My writing tonight will be of little interest to my average reader as its intended audience is a select few. I wanted to share some of my thoughts and feelings in light of yesterday’s memorial service in honor of Karl Maurer, a dear friend and mentor whose absence these nine months has been grievously felt...Read More
This past weekend, I was honored to present at the Dallas Catholic Youth Conference. The following is my talk/presentation on meditation:Read More
My alma mater has had quite the hullabaloo lately for a variety of things. In the long line of UD mishaps, the commencement address at this year's graduation doesn't even make the top 10 in my opinion...Read More
- Ecclesiology/Theology of the Church: we must start with relationships
- Integrate Ministries into mission: take a look at the relationship between Church and the world. In Vatican II, the Church is called the “Sacrament of the Unity of the Human Race.”
- Culture: Sacraments, Community, Ecclesiology
- Lay Ecclesial Ministries
- Invisible—the Call from God. This is an urgency, a sense that God is calling me to serve beyond what I’m already doing. It is a call to be in relationship to other disciples to make them holier.
- Skills acquisition—Academic. This should not be the most important part, but you cannot be a good Lay Ecclesial Minister without it.
- Along with that, personal formation is important. “Together in God’s Service” is the formation program in Chicago. Personal formation is as important as academic formation. Lay Ecclesial Ministers are also accountable to the Bishop, just as a priest is.
- Commissioning—Lay Ecclesial Ministers are commissioned by the diocese. If the parish can’t afford a Lay Ecclesial Minister or cuts the program, the diocese sees to it that the Lay Ecclesial Minister is reassigned. Ministry for the sake of mission.
- Never mistake resistance on your part for error on the Church’s part.
- When we feel discomfort, we take this discomfort and then automatically think the teaching needs to change.
- We have to ask God for help to understand the reasoning and to change ourselves.
- God reveals some of his preferences to us—we are not groping blindly in the dark.
- For instance, God’s preference for forgiving sin is in the sacrament of confession. While this is the preferred way, it’s not the only way. We can’t put God into a box.
- Fullness of truth is important
- God loves us so much that He blesses the Church with his fullness of truth.
- The hierarchy of truths is taught poorly and then sounds like it says that moral relativism is okay.
- If the hierarchy of truths is taught poorly, it leads to being a Cafeteria Catholic.
- If it’s in the CCC, it’s all true.
- The truth of the trinity is necessary to teach baptism in the name of the trinity. Hence, it’s core.
- Never mistake a clever argument for the truth.
- There is no higher authority than an individual’s INFORMED conscience.
- There are moral absolutes.
- An act can be intrinsically evil where there can be no set of circumstances where it isn’t evil.
- It’s so easy to believe something is okay if our end is good.
- Not only do our goals have to be good, but our means do as well.
- Sexuality is a beautiful gift from a loving God. We have to look at the gift as it is given to us, how it comes naturally.
- Coins: the gift of sexuality has two sides just like a coin. One side is unitive, the other is procreative. When you separate the two sides of a coin, it is no longer a coin.
- Every use of sexuality should respect both sides.
- JPII imagined this like a diamond with four points. The four points are free, faithful, fruitful, and total.
- Fruitful—open to new life
- total—not holding back on any aspect of who you are.
- Leaving home—escaping shackles of convention
- The Quest—entering the wilderness, plunging the depths, confronting demons
- Returning Home—Armed with gifts earned on the quest
Senior Convocation Address
University of Dallas ~ Church of the Incarnation
May 5, 2011
and especially, the class of 2011,
I was deeply honored and humbled when Nico stopped by my office last Friday to ask me to address you today. Then I was terrified. Another paper to write? Why didn’t you tell me back in January that this was on the syllabus? And it’s really due Thursday at 3:30? With no chance of an extension? Somebody’s going to hear about this on the evaluation…
No, what really terrified me was: what to say to a class so accomplished, so talented, and—I want to say this from the outset—so close to my heart, and my family’s hearts? --A class with a student who has studied floating magnetic frogs? --a class with someone who can whip up a pair of boots, a saddle, or some seriously funky art-shoes? --A class with several angelic voices—not saccharine but angelic—powerful, soaring? --A class with people so “dumb” that they Google Calculus problems from Rome to keep that side of their brain active? --A class replete with poets, and stuffed with songwriters you all sing along to, even that one is about Oedipus’ sin threatening a galaxy far, far away? --A class with so many quiet thinkers who then turn in brilliant, elegant papers? A class that brought back medieval drama and climbed cliffs (even when, ahem, they weren’t supposed to)? --A class that immediately recognized Dr. Lowery’s gentle sanctity and Father Jeffrey Steenson’s life-changing integrity? --A class that has produced all of these vocations to the priesthood? What to say to a class with countless guys to whom my wife would point and say to my sons, “That is the kind of young man I want you to be when you grow up,” and countless young women about whom she would say, “and that’s the kind of girl I want you to marry”? What can I add to sum up your last four years that you don’t already know better than I could express?
Eventually I gave up, and decided to fall back on something I know how to do. One last time, I’m going to give you a final exam.
This time, it has only one question, not two.
But it is the ultimate, the final final exam question, the one Dr. Alvis’ two questions [“What is the nature of reality?” And “How should a life be lived?”] should prepare you to answer.
Here it is:
Are you ready to die?
Now, I want to assure you that, proposed legislation in the Texas House aside, under this voluminous late-medieval guildsman’s ceremonial outfit, I’m not “packing”.
And I know what else you’re thinking: “Sweet Holy Job, Roper, I know you Irishmen like to read the obituaries, but could you make this any more depressing? It’s supposed to be a happy time, a celebration—we’re heading towards Commencement, a beginning, not… that.” Well, I promise I’ll bring this back around; the nature of reality is, after all, comic. I mean, you can’t hold back grace and comedy in a world where Michael Kelsey can become a multinational pick-up artist, right?
But in fact graduation, leaving UD, can have as much a sense of a little death as of new life; students often feel bereft, find themselves grieving, over losing daily contact with the immediate and close circle of friends, the great professors who are my colleagues, the wonderful, endless yack about texts and ideas. (When I walked down the Mall after my own graduation too many years ago, a five-foot Cistercian, Father Chris Rabay, the Charity Week jailbreak expert long before Father Maguire assumed his mantle, asked me how I felt. I thought I felt great, but surprised myself by choking out, “It’ll be hard to leave this place.” “Oh, we have a saying in Hungarian,” he responded: “‘Life is one long goodbye’.”) And soon after graduation you will find that student loans, marriages, children, mortgages, careers, all involve daily dying to self. I think it’s providential that this remarkable class ended its time at UD with the events of Holy Week so close to finals, so I’m going to ask you my final exam question, whether you like it or not.
Are you ready to die?
The entire education you have received here, if we look at it in one way, has had this question looming from the beginning.
As you know, in the Phaedo Socrates says that “those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death” (64a) If this is true, that “true philosophers make dying their profession,” (68) then quite honestly, I think a truly liberal university ought to have university-wide Senior Comps that ask this one simple, forceful question: Are you prepared for death?
Yet in many ways we UDers become liberally educated by learning about people who fail the exam.
Achilles was not ready to die. He “detests the doorways of death”: “Of possessions / cattle and fat sheep are things to be had for the lifting, / and tripods can be won,” he says, “but a man’s life cannot come back again, it cannot be lifted / nor captured again by force, once it has crossed the teeth’s barrier” (IX, 405-09). The first philosopher, he critiques the heroic code that motivates his fellow warriors precisely because he thinks that code is no answer to the exam question. He realizes that “a man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much” (IX, 320). And so he holds back, refusing to take part in life because this is its cost, and then in bitterness at his friend’s death becomes a killing machine, death itself, slaughtering indiscriminately, unfree, bound in his hate, his fear, his searing terror at the prospect of obliteration only subsiding when he sees, in the face of Priam, his own father’s grief at his impending death.
Simon Peter was not prepared to die. His fear of it got the better of him, such that he denied, three times, the very man he had proclaimed The Christ, whom he had seen transfigured. Years later, bugging out of a dangerous Rome down the Via Appia, in his “Quo vadis?” moment he turned back, ready this time to be crucified with Christ. One way to address the exam question might be to ask: what changed between those two moments?
Signor Alighieri was not ready to die. Filled with anger and frustration at being manipulated and blocked in his political ambitions, at being exiled away from the friendships and city that he thought sustained him, Dante turned from one thing to another—politics, dolce stil nuovo poetry—as he wandered northern Italy. Even Philosophy was not enough, so he had to make a journey through death in order to learn how to address the question.
In “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, Flannery O’Connor’s grandmother is not ready to die; she rests her faith on being a “good woman” in the sense of being well-born, polite, a “sweet” southern lady. The Misfit must teach her, quite violently, how little all that matters, until finally she learns charity: “She would of been a good woman,” he tells his murderous sidekick Bobby Lee, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
It might be comforting for you to know that most of us fail the exam—at least a few times—before achieving a passing grade. Here’s one example. In April of 1994, I found myself holding onto a sink in a hospital bathroom in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was in the hospital because my appendix had burst. My appendix had burst because, the previous December, when I was pretty darned sure I had appendicitis, the doctor had sent me home because, even though it sure hurt in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen, my white blood cell count was normal. When I doubled over with pain the next April, like a typical guy I decided that this time I was going to be absolutely sure before wasting all of that time in the ER. So I played indoor soccer with the students, taught my classes, went shopping... Ten days later, after I had passed out for the third time, Michele said, in the kind of wifely voice that will not be opposed, “You’re going to the hospital.” The reason I am still here to bore you with this story is that my small intestine, far smarter than I, wound itself around the burst appendix, protecting the rest of my abdomen from the peritonitis that was doing its best to kill me, given that I had helped it to a ten-day head start. So there I was, six days after the operation, in a humiliating hospital gown, finally standing, holding on to the sink . . . and my hands began to shake. And you know what I was thinking? “Greg, You. Are. The. Biggest. Idiot. Ever.” What a desultory, unheroic, just plain stupid way to go. I mean, who lets himself die at the end of the 20th century, in the wealthiest country on earth, from appendicitis? And the next thoughts I panted out showed how foolish I really was: “I can’t die right now. I can’t die. I’ve only been married for four years. I have papers to grade. I have an article I have to finish.”
When you hear someone talking such arrant nonsense, you know he is unprepared for his death. Selfishness, pride, vanity: you can see them all ruling my soul, can’t you?
So I want to reaffirm that it takes a lifetime for some of us idiots to answer the question properly. And it can be an easy question to forget, as life takes hold of you, and you venture beyond the Core. Junior Poets and Senior Theses, Orgo and P-Chem, oh my! Life’s busy-ness and struggles can distract us. Of course we should not blame our majors; if the field we have chosen is indeed oriented to liberal education, if we approach our jobs, our roles as parents, as liberally educated people, these are not somehow pragmatic things we oppose to the philosophical Core, but should flow out of our Core learning into deeper channels. To make dying our profession is to make philosophy not a class but a way of life. A major at UD, for instance, has never been conceived as the “practical” thing you do after you have “completed” the Core-- or worse, “gotten it out of the way”; instead, the major is supposed to focus and refine the lens through which you approach the deepest questions. If chemistry or economics or yes, even literature is not teaching you how answer Dr. Alvis’ two questions so that you might come to this question, I would argue, to heck with it. In so many other places, the way these subjects are taught has little chance of doing that, but of course here at UD you are taught to consider your chosen disciplines in a liberal way, looking at the deepest questions through the lens of Biology or Business Leadership or Education--and that is what makes this such a remarkable place. But even in a remarkable place, we sometimes forget the final exam that is awaiting us.
Now here is the wonderful paradox : when you are properly prepared for that final exam, you become—you saw it coming, didn’t you?—free. You can live. In joy. As T. S. Eliot writes in the Four Quartets, “In my end is my beginning,” and he’s right: in knowing our end, in every sense of that word, we can begin again, be born into a new life. That, too, is the meaning of a liberal education: not to make you obsessed with death, but to orient you through death to a new life. Hamlet, of course, is obsessed, engulfed with notions of depravity, and because of that with a dark view of death, his “undiscovered country”. He didn’t know that the point is to take the exam, but then leave the classroom and live your life based upon what you have learned. Thinking all the time but not reasoning very well, isolated from a tradition, a community, a Church that might teach him how to deal with his dark thoughts, he spins in ever-narrower circles. On the other hand, Prospero, at the end of The Tempest, tells us that in his Milanese retirement “Every third thought shall be my grave,” (5.1.312), and I think his balance is about right. The properly-ordered, liberally educated human knows that there is death, that there will be many deaths, and perhaps most importantly, that there will be daily dying to self, but this knowledge does not crush him; it liberates him to live a full, rich life.
One way it can liberate you is with regard to time. Once you confront death and its proximity, you realize what Augustine tells us in those difficult Books XI-XIII of the Confessions: there is only now. And in a universe made and sustained by love (my answer to the “what is the nature of reality” question), there is only one answer to “how to live”: in gratitude for that love, returning love, right now, to the person in front of me right now. I persuade myself, too often, that I’m too busy, too distracted, too consumed by more important things, to love right now, or I kid myself that I’ll love when I have the time to do it right, time to do something big and important that will really make an impact. But that is Raskolnikov’s mistake, a utilitarian heresy that we cannot do anything good until it helps a great number of people. The tiny prostitute Sonya, and the little Albanian nun Mother Theresa, know different: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.” That’s what loving right now is all about. That’s how you form community, by answering the call to love that makes us worthy of the human family we belong to.
When you all were still seniors in high school, deciding to come to UD, a little octopus called a Glioblastoma in my brother’s brain finally got the better of him. We gathered in Denver on a Sunday in February of 2007 because the doctors had done all they could; his lungs were so ravaged, ironically not from the cancer but from the treatment, that not even a machine was able to force enough oxygen into his lungs to keep him alive. When he pulled out the breathing apparatus to say goodbye before heading to the hospice, Mark said, “Don’t be sad, because I know I’m going to a better place.”
Spe salvi. Mark, with only an Associate’s Degree, beat our academic pope to his encyclical by nine months. Spe salvi: “In hope we were saved.” Without that hope, I think his death at age 49 would have haunted us, maybe even crushed us. And for the first time I think I really understood hope—not as a wish for something, not a yearning desire that something you want just might happen, but the confident assurance that, because a God-man already suffered with us, for us, and conquered all of that, then all of the little deaths to self, the heavy crosses, and that seeming finality, ultimately mean joy. That is why, and how, the universe is comic. That is what Dante saw, what Peter learned.
Mark died that Thursday. It was one of the happiest weeks of my life. I thought: I just might pass that exam after all.
But you all knew all of this long ago, didn’t you? Because you’re all so much smarter than I am. Because your parents started you on this path, and an entire community of truth and love helped you on your way. Because you took advantage of the UD education my much smarter, wiser, and more accomplished colleagues provided for you. In your love for one another, in the daily kindnesses you showed my family, in the ministering community you have formed based on the truth Christ bears to us in His Church, you prove daily your passing grade on this exam. It’s what makes you a remarkable class. It’s why your leaving here will be like a little death for all of us who will remain behind at UD, especially the Ropers. And know that we will grieve this death, but then we will smile joyfully for a long, long time.
An Appreciative Look at the Spring Class of 2009
Final Convocation Address
University of Dallas Due Santi Campus
8 May 2009
Dr. Gregory Roper
[sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”]
When, on the steps of the Bari basilica, Dr. Hatlie, without any democratic consultation at all, and, in a fit of dictatorial coercion equal to the Thirty Tyrants, declared you the Rainbow Class, I was at best unsure about the label. It seemed too facile, and definitely too early to know this group’s collective moira. But as I overheard a student proclaiming just minutes later as we queued for the ferry, “No, we can’t change it now; our fate has been assigned.” And indeed the Three Fates of Hatlie had, it would seem, measured you out and cut your thread.
And no matter how un-rainbow-like you attempted to look on that day in the Basilica of San Clemente, you really were, and have become, the Rainbow Group. May I just say here parenthetically that you answered that day just a few weeks later, in what I found a frightening fashion, with the 80s dance; for every Flusche-inspired stylish black outfit the first day, there were multicolored leggings and bad eye shadow during the later evening, and I still shudder when the image comes to my mind of Mr. Aaron “Richard Simmons” Tucker flouncing about in Shakespeare Alley that evening.
We really do have a veritable rainbow of people, in one of the most diverse groups I can remember on this campus: we count among our number a Pakistani Muslim, a well-traveled Jew, a Vietnamese-American, a Polish-American, a Lebanese-Latina, a Peruvian-American, a Phillippina-American… among the faculty we have a North Dakotan-Minnesotan director, an expatriate small-town Texas art history professor, a post-Anglican married Roman Catholic priest with a family, and (may God help us all), a philosopher who throws away his commitment to rationality by being a Dallas Cowboys fan. (He honestly seems to think the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, has a soul… or at least some kind of “dispositions.”)
We also have a panoply, a rainbow of skills and abilities on this campus. We have speakers of Spanish, French, Dutch, Syriac, Arabic, German, Greek, and Latin among us; we have people who can say the word “rainbow” as teçza, regenboog, arco iris, ouranio toso, qaws quzh, and I’m just talking about Dr. Hatlie’s wife Dr. Roggema here…; we have musicians and dancers, athletes enough to take on the North American College in soccer; a knitter; a boot-maker; we have gentle souls and fierce competitors. Destined for Broadway for their ability to connect with an audience and bring out smiles in all, we have had on campus two of the sweetest little girls, Hannah and Kora, you will ever meet. We have a ten-year-old engineer and a seven-year-old artist-athlete, both of them black-belt Lego Masters. We have someone who can, if you trust his words, do incredibly unpleasant things to your body with his bare hands in three seconds, or, in thirty seconds, using the same hands, cause you to moan in so much delight that others present might think you are doing something rather private in a public place. (That was a heck of a back rub…!) We have a superb set of RAs who can balance thirty tasks at once: get you around foreign cities, bind wounds, teach Latin and Rugby, play the piano, set up Renaissance games, take photos, organize your housing, and fix you a cappuccino, all without breaking a sweat. We have dedicated, scholarly, fascinating faculty members, as you heard in Dr. Hatlie’s thanks to them. Perhaps bearing the most complex and valuable set of skills and talents, in two of the more unrecognized members of our community, a psychological tester and an artist/singer, we have two moms, who show these stunning talents in ways small and large, who care for all of their children, the little ones to the twenty-year-olds, with cookies and cakes, band-aids and a caring ear, hugs and encouragement. (Let’s take a moment to give it up for Mrs. Blue and Mrs. Roper…)
Soaring above perhaps even these is our multitalented Dean and Director, who is, I can say without qualification, the best leader I have known in eighteen years of working in academia. A terrific scholar who is not lost in a world of foggy footnotes, a fine classroom teacher, he is at once a superb administrator and a caring leader, exhibiting the virtues of courage, temperance, fortitude, and justice in his every action, and binding these together with a generosity of spirit that is boundless. He is a veritable rainbow himself, all of the colors bright, and I have been humbled to serve with him, for him, and under him four of the past six years of my life.
But it is not enough to simply list, like Book Two of the Iliad, a catalog of rainbows. As UD students and professors, we have been taught to go beyond mere listing of accidents to the substance of the matter.
And to do that, I suppose I must follow my own advice and scratch an itch.
Which itch? Well, it is the one first voiced by a little green philosopher-actor who, coincidentally, has a disordered love for his pink girlfriend.
I’m talking about Kermit the Frog, of course, who asks, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side?”
Well, let us begin by looking at the nature of reality… of rainbows. And then see if they can teach us how to live our lives.
Of course for a rainbow there first must be rain… and we’ve had our share of that this semester, literally and metaphorically. We could almost summarize this semester by quoting the beginning of one of my favorite chapters from Winnie the Pooh: “It rained, and it rained, and it rained.” It rained and snowed on our way to Bari; it rained in Olympia; it rained a bit in Delphi; it poured in Nafplion. The Easter Triduum had its share. There was wind, and there were storms, this semester: need I say more than “If the devil was a ferry…”? finish it with me, guys: “he’d be the Blue Star!” When Carl cannot, because of the rain, even stage a simple bocce ball tourney, you know something is up. We’ve had our share of metaphorical storms and rain, also. We’ve dealt with facial disfigurement in the Circus Maximus, socialist Acropolis employees depriving us of an up-close-and-personal with the Parthenon, and obnoxious Italian students at the theatre in Epidauros. You had your own literal and metaphorical storms over ten day. And it occurs to me now that, during our most dangerous part of the semester, as Kara and Gayle and I called up to, and Dr. Hatlie and a really angry Greek police chief called down to, and were repeatedly answered by, a strangely calm disembodied voice tucked a few hundred feet above or below us, that perhaps the reason our group’s leprechaun was on a ledge in Nafplion was that he had been searching for a pot of gold up there, and the faeries had bewitched him…
But rain isn’t enough for a rainbow to appear: we must also have light. And in fact what occurs to me is that for every one of those moments I just mentioned, a glorious day followed: a beautiful cool day for the race in Olympia, a stunning walk up the site in Delphi, the cleansing of the temple in Epidauros by Mr. Gibula’s judicious use of the national anthem, the gorgeous day at the Palamidi Fortress after the great wash of relief we all felt when Mr. Wilder was safe. Even our trip back from Greece, on a beautiful new ferry on glass-smooth waters, had a way of erasing that demonic trip to Patras.
So we are getting closer to the nature of the reality of rainbows, but perhaps we should look a little further.
A scientist might say a rainbow is the result of refracted light. A romantic might say that robs a rainbow of its poetry, but I would disagree; I think, as I often think about scientific knowledge, it actually enhances the beauty and wonder of rainbows.
For when we combine water and light, as we could all see on a wonderful afternoon at the villa in Tivoli, you get spectacular results. And you get deep symbolism of our greatest needs and deepest aspirations.
A rainbow is of course NOT an illusion—we’re not dealing with one of Mr. Padgett’s splendid card tricks here, where we are cleverly deceived—no, in refracting, a rainbow tells us the TRUTH about light, that light is made up of an infinite number of colors and parts of the spectrum; it tells us that, as Roberto Benigni might say, Light is Beautiful, and that much of the time we do not even really see it for what it is.
But a rainbow also teaches us that at times we have to be bent, refracted, to reveal our true beauty. That is, troubles do come, and, as we’ve seen here, they often don’t just “melt like lemon drops”; we’ve seen this in King Lear, in the Book of Job, in the late Roman Republic, in the difficult struggles of the early Church, in your own occasional homesickness and stress over grades. What we have learned as well this semester is that suffering does exist—ankles twist, mensa lines are long, toilets run endlessly and fire alarms go off at strange times of the night; friends struggle, uncles die, Dachau did exist and has happened again—and that there are Iagos out there, people who will seek to destroy us, or deny us the use of our talents. Think of Michelangelo’s opponents who tried to ruin him by getting him the contract to paint the Sistine Chapel and work for the obnoxious Julius II. They tried to bend him, even to break him, and instead, he refracted all of this into one of the world’s great wonders of artistic beauty and truth, which no amount of crowding, and guards calling “Silencio,” can diminish.
So if a rainbow teaches us anything, it is that it is through our very brokenness, and the unbidden grace that comes to shine through that, that we discover the marvelous. And that this marvelous reveals the beauty and grace of creation.
It would be presumptuous, and I suppose redundant, for me to catalog all of the marvels we have seen and read and experienced here this semester, and you know better than I your own catalog, from Sacre Couer to Fatima, from Hagia Sophia to a Khang Tran topspin, from Rebecca and Nick singing in the tholos tomb at Mycenae to a quiet walk in the vineyard, to Mr. Kelsey transforming into one seriously dangerous pick-up artist. I think you would agree we have seen a plethora of marvels this semester.
But what the marvelous requires of us is appreciation. Appreciation means to stand in awe and pleasure, to seek out the good of the thing, and to respond to its goodness. I confess that what irked me (just a wee bit) about Dr. Hatlie choosing a label for you is that Michele and I already had from the earliest weeks of the semester our own name for you: the Appreciative Group. Rather than carping and whining about what you didn’t have, from January 21st you truly appreciated what you have been given here, and we saw it in ways small and large: the way you appreciated the stunning sites and fascinating history of Rome, or the mensa ladies’ care of you; the way you responded to lectures; the attention you gave to us on site; the joy with which you took to Kora Blue climbing a tree, or a Stephanie Stoeckl twinkle in the eye; the way you appreciated each others’ personalities and gifts and quirks and talents, the way you saw, if I may say so, the radiance of the divine in the art and architecture and concepts and men and women on the streets. You knew there were things more important than yourselves, and you sought and appreciated the good in them.
And appreciation, rightly ordered, leads to wonder, which is what cracks open our ability to see truth, to bathe in beauty, to pursue the good. A few times in other semesters I’ve just felt crushed by a student who looks at the Acropolis and says, “Yeah, let’s go get a gyro” or finds Rome tiresome or spends all of her semester longing for Cheetos and not appreciating a good hearty bowl of penne alla vodka. But that didn’t happen this semester; you all understood the secret of appreciation. It was there the day I saw two very different guys, Senor Herrera and Mr. Burton, walk out of the Scavi tour wiping tears from their eyes; it was there in your excitement to be at the Hill of the Pnyx, where democracy was born and Socrates sentenced to death; it was there in the reverence and calm of so many of you at Mass, even when it was held in a crowded lobby in Delphi where we had to move the exceedingly illegal-looking hookah from behind the altar.
If there is something I think the Rome semester is supposed to do for you, it is to give you this chance to appreciate, to move to wonder, to crack you open with Thucydides and Hamlet and Athanasius and Ryle, with Augustine and the “Apollo and Daphne” and a quiet talk in the pergola with a friend, to have you open yourselves to truth and beauty and goodness, to see the beauty in the refracted light of a new country, a new culture, a new set of experiences in your lives. For if you have that wonder, we don’t have to worry about how you will be as students; all of your studies will be a part of your wonder, the Core will come alive, your majors will widen and deepen. For if you have that wonder, beauty will come to you, you will be humbly open to truth bigger than yourself, and you will seek out how to act with goodness.
Finally, what we know about rainbows is that they quickly fade . . . and we must take a moment, when they appear, to pause and notice them, to appreciate their grace and beauty and meanings for us, or we will miss them. As Doctor Hatlie told us in the opening convocation, as he spoke about the Greek word ekomeny, we on the Rome semester are aware at once of living in the best of all possible places and that it is, at this very moment, passing away, and while this may give us pause, and perhaps lead to a bout of Rome Sickness next semester, it should not lead us to despair, for it reminds us that so much of the good around us is pure gift, and the only response is gratitude. And if you have learned that, that all is gift, on your Rome semester—from the sunshine and rain, the basilicas and temples, the texts and images, the crowds and the moments of solitude—then you will have something not ephemeral as a rainbow, but as solid as Peter’s rock, the deepest and most enduring secret of life.
So at the end of this intense experience in a world of Oz, as you begin to crave fajitas and good Texas barbecue, a beer and a braut in Wisconsin, or an In-and-Out burger in LA, as you head back to the other side of the rainbow, you may be tempted to see this semester as a singular experience, a strange illusion, a fading ephemeral moment in your life that will not be replicated back in the hum-drum world of Irving. But I think, as the Rainbow Class, you know better, and can turn your appreciation for these marvels into permanent parts of your soul. For the Rome semester does its best work when it is not a one-time event, but when it irradiates your life back in the rest of the world with the truths, the beauty, and the goodness you have experienced here. So as you prepare to click your heels tomorrow, saying quietly (and correctly), “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, and as you then fly “where lovely bluebirds fly”, I hope you’ll take a piece of the violet, or orange, or blue, or green, and splash its color upon everything you see.
One of my favorite professors (note, ONE of, not the only- I'm pretty sure I have at least ten favorite professors from UD, so if a professor who is not Roper is reading this, do not be insulted!) is my Literary Traditions professor from Rome (who I enjoyed enough to take again for Lit Trad IV back in Irving). When we were leaving Rome, he addressed our class on our last night in Rome. Then, at Convocation, he shared his wisdom again (as I noted in my last post).
Dr. Roper has two big questions that he always asks his class: "What is the nature of reality?" and "How should a life be lived?"
During the last two years, I have spent a lot of time thinking about these questions, and I think I will continue to do so. The understanding that reality must be a comedy and not a tragedy because of the Resurrection has stuck with me, and in some of the most difficult moments I have looked back on that and remembered that all really will be well (Julian of Norwich).
So, because I value his words and have enjoyed both of these, I thought I would share them with you. I will post them above, because I think the combined lengths would be too long for just one post.