Address to the University of Mary Master of Science Bioethics Class of 2018

     Dr. Roller, dean of the school of health sciences, Dr. Rohr, director of the bioethics program, brother priests and deacon, fellow classmates and dear guests. I stand here today deeply humbled to have this privilege of offering a short reflection on the beauty and importance of our shared calling to the field of bioethics. When Dr. Rohr called me last month to ask if I would give this address I couldn’t help but think back to our first meeting on campus 11 months ago. As we gathered for that first meeting and introduced ourselves I remember asking myself what I, a young priest with just over two years of experience, was doing in a room full of professionals with terminal degrees and years of experience in their fields. As we have come to know each other over the past year I have only been further impressed by each of our unique skills and talents. In learning through the insights of each of our own unique expertise, which we shared in our bioethical discussions, I began to see how each of our training and experiences fit together to paint the moral solution to the particular issues. Slowly as the year moved on my view began to change to the point that today, when I look out over this room, I no longer see a group of individual experts, but rather I see the different parts of the Body of Christ working together in service of Jesus Christ, the head of the body.

     What I didn’t realize on that first day was that the diversity of our class is essential to our study. For as a subfield of ethics, our discipline of bioethics seeks a “practical good which aims at procuring man’s unqualified good, his absolute good.”[1] The diversity of our class reflects the reality that bioethics is a melting pot where ideas from multiple disciplines come together to assess human actions in accordance with the human person’s relationship to God, our neighbor, and the natural world. This diversity should remind us of our need to heed the first word of St. Benedict’s rule and listen so that working together we can truly be of service to the Lord.

     Our field of bioethics affords us the unique privilege of challenging the modern scientific world to a new way of thinking. In a scientific culture that so often values doing whatever is possible, we must challenge this culture to ask, not what can we do, but rather what should we do. For as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reminds us “it should be the Christian task not to stand aloof from the modern world, as a naysayer, but rather to purify today’s science and working from within, to exorcise it, and then to free it for the purpose of Christian charity.”[2] Our duty as Christian bioethicists is to work to order every scientific advance to be of service to the Lord.

     As we gather today I am confident each of us recognizes the awesome privilege and responsibility our newfound knowledge affords us. As the world of science and medicine continues to push boundaries as far as possible, we live in a time, where now perhaps more than ever, we have a chance to make a lasting impression. This time in history is crying out for us to order the advances of science and medicine towards a good end or in the words of St. Thomas More “that which you cannot turn to good, so to order it, that it be not very bad.”[3]

     Certainly, none of us is called to change the entire culture alone, but each of us now has the power to change the hearts and minds of the culture one person at a time. I saw this firsthand (PERSONAL STORY). It was at that moment that I recalled the wisdom of Cardinal Ratzinger who said, “if a person has been able to give meaning to an individual, to just one person, through his love, then his life has been infinitely valuable.”[4]

     Of course we know that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word to know himself – so that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to know the fullness of truth about themselves.”[5] This degree which will be conferred on us today then charges us with offering the freedom of truth even in life’s most difficult moments. It affords us the privilege of leading people down the path of integrity which leads to true and lasting joy, for “knowledge takes possession of beauty and joy follows.”[6] This degree charges us with the task of offering true freedom which only comes from following Christ who is “the way, the truth and the life.”[7]

     Friends as we stand here prepared to bring the light of truth back into our professional lives it only seems appropriate that we first stop to recall from whence we came. If you are anything like me, our time at the University of Mary has challenged us to the core. There were certainly a few late nights or early mornings during this accelerated masters program where I was tempted to give up, yet by God’s grace we have persevered. This program has demanded the best from us and in so doing has brought the best out of us. Yet ultimately, the test of this program has nothing to do with what we have accomplished while students here, but rather what we will accomplish with the tools this university has given us. For you see Jesus is clear when he says, “much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”[8] Certainly since humilitas est veritas (humility is truth), all of us much acknowledge that we fall in the camp of those to whom God will demand more.

     Martin Luther King Jr., a bioethicist before bioethics once famously remarked that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others.”[9] He further reminds us that “a man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to stand for that which is true.”[10] Our challenge then is to stand for what is right, for what is just, and for what is true. Ultimately the same struggle that Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for, the struggle for the dignity of every human person, is the same struggle that we are being sent out to fight. The challenges of today are great, but that means the opportunity is ripe.

     So then as I stand here today my mind once again goes back to that first meeting 11 months ago. But as I stand here today, knowing what I know now, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take this journey with each and every diverse member of this class. As we stand here on the verge of graduating, I think we can look to the past grateful for all that university has offered us but just as grateful to be part of this new community of the second graduating class of this bioethics program, and we can look to the future with confidence knowing that the University of Mary and the National Catholic Bioethics Center has given us not only the academic tools we need to be successful but just as importantly has helped shape a community of experts in their fields who can work towards ordering science and medicine towards the good of mankind. Today I leave this university with the blessing of being a part of a great community, a community whose expertise I will undoubtedly rely on in the coming years and I humbly pray that as you leave today this young and inexperienced priest can be of some service to you as each of us seeks to take up the fight to purify today’s science from within and free it for the purpose of Christian charity.

 

[1] Maritain, Jacques. An Introduction to Philosophy. Translated by E.I. Watkin. Lenham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2005. P 156.

[2] Ratzinger, Joseph. Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. Translated by Michael J. Miller. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. P. 177.

[3] As cited in Bork, Robert. “Thomas More for our Season.” First Things 94(June/July 1999)

[4] Ratzinger, Joseph. Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. Translated by Michael J. Miller. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. P. 220.

[5] Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on Faith and Reason. Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), Introduction, Origins 28, no. 19 (1998).

[6] Garrigou-Lagrance, Reginald. Live Everlasting. Translated by Patrick Cummins. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers Inc, 1952. P. 220

[7] John 14:6

[8] Luke 12:48

[9] King, Martin Luther, and Coretta Scott King. The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2005. Pg. 3.

[10] Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon the day after Bloody Sunday delivered in Selma Alabama on March 8, 1965.

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