Thursday, May 22, 2008

2008 University of Dallas Commencement Address

Commencement Address
University of Dallas

May 18, 2008
By John Lenczowski

Chairman Cruse, President Lazarus, Bishop Farrell, Bishop Vann, Trustees, Faculty, Administration, Clergy and Religious, Graduates, Parents and Friends:

I am honored to be given the opportunity to address you on this most felicitous occasion. I am an enormous admirer of the University of Dallas. It has been my conclusion, after considerable study, that there is no better liberal arts college in America.

You, the graduates of 2008, have received an extraordinary gift: an education in the most important sense of that term. I dearly hope that you understand how special and precious that education is, because a lot is at stake for our country and civilization, and for your own lives.

This University has faced an uphill challenge to give you this education. In a national atmosphere of declining educational standards, it has been to define what constitutes an authentic and inspiring Catholic higher education.

Fulton Sheen once noted that the prime purpose of an education is the making of a person – and it is impossible to make a person without giving him the purpose of being a person. To study the purpose of life is to study philosophy and theology, to examine what is ultimately true, and to search for truth in the various aspects of God’s creation.

In a climate where most Catholic universities have distanced themselves from their Catholic identity and abandoned not just the core liberal arts curriculum but precisely the study of philosophy and theology the University of Dallas has set the highest standard of a genuine education, both in terms of content and academic rigor. How you have been educated, and how you will use your education has enormous implications for the future of our country and the future of your eternal souls.

Having worked in the field of foreign policy and national security, and having had to mind the lessons of history, I have been struck by the fragility of civilization. The last century witnessed the rise of totalitarian regimes that perpetrated more murders of innocent people within their own borders than the accumulated death toll from all the contemporaneous wars. We saw the Nazi slaughter, the Soviet Gulag, the Maoist Cultural Revolution and its own still-existing network of slave labor and death camps – the Lao Gai. These monstrosities happened not only in lands of oriental despotism, but in lands that were once part of Western Christendom. The story of the Holocaust is well known.

But how many are aware of the unprovoked massacre of 7,000 bishops, priests, nuns, and monks by the anarcho-communists in Western, civilized, Spain in 1936? How can such things happen within living memory in our civilized world, in a world with so many nice people?

They happen when society has weakened in achieving its central mission – the educational task of passing on the principles that underlie a sound civilization to the next generation, and when its leaders have failed to be courageous and vigilant. Invariably, this is a moral breakdown. It occurs when too many people, particularly in leadership roles, let ego and thirst for power dictate their own “moral code” which is at variance with the Natural Moral Law and ultimately the Divine Law. It is where moral relativism triumphs and whatever shifting moral standards are set for one’s own personal convenience undermine those standards that are necessary for a healthy society. It is where selfishness and the temptation to be one’s own god smother the essence of a good civilization and a truly free society – and that essence is love and self-sacrifice.

The ancient historian, Livy, once taught that the surest way to defeat an enemy is by spreading among his population the ideas of selfishness and hedonism. When a society becomes overtaken by selfish pleasure-seeking, it renders itself incapable of self-defense. It telegraphs its culture to its enemies and projects what we in the national security world call “provocative weakness” – the kind of cultural and ultimately physical weakness that encourages foreign adversaries to take aggressive action against a tempting, conquerable target. That is why, ultimately, the costs of the moral breakdown of a society are often paid in war.

Today we live in a dangerous world. We face certain well-known external threats such as terrorist movements and their penetration of Western societies, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a resurgent, revanchist Russia with policies based on an active imperial nostalgia. We also face the rise of China, a country with the largest military buildup on the face of the earth, with a new and rising global strategic presence, with territorial claims on most of its neighbors, with 10,000 spies in the United States, and with a mercantilist economic policy that has developed enormous leverage over our economy.

Our ability to meet these external challenges will depend on sound national strategic leadership. But ultimately, there is no external threat that America cannot handle so long as our culture retains some modicum of health.

In the struggle for the health of our civilization, the battle front is everywhere. It is in our cultural institutions. It is in our universities. It is in our scientific laboratories and in our governmental institutions. It is in our businesses and in our elementary schools. It is in our own homes and in how we raise our children. It is even in the Church.

So, what are you going to do with the education and moral formation that you have received? You will pursue many professions. But the real question is: What kind of person will you be? What kind of defender of civilization will you be?

If you go into business, will you uphold the highest standards of honesty so that American business can be conducted in an ever greater climate of trust? If our business community fails at this and trust melts away and the cost of a transaction becomes as much one of legal protection as of the intrinsic value of the transaction, the result will be an ineluctable erosion in our ability to create wealth.

If you go into political life, will you be there principally to benefit your own ego or to serve the common good? Will you serve honestly, and courageously resist the forces that are tempted toward corruption – a corruption whose consequence around the world has been unremitting poverty and human misery?

Wherever you go, will you live a life of virtue and be part of the fabric of a healthy society and thus a defender of a civilization of love and the realization of the highest of human possibilities?

The University of Dallas has given you a grounding to know the purpose of your lives and to live them accordingly. That purpose, as I hope you have discovered, has something to do with your soul. This is a purpose, however, – contrary to the dogmas of those who have never studied philosophy and theology – that can be found through right reason.

Indeed, as Saint Thomas Aquinas said, you cannot begin a religion merely with faith. You have to have a reason for that faith and a motive for belief. And that reason and that motive can be found through the kind of education you have received.

In short:

because it is more likely than not that God exists, and
because it is more likely than not that Jesus Christ was who He said he was, and
because it is more likely than not that God created the world, and then created you somehow, (because it is impossible for something to come from nothing), and
because He must have had a reason for doing so, and
because He instilled in your heart a conscience and the capacity to love,

Then your purpose is:

to try to discern God’s will for you
to perfect yourself in the way that He would have you do, and
to return the love that He has given you.

As Bishop Sheen pointed out, perfecting the personality does not consist of knowing God’s plan for you – for this cannot so easily be known in advance. Rather, it consists of submitting to God’s will as it reveals itself in the circumstances of life. In doing this, you will succeed in the great task before you. You will become the builder of true civilization and of a free society – something that must be done anew by each generation.

You have been called to be the one person that makes a difference for the better – wherever you may be. You have all been called to be saints. That means you, not somebody else. And you have been called to be the Lord’s instrument in the lives of your friends and colleagues. You will succeed not only in your professions but in your quest for these higher things – so long as you remember that Christ is the vine and you are the branches. And so long as you remain connected to Him, you will bear great fruit.

We need you to be the leaders of our society in every battle front where the struggle for civilization is taking place. We cannot but depend on you. For, if not you, the products of this great university, then who?

Thank you for listening and God bless you all.

John Lenczowski is Founder and President of The Institute of World Politics, an independent graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, DC. He previously taught at the Georgetown University and the University of Maryland and worked in the Department of State at the National Security Council. In the latter capacity, he served as principal White House advisor on Soviet affairs to President Ronald Reagan.

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