Graduation Speech 2017: “A Committed Life” by Dr. Daniel C. Hauser
Chesterton Academy of The Holy Family
May 25, 2017
A Committed Life
Thank you for inviting me tonight it is an honor to be here. I want to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishments. A graduation is an important event, a time that takes its meaning from the years that you spent studying and working, especially here at the Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family. But is also a point in which you look forward to the future, a time of transition.
It is also important to note that today is the feast of the Ascension, a transition in the life of Christ, where he returns to the Father. It calls us to reflect upon the “transitions’ in our lives and look to see how they provide opportunities to bring us closer to God.
Before moving on to my main points I would like to say a word about the work being done here. These graduates of Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family, the students who will still be there next year, the faculty, administrators, and parents are pioneers. You have taken the path less traveled. Your efforts require great vision, a way of seeing what is really at stake in human life and what is possible in human life. And beyond vision, it requires courage. We need more people who know the good and are willing to defend that good.
I am an admirer of Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Although I never met her, I was privileged to study with Dr. William Miller who wrote one history of the Catholic Worker movement and a biography of Dorothy Day. He pointed out that Dorothy loved young people and saw them as capable of great heroism and sacrifice for a good. I share her optimism and from what I have seen that vision is present here at the Chesterton Academy of The Holy Family. I commend all of you for the work that you have done here.
- The importance of this work
As I came to understand what you are doing here I was very impressed. First, I have to say that I am jealous of what you are studying. The other night as I looked over the curriculum I was tempted to sign up. Over the years I have read many of the authors listed in the curriculum and in many ways those literary, philosophical, theological works and artistic ideas that you have studied are part of my life. When one reads these books one enters into a dialogue with some of the greatest minds that have ever lived. When you look at artistic expression in music or in a sculpture or painting, you are entering into that truth and that beauty of that work. In the study of Latin one learns one of the languages at the foundation of Western culture and one enters into the culture of ancient Rome and our own Catholic heritage. Such things change one’s life.
As most of the students here know, I visited the school the other day. I got the feeling I was visiting “old friends.” I visited three classes. The first was a music class, in that class, Mrs. Podczerwinski was leading a discussion of beat and rhythm. It reminded me of the section of Plato’s Republic in which he describes the education of the guardian. Next class was an art class in which Mrs. Roth was teaching students to use paints, mixing them to achieve certain colors. Mrs. Roth took the time to explain not only what was happening in that particular class, but she also described how she went about helping the students develop an understanding of art. Finally, I stopped by Mr. Linn’s philosophy class and the students in the seminar were talking about the nature of the soul: which is also a question what it means to be human and what is a good human life. I have that discussion often with my students in various ways.
The type of learning that you are engaged in is a way of life. Of course, we can read The Illiad or the Confessions, study music and art in order to “pass the test” but liberal learning is really about seeking what is true, good and beautiful. It is learning to see the world in a certain way.
In book 7 of the Republic, Plato describes education as not putting things in the soul but turning the person towards the light. You might say that it is a conversion of sorts. It parallel’s the wisdom of Delphi, “know thyself.” And it certainly true that our Catholic faith conversion is a way of life.
Conversion of Emily: I am the father of five children. And Emily is my youngest daughter. She is presently in college. But during late grade school and high school, I drove her to sporting events and practices most of the time. We had a rule that no headphones were allowed and we shared the same music and often we talked about her studies. If her friends were along they had to follow the same rules. We talked quite a bit about philosophy, but what she remembers most was our “opera rides.” About once a week during the ride we would play some of the greatest hits of “Luciano Pavarotti.” And if her friends were along they all had to listen. And we played it loud. So on some hot summer days, with the windows down, we would roll into the parking lot with the music blasting. This was fun and over time she learned to appreciate the beauty of the music. It is a small thing but to this day it remains part of her life.
- Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
Now, very briefly I will make a plea and a set of recommendations.
My plea to the graduates and the students here is that you make the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty a central theme in your life. This will inform your life in certain ways. And they will lead you ultimately to Christ.
Truth: To seek the truth is always an act of courage. Socrates was put to death. Jesus who is “the Truth” also was rejected and died. We live in a skeptical age and many doubt the existence of truth. But as Catholics, we not only hold that there is a truth, but that we know it and, in fact, love it. We are the most optimistic people in the world because truth wins out.
Now, to seek the truth requires two basic things: humility and sacrifice. One needs to know that one’s knowledge is never complete and that one always needs to learn more.
As a practical note here, find some good guides for this journey. First, I mean continue to look to the kinds of people you have met here in your studies: Dante, Plato, Augustine, and Chesterton. Their wisdom will prove essential to an education for life. But also find good “living” teachers. Graduates, as you pursue higher education, look for learned people who can help guide you. Find someone who is serious about learning and let them guide you. As Dr. Hill and I have discussed things over the years we reference the people we know in our field and how they influenced what we think. We recognize that others know much and follow their lead.
Second, a life dedicated to this kind of learning will also require some sacrifice and discipline. If one is serious about this course of study, it changes the way you relate to the world and others. When you are in college you will be studying often late into the night and on weekends when other students are off doing “other things.”
When I went to high school I went to residential preparatory seminary. (For the first two years, until my father became ill and I needed to return home.) There were a number of us from the area that went to the seminary and on Friday nights we would get picked up (usually in a station wagon) and we headed home for the weekend. My friends from the town in which I lived would call or come by and try to recruit me for pickup football, baseball, or some other sport. But I often had homework and they simply did not understand that. So often I would go play for a while and then return home to do more school work. The requirements of my unique schooling were a bit isolating. Not only were the demands of the work what set it apart, but the kind of learning we were doing was unique. I am sure that there was not another high school student in the town studying Latin at that time and reading the books that I was reading. Of course, over time the other students at the seminary became my closest friends and a few are still my friends to this day. But the work will require focus and discipline.
So commit yourself to the search for truth.
Beauty: To consider the nature of beauty I always find to be a bit more difficult. I need to take a course on art and music theory and aesthetics. But as Catholics, we are a sacramental people. We believe that the created order comes from God and it is good. We recognize that order and that goodness in creation. We all have seen beauty in nature, in human life. When I think of beauty as it pertains to art and music, I think that good art and music are “kind of prayers” that leads us more deeply into the mystery of the good creation. I use them as means to make a sacred place or a sacred space. Music and art can, of course, be pleasant or entertaining. When I was a child we would go to weddings and at the reception, there would be polka music. I do not think I have listened to five minutes of polka music outside of those events. But with it came a joy and we danced with our cousins, aunts, and grandmothers. Music and Art both should help lead us deeper into the mystery of life.
So, find space for beauty in your lives.
Goodness: As noted, Catholic are optimists – we hold that the world is created by God and it is good. We are not pantheists – those who see everything as God, but we see God present in the world. In fact, he sent his Son into the world to save us. As rooted in our faith we affirm the goodness of creation, of all human life, of knowledge and wisdom, the goodness of human love, and the goodness of God – who alone is truly good.
So in order to find deeper roots for these things in your life I want to give you a bit of summer homework. (It will not be due for some years.) It will not be graded, but if you do this I would like you to send Dr. Hill a note someday letting him know how it worked out.
- Pick a book – a classic text that is of interest to you, that you really love – that will become “your book.” It needs to be substantial, hopefully, a classic text from literature, philosophy, or theology. And read it every year for the next ten years. Try to keep the same copy. Make notes in the margins of the book. Reflect on the book with each reading, but also on your own notes. Use this as an “intellectual diary.” I suspect that the book will become part of your life and that you will be reading it still years later. You should always have such a book.
- Find a piece of classical music that when you listen to that music it moves your very soul. It may fill you with joy, peace or inspire you. It should be a work of art that you can “rest in;” so that when you listen to it you enter into the music and the world stops. This will help to make space in your life to let beauty lead you closer to God.
- In a like manner, find a work of art that you want to spend time with. (Caution: avoid the empty politicized art so common today). If possible find one nearby, or try to see original if possible. (I would suggest that you students pick a work of art in Rome or Paris and tell your parents you need to go there to do your homework.) It should be the kind of work of art that moves you profoundly and so that you will be able to sit with this work for hours. Memorize it as best you can, make it part of how you see the world.
(As a subset of the finding a piece of art, I would suggest you plan at least once a year to visit Church.)
- Visit a Church (I often find the art I like in Churches.)
Whenever you travel, visit a Catholic Church, a shrine or an Orthodox Church. There are beautiful Catholic Churches all over the world. (even a few here in the area) There are also small chapels, monasteries, and shrines that tell a part of the story of our faith. Some are beautiful and contain beautiful pieces of art, others less so, but there is usually something that draws your attention: a side altar, a statue of the Blessed Mother, a picture of a saint, a tabernacle. When you visit the Church be prepared to spend a couple hours there.
There is a running joke in our family that if you travel with dad you always end up in a church somewhere. (I am sure that my children exaggerate a bit – as children always do when speaking about their parent’s habits.) But it did so happen that when we would drive to Minneapolis we would end in Lacrosse at the shrine (Basilica) of our Lady of Guadalupe. When our family would go to other cities we would end up at the cathedral and/or some other churches. It was good for my family (and all of us who share the faith) to see the art and beauty in the images of our faith and the legacy that we have inherited.
So pick a book, a piece of music, a piece of art and visit a church. (If you need help ask your parents or consult with one of your teachers.)
- Conclusion: A final point
What holds this tradition of a Catholic liberal arts education together in a special way is that as all things Catholic, it is rooted in Christ. The truth of the faith and the life that is rooted in Christ. So we hold that only a life in Christ is the truly “good” human life.
So, graduates, it is fitting that your time here at the Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family end with the celebration of the Eucharist. If I understand correctly your daily routine here at the Chesterton Academy, you probably began your academic career here at this school with Mass. And it has been the celebration of the Mass that has been one of the pillars of your life here for the time you have been here. It is in this sacrament that Christ is present, offering himself to us as the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. At the same time, it is the representation of the one perfect sacrifice of the cross, the one event by which we are saved. So in the Mass one enters into the event of our salvation. As Saint Pope John Paul II notes, “For the Most Holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our Passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men”. It is fitting that any good human life be rooted in this Eucharistic worship, especially a life of study.
Finally, it is proper that you graduates give thanks, this day to your family, your classmates, your teachers who guided you to this place.
As you graduate today we pray that God bless you in all aspects of your life.