In a Mass of the Holy Spirit marking the beginning of a new academic year on Sept. 3, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory joined The Catholic University of America in prayer at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, encouraging students to turn to the Holy Spirit to guide them in the months ahead.

“This year, in a special way, we beseech the Holy Spirit to allow us to work for justice and harmony within our nation, among diverse peoples, specifically on this particular campus of higher learning,” Archbishop Gregory, who is also the university's chancellor, said in his homily. “We humbly admit that the tasks that lie ahead are beyond our personal skills and talents.”

The Catholic University of America celebrates its 133rd anniversary this year as the national university of the Catholic Church and the only higher education institution founded by the U.S. bishops. To limit the number of students on campus this fall due to safety precautions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, freshman received priority to reside on campus and begin classes in-person. Sophomores, juniors and seniors are participating in distance learning for the fall 2020 semester. 

The archbishop said the Holy Spirit seeks personal relationship with each person, working within everyone.

“The Spirit is no remote presence when He is about the tasks that He was sent to realize in our lives,” he said. “We beseech the Holy Spirit not merely to guide us productively through demanding examinations, the successful authoring of course papers, and the effective understanding new lessons; we are seeking His warmth and presence in our lives each moment of every day in this new school year. We ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts.” 

The Holy Spirit comes in “full force” when asked to enter, Archbishop Gregory said, adding that the Holy Spirit aids in weathering any challenges – in a classroom or on a Zoom lecture. 

“The Holy Spirit invades our lives with His grace and power – from that first Pentecost outpouring, we know that He is not deterred by locked doors or even locked and frightened hearts,” he said. 

Archbishop Gregory said that in a new way, the petitions of the Mass of the Holy Spirit this year go beyond “the fruitful and successful and positive academic accomplishments, but also on the broader national healing, reconciliation and peace that we clearly all need at this time.” 

“We pray this day for the mending of relationships across racial, ethnic and religious differences so that the world, that our university students, administrators and faculty will encounter tomorrow will be a place of justice and integrity for all people,” Archbishop Gregory said. “The Holy Spirit has it within His power and authority to achieve that goal in response to our prayers this morning. May He accomplish both our growth in wisdom and grace and the restoration of equity and justice for all men and women everywhere.” 

Catholic University of America President John Garvey speaks at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 3. (Photo courtesy Patrick G. Ryan, Catholic University photographer) 

Catholic University President John Garvey addressed those present at the Mass and viewing the Mass via live stream, speaking about the change of pace in life that the pandemic has influenced. Drawing upon the 2005 film Into Great Silence, which allows views to peek into the lives of Carthusian monks in France, Garvey said that with the challenges of the day, lessons can be learned from the slow lives that the monks lead. 

“The present moment is anything but normal,” he said. “COVID-19 has forced us to live different. It’s imposed a regimen of Personal Protective Equipment, social distance and small gatherings. We might learn a few lessons from the monks about the value of slowing down.

“In a world that urges us to get ahead, we have little time to think — about where we’re going, and what we’re doing.  For an institution dedicated to the intellectual life, and to forming our students in good habits of reading, study, and prayer, that’s a problem,” Garvey said. 

By inviting the change of pace, or for others who may have to spend time in quarantine, Garvey encouraged students to seek balance when busyness creeps in and welcome an openness to reflection. 

“Try to think of it as an opportunity to reflect on what you would like to learn this year… as a moment to reassess the balance you have drawn among faith, study and stuff,” he said. “It would also be a perfect occasion to spend some time with God and ask Him what He thinks.”