Santa Clara University

Office of the President

Mass of the Holy Spirit, 2010


Mission Church, SCU
6 October 2010

In preparing for celebrations like this Mass of the Holy Spirit, I face a question.  A question for God.  What is it that You wish to say to your people?  What Good News do you have to share?  I am not always attuned to good news; after all, look at my poor Dodgers in baseball, or the 49ers in football.  So I wonder about the message, and often as not, it turns up right in front of me. Today the message comes from you.

In recent days I have asked a number of students, What did you do for the summer? One sophomore – I shall call him Ned - joined a dozen other students on a three-week immersion trip to El Salvador.  They visited Santa Clara’s Casa de la Solidaridad, learned about the challenges facing that country, and met people in villages. For four nights they were divided up for over-night stays with campesinos families.

Ned’s story surprised me when he said, I want to go back. He could not precisely explain the reason or put it into words, but some feeling leads him to desire to return for the fall quarter of his junior year. As he spoke, Ned became more animated and lively. Not wild or out of control – like a Giants fan – he manifested an enthusiasm that was noticeable. Something or someone has engaged him while in El Salvador. Strangers had become individuals with names, stories, personalities. Like the people in the first reading, Ned had heard others speaking in ways and about things he did not understand.

Another story of engagement came in an email from Natali, a junior at the Casa. She wrote that on the first day of class her sociology professor who asked the students: “When were you first born, and when were you born most recently?” Natali wrote that the questions stumped the class and challenged them to wrestle with personal responses. The class was engaged as they imagined and analyzed their personal responses. From such classes and from her many experiences in El Salvador Natali concluded, “My brain is so full of new things I have never known, I hope it does not explode.”

New things. If you are lucky, this year will engage you with many new things: in your classes, in the sport you play, in friendships and relationships. If you are fortunate, you will face questions or experiences that bewilder you or lead you to question. “What do I do?  What do I say?  What does this mean?” Your education at Santa Clara should repeatedly lead you to questions, new situations. This year I hope that you repeatedly encounter situations and people who cause you to think, to wonder, to reflect, to imagine.

I hope this happens in chemistry, accounting, or engineering. I hope some of you are enlivened by literature, philosophy, the arts, and theology. Perhaps you are immersed in athletics, ROTC, with volunteer service. Whatever the area, I hope that you find something that brings great joy to you. The discovery of joy is the opening to your deeper interior life, to the authentic you. Amidst all the feelings and emotions, ideas and thoughts, yearnings and desires is that passion that will bring great joy in your life. It lies within, where a loving God placed it, and where a loving God wishes to share it with you.

In our first reading, the followers of Jesus spoke in new ways. They communicated in other languages. They were sharing from their experience of a deep friendship, the joy of knowing Jesus. Each spoke of his relationship with Jesus, a friend who inspired, engaged, challenged, and laughed with them. Each had discovered the joy of friendship with one who made God a reality in his life. From this joy, something new was occurring in each of their lives, something unexpected but something engaging, exciting, energizing.

In another email, this one from a graduate of this past June, Pat sent me a photo of an amazing tree. A twisted trunk, rising from a riot of massive roots, sustains an immense umbrella of branches and leaves that arch back to the ground. Pat wrote that he hikes to this distant spot so that he can sit and think under this great canopy of greenery. This spot is his, a special place, where reflection and wonder have a chance to play within his heart.

Let me conclude with a few words from two of our seniors. Chris and Quentin wrote a list of Ten Essentials for Success at Santa Clara. I quoted these Ten Essentials with each orientation group over the summer. The tenth Essential reads: Take time to appreciate beauty, to be quiet, or to pray. In other words, find a spot like Pat described, a place where your spirit can rest, reflect, and re-charge. Sit in the presence of beauty and listen to your self. Give your imagination permission to roam about within so that the joy that abides there can be found and freed. Let this spirit loose, a spirit planted by God and sustained by God’s Spirit. Let the spirit loose for our own joy which will draw us to encounter others, care for others, serve our world.

Some day the question will not be, “What did you do for the summer?” Someday the question each of us will hear will be, "How did you find the deep joy that changed your life?"

Michael E. Engh, S.J.

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