Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Thursday 16 July 2015 for the General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We gather at this Mass which is the official closing Mass for the 25th General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

Over the last week we have journeyed from all across the continents of our world to be here in Melbourne, to listen to and engage in the theme of this conference – “Times Change, Values Endure”.

During the discussions we have analysed the challenges faced by all of our universities in the many and varying contexts in which they are embedded in our local communities and as part of the Universal Church. Our discussions have been rich, pertinent and engaging for the life of our institutions.

It is not coincidental that the Gospel that we have just listened to (Mark 4:1-9) has us encountering Jesus as he was teaching a large crowd that had gathered around him. After all, as Catholic universities we are all engaged in teaching and research.

This Gospel, however, is much more than just a teaching moment for Jesus’ followers. It is also speaks to us particularly as Catholic university leaders.

A theme that has arisen has been in recent times of the many challenges that we face as institutions of higher learning, as we grapple with and compete in a market place and a culture that is becoming increasingly secular in its view of humanity and the meaning of life.

While these challenges may seem daunting, they call us to respond clearly; to propose that which contemporary societies and cultures find uncomfortable – a proposition that is centred on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you look again at our Gospel, Jesus is giving us the way that Catholic Universities need to respond to these challenges.

If we choose to be universities that want to be on the edge of the Church, with only lukewarm engagement with the Church and her rich teachings and traditions, then like the seed on the edge of the path in the parable, we too will be that place where our seed (our students), are eaten up by the populist attitudes and cultural views that prevail in our societies today, and where the Gospel is ignored or rejected.

Likewise, if we choose to be Catholic universities with shallow Catholic identity and mission, if we do not own who we are and what we stand for as Catholic institutions of higher learning, then again like the rocky ground, the seed will wither away, our students will also wither away from the message of the Gospel.

However, if we choose to be institutions that are fully immersed into the wealth of richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition; if we are open to, and nurturing of that place where the exchange between dialogue and reason takes place, if we are fully engaged with our identity and mission as institutions of Catholic higher learning, then we will be like the soil that is rich and fertile, a place where our students grow tall and strong and are leaders who can effect growth for the common good and be witnesses to the Gospel in our world.

The Collect for our Mass this evening beautifully sums up what our mission needs to be as leaders of Catholic universities, as we depart from Melbourne in the coming days:

“grant that your faithful, whom you have called to live amid the world and its affairs, may be fervent with the Christian spirit….[to] build up your kingdom”.

We are privileged to be engaged in Catholic higher education. We are privileged to be, as Saint John Paul II understood it, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” – at the heart of the Church.

As we return to our universities and homes we recognise that the vocation to Catholic higher education that we are called to live, burns within our hearts, so that we too will be in the heart of the Church.

+ Denis J. Hart,
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