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Remarks offered at the Forty-Third Annual Commencement of Catholic Theological Union

May 12, 2011:

Thank you so much.

Thank you Rev. Don Senior, Sister Barbara Reid, Rev. Michael Slattery, members of the Board of Trustees, fellow honorees: Sister Mary Collins and Father Thomas Coughlin, CTU Administrators, members of the CTU faculty and staff, members of the student body, guests, my very special friend Fr. John Pawlikowski, and, of course, our hosts KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation…thank you all.

My Parents, of blessed memory, would not have believed this in a million years…well, actually my mother probably would have.

I can imagine the call when I would have telephoned them to tell of this quite wonderful honor bestowed upon me by CTU this evening.  I can picture my mother answering the phone and upon hearing my voice she would have called to my father to get on the other line.

 I would have said, “Mom, Dad I have some wonderful news. I’m receiving an honorary doctorate degree. My mother would have responded, “Hal, that’s wonderful!” 

My father would have said, “He’s kidding!”

To which my mother would have responded,” Why would he kid about such a thing? Hal, who is giving you this honor?”

“Catholic Theological Union,” I would reply.

Then my father would have jumped in and said, “See I told you he was kidding.”

My father, by the way, would have celebrated his 100th birthday yesterday, but sadly, he passed away, much too young, 40 years ago.  My mother, who would have turned 98 this summer, was lost at an even younger age, 45 years ago.

They would have been very proud.

I have long admired CTU, ever since I first met my friend Fr. John Pawlikowski and came to understand CTU’s commitment to ecumenism, and to CTU’s commitment to the vision of Pope John XXIII.

That’s because I was, and am, and will always be a great admirer of his holiness, the late Pope John XXIII.  I was once asked during a talk I was giving who I considered to be the most important personality of the twentieth century.  I responded, without hesitation, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. 

I was 20 years old when Cardinal Roncalli was elected Pope.  I was riveted to news reports of the Second Vatican Council and the new ecumenical paradigm that he introduced at that first session of the Council -- a new paradigm not just for the Catholic Church, but also to the entire Western world.   

You see, many years earlier, when I was a small boy, six years old, in Baltimore, Maryland, a playmate, also about my age, told me that my family and I, and people like us, were Christ Killers.

I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but when I returned home I told my mother what my friend had said.  Now, I don’t remember much of anything that happened in my life when I was six year old.  But I sure do remember that incident. 

It was 1944 and horrible things were happening in the world.  Things that were devastating to those members of our family who had not made it from Europe to America.  

My mother immediately marched to the church that served the parish in which we lived, and related the incident to someone in authority at the church.  She related to me, years later, that she received an apology and was told that it shouldn’t have happened because the children who attended instruction at the church were always told that it was best to stay away from the Jewish children in the neighborhood.

So you see, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli became a hero of mine over 50 years ago when he became Pope John XXIII and convened that Second Vatican Council which produced an ecumenical course correction that everyone knew was long overdue.

And because fidelity to that ecumenical course correction has been a basic tenet of CTU, this institution has long held a very special place in my heart.

 Now, let’s talk for a moment about the present and what it seems to portend for the future…at least the foreseeable future. 

First, let me say, you are all to be admired…not just for what you have accomplished by earning these advanced degrees, but also because you have chosen to pursue careers in the service of others…at a time when service to others is going to be needed more than at any time in the lifetime of any of us here this evening. 

I don’t pretend to be a futurist, nor can I claim any particular faculty for forecasting or predicting events to come.  I can, however, recognize recklessness when I see it, and I can understand peril when it is staring me in the face. 

We are, as we speak, going through a historically difficult time. We will get through it.  Not, in the final analysis, because of politicians or one political party or another… not because of government planning or policy…and not because of adroit manipulation of the capital markets by the Federal Reserve – but, rather, because of people like you…men and women, with their feet firmly planted on the ground, working through the panoply of callings that will place them in the service of others who will, most assuredly, often be facing great difficulty.

For sure, the strength of the people will not derive from the strength of the government, but instead, the government will regain its footing through the strength of the people. 

It is going to be a challenge, and we don’t have enough time to discuss all of the reasons why.  Suffice to say, our government isn’t in great shape…to help very many people. Not really.  We are over 14 trillion dollars in debt.  Ladies and gentlemen, the yearly interest alone on that debt is now costing us about $420 billion dollars a year. JUST THE INTEREST!

That is more than we spend for the Department Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, The Department of Veterans Affairs, The Department of Housing and Urban Development, The Department of Commerce, The Department of Labor, The Treasury Department, The Justice Department, The Department of Homeland Security, The Department of Agriculture, and the Small Business Administration…COMBINED!

During the next ten years, (for many of you, the first decade of your careers) our government’s interest on the debt will exceed $1.0 Trillion a year.  It’s going to be you and people just like you, and other men and women both in labor and management who will have to get the job done of securing a better and more secure future for our children and grandchildren.

To many of our fellow Americans, Bill Withers rendition of “Lean on Me” might seems as a second national anthem.

Sometimes in our lives

We all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there's always tomorrow

One person giving direction, or aid or simply hope to another person in need has, in some measure, for some moment, saved that person…and as the Talmud, in the Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5 tells us: "Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he had saved the whole world." Indeed, “To the world, you may be one person. But to one person, you may be the world.”

Congratulations

…And thank you.