeed, we must stand in strong opposition to the attacks on what is true, moral and beautiful. Yet, we are called to do and to be so much more.

We are not being called to simply keep the Faith, as difficult as that may seem at times. We are being called to go and make disciples. We are called to lead others, to draw others to Jesus by the witness of our lives. You are called to inspire others to discover the joy of being loved by the only One who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

What the Church needs today are martyrs! The word martyr means witness. Many people today are not convinced by rhetoric and logic, but are intrigued and inspired by the witness and beauty of the Christian life well-lived.

What Jesus needs today is an army of martyrs, of witnesses, who are prepared to bring the truth and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus into the board room and the class room, into the laboratory and the legislature, into the athletic field and the movie theater, into the neighborhood association and the family living room. Jesus needs today young men and women who are prepared to announce the Gospel, not primarily by words but by the integrity of their lives.

Jesus needs disciples who radiate in their every day lives the joy and the hope of His Gospel. And when others ask us the source of our hope and joy amidst all of the struggles of life, we need to be prepared to point them, to lead them to Jesus Christ.

VII. The Witness of Pope Francis

In a talk that Pope Francis gave during the pre-conclave meetings, he told his brother Cardinals that often times we picture Jesus knocking on the door seeking to enter our hearts. This image is true enough. The soon to be Pope then told his fellow Cardinals that he often pictures Jesus on the other side of that door, knocking from the inside and begging the Church to let Him out, to let him out to bring His love to those on the streets, in the ghettos and on the margins of society.

Pope Francis is showing us the power that our Christian Faith has when it is lived with purity and passion. Pope Francis has grabbed the imagination of much of the world with the witness of the humility and simplicity of his life.


Dear Benedictine graduates, you have been prepared and you are being asked to be on the front lines of the implementation of the New Evangelization. You are being called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ drawing others to him by the quality of your lives.

However, we have something so much more to offer the world than a resounding “No!” to the present evils that afflict us. We are being called to lead others to the abundant life and the complete joy that Our Lord desires for all humanity. We are called not just to get ourselves to heaven, but to bring as many others as possible with us.

Last year, when I was privileged to receive an honorary degree from the College and officially became a Raven, I recalled how President Kennedy in the early 1960’s in Berlin, Germany, a flashpoint of the Cold War between atheistic communism and the free world, said that just as in the ancient world it was a matter of great pride to declare I am a Roman, so at that moment it was an honor to say Ich bin ein Berliner — I am a Berliner. So today, at this moment when Benedictine College is a place that is preparing an army of young people to be witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus — to be on the front lines of the New Evangelization, it is a point of pride to be able to say I am a Raven.

You and I, are being called to set the world on fire with the love of Jesus Christ. And so we pray, during this Mass of the Holy Spirit: Come Holy Spirit come and enkindle — ignite — in our hearts the fire of your love.


Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.