Reflections at the Annual Advent Mass

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Gaston Hall
Georgetown University
December 8, 2013

There are many gifts that we experience through our membership in this Georgetown community. Over time, we just might come to feel that here we are at home. Of course we all come from our own homes—we hail from more than 130 countries and every state in the Union. But one thing I have come to believe in my years here—the exact time may be different for each one of us—there are moments when we just know that when we are here, we are home.

This is a great gift. To be connected to one another; to be connected to this place; to be connected to a tradition—an inclusive “way of life” that is alive—always in the process of becoming ever more active, ever more present, ever more immediate—always unfolding through our imaginative engagement and participation; to know that wherever we may be, wherever we may find ourselves, we share in this gift—forever.

This time of year always brings for me some ambivalence. When I was a student here, when I was studying for final exams, I could be filled with self-doubt. But then I would come to Mass and hear lines like those we heard tonight:

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon [us]:
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge… (The New American Bible, Revised Edition, Is. 11.2)

And I would think, “I just might get through all this!”

But this is also a time when we hear other messages—like those we heard this evening from John the Baptist: “Repent…Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance…” (Matt. 3.2, 8). And the message can be even sterner:

Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees,
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
Will be cut down and thrown into the fire… (Matt. 3.10).

Finding a balance, a harmony among these messages is one of the challenges we accept in our faith.

I believe that one of the great gifts we share through our membership in this community is the recognition of the importance of this quest, this journey to balance and harmony. Right there on our shield are the Latin words, Utraque Unum—Both into One. Its origin is from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Throughout our 225-year history, it has captured the kinds of tensions that engage us in this journey to balance and harmony. On other occasions you have heard us talk about the balance between faith and reason, between the arts and sciences. At one time in our history, following the American Civil War, it was a reconciliation between the North and the South—forever after symbolized in our colors, Blue and Gray.

At this time of year, the terms that emerge for me in need of balance and harmony have a profound place within the tradition upon which our university is built. The two words that emerge for me in the Advent season, words that seek a balance, a harmony, are magnanimity and humility.

We see these elements present throughout the Advent season. Tonight, John the Baptist: “…the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matt. 3.11).

We are preparing for the arrival of God’s own Son.

A Son who will be born in a manger—there was no room for him anywhere else.

In June, in a meeting with hundreds of students from Italian and Albanian schools, Pope Francis offered these words:

If I were to ask you the question…why do you go to school…Following that which St. Ignatius teaches us, the principle element of school is to learn to be magnanimous. Magnanimity: this virtue of the great and of the small…What does it mean to be magnanimous? It means to have a big heart, to have a great spirit; it means to have great ideals, the desire to do great things to respond to that which God asks of us, and exactly this doing of daily things well, all of the daily acts, obligations, encounters with people; doing everyday small things with a big heart open to God and to others.” (Vatican Radio)

Magnanimity—a big heart, a great spirit. Coming from a man who is teaching us all the meaning of humility.

In these days we have a chance to reflect on the meaning of another man who lived this balance, this harmony of magnanimity and humility. Twenty-seven years in prison. No one could have expected that after such humiliation, he would emerge to lead his nation out from the scourge of a political regime that debased all of South Africa’s people, to a place of forgiveness, a place of truth and reconciliation.

In Advent we experience the tensions that seek balance and harmony—between magnanimity and humility. We draw from the resources of our faith and of the tradition of this place we call home.

May the joy, peace and love of the Advent Season be with you all.


Works Cited

“Pope Tells Students: Learn to be Magnanimous.” Radiovaticana.va. Web. 7 June 2013.

The New American Bible, Revised Edition.