DAVENPORT — Father Bud Grant presented the Class of 2015 with an exam of sorts as an introduction to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at St. Ambrose University.
The exam was wrapped into a talk that the assistant professor of theology delivered Aug. 23 during the university’s Convocation and Blessing of the Academic Year.
He began the talk with a story about the school’s namesake — St. Ambrose — a doctor of the Church who in the late fourth century faced a terrible dilemma in striving to aid the defeated, road-weary refugees after the worst defeat of the Roman Army in 1,000 years.
“Ambrose was quickly running out of resources to fund the refugee camps springing up around and within the crowded city. Moreover, he had become aware that captured soldiers and innocent citizens were being sold as slaves by the Goths on the markets of the East. He immediately dispatched buyers to redeem (note the word) the prisoners, but where was he to get the funds?” Fr. Grant asked. “His solution was swift and more dramatic than you might at first sense: he sacked his own churches for sacred vessels of silver, gold and precious stones — smashed them up and sent out his agents weighed down with as much as they could carry.”
In preparing the students to examine the ethics of St. Ambrose’s decision, Fr. Grant cautioned that “There will be times in your academic adventure that begins today when you will feel that you simply do not have the resources, reserves or resolve to carry on, to complete the tasks, to meet expectations — whether in the classroom, the field of play, or perhaps even the cafeteria. Look again; what you need will be there. It is within you; it is all around you. Ask for help — for counsel, here it is in front of you — your faculty and staff at SAU. Dare to let go of other, less valuable desires, habits and possessions and exchange these for the pearl of great price: understanding, enlightenment, wisdom.”
Fr. Grant revealed other details that influenced St. Ambrose’s decision and how those details might impact a consideration of its ethics.
“You see it, don’t you? The point? Nothing that is important is as straight forward as it may first appear. You will become very busy here and many professors will make many demands of your time and tax your intellectual talents, very probably all at once — say the week of mid-terms. Others, too, will tax your critical thinking skills, your ethical resolve, your religious convictions, your spiritual tranquility and your physical endurance, he said.
But he urged them not to take the easy way out. “Regain your perspective, tap into your resources, resolve and reserves. Probe deeply like Thomas the Doubter into the very wounds of Christ. … This is the very essence of Catholic Intellectual Tradition.”
Fr. Grant encouraged students to incorporate all of the elements of their curriculum, bringing biology class to bear on business class; fusing physics with philosophy; adding art to astronomy, tying trig to theology; and leavening just about everything with literature. Then add experiences outside of the classroom — and they will have “the makings of an Ambrosian,” he said.
The theologian concluded that St. Ambrose exercised courage, temperance, fortitude, judgment, faith, hope and his love to sweep away any objections by insisting that service be rendered to those who are in great need by those who have the resources. Fr. Grant advised the students: your lives will be enriched precisely to the degree that you choose to enrich the lives of others.”
In the blessing of the academic year that followed Fr. Grant’s talk, Bishop Martin Amos prayed: “It is right and good to come together at the start of new academic year to ask God’s blessing on our students, on our faculty and on all who work here. To grow in knowledge and wisdom is our common calling; may we do so with openness and integrity, with a sense of awe, and in a spirit of faith, hope and charity.”
Representatives from the student body, faculty, staff, administration and various organizations read prayers of petition. Bishop Amos concluded his prayer and then sprinkled those gathered with holy water.
Afterward, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, St. Ambrose University’s president, delivered the presidential charge.
She said it was her responsibility to “charge each and all of us to commit ourselves to the mission of this university, to the unending search for truth and to a commitment to social justice and service that define us as truly Ambrosian. I charge all of us to engage in that search and to keep in mind our brothers and sisters throughout the world who thirst after peace and justice.”
She asked each group of representatives to stand as she presented them with their individual charges.
And finally, she said, “As we begin this new academic year, let me charge all members of the St. Ambrose University community to promote and support learning and academic freedom, and to do so with integrity, intellectual curiosity, Christian charity and a spirit of service to others.”
Fr. Bud Grant’s full speech http://www.catholicmessenger.org/content/current/displayads/ambrosespeech.pdf