Excerpts From the Commencement Address at Christendom College

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, 2 JUNE 2003 (ZENIT).

Here are excerpts from the commencement address of U.S. Senator Rick Santorum at Christendom College delivered on May 17. At the ceremony, the Pennsylvania Republican was awarded the college's "Pro Deo et Patria" Medal for Distinguished Service to God and Country.

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Commencement Address at Christendom College
by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum

Joseph Pieper famously observed that leisure is the basis of culture. And the Greek word for "leisure" remarkably enough is "schole," school. Now I know for the past four years you do not believe that you have been living a life of leisure, as you crammed for tests and pulled all-nighters. But that is exactly what you've had. You've had school as leisure time. You will now have to make time for reading. You will have to make time for thinking, reflection, and most of all, for prayer. You will have to take personal responsibility for the continued nurturing of your mind.

The greatest men and women of the Western Tradition all agree that if you do not set time aside for contemplation, if you simply get caught up in the rat race of hectic life here in America, you will be of no use to anyone.

For most of you, this commencement that we are celebrating is the beginning of a mature adult life, a life of free citizens, called to be part of the greatest country in the history of the world.

What a great opportunity! And of course, you are at the same time, challenged with the same challenge faced by even generation of Americans prior to you, that is, to leave the country better than the way you found it.

In this case, I celebrate this commencement because I have the confidence that the intellectual and moral virtues which you've developed here at Christendom have truly prepared you to take up this great cause. I've now just used a word fraught with controversy in America today: virtue.

The fact that this word can scarcely be spoken in public without inviting sarcastic incrimination from many circles is an excellent measure of the challenge you and we all face in our country today.

I was reminded of this in a very personal way several weeks ago. Both activists within and outside of the press distorted an interview that I gave on a recent Supreme Court case. Yet in my remarks on this particular case, I tried to articulate the nature of marriage, the good of marriage.

In a few short sentences, I tried to summarize the considerations of philosophies working in tradition stretching back to at least Aristotle, the tradition of natural law. The natural law tradition is not a religious tradition, in the sense that it is based on divine Revelation.

Rather, it's a tradition of philosophical reflection, on the nature of human beings, the kind of creatures we are. The natural law represents guideposts which direct us to the pursuits of happiness, for happiness is the end which natural law has in mind for all of us.

Yet now, the very act of referring to this tradition, of upholding it, or dare say, making any defense of the moral consensus of every civilization in human history, is often characterized as "hate speech."

What is truly regrettable is that the situation is the worst in the very place where this discussion was centered for hundreds of years: the university. Where are the cries from those one-time centers of the pursuit of truth? The tolerance, the diversity when it comes to ideas? Or when it comes to taking the side of the traditional family?

This is an especially serious battle for Catholics. Our social teaching holds that the family is the fundamental unit of our society, not the individual, not the group, not the collective. No, the foundational unit which Catholic social teaching is based is the family.

For many generations, Catholics were viewed with suspicion. For Catholics in America, my family included, the breakthrough came with the election of the presidency of John F. Kennedy. But at what price did we earn this break?

President Kennedy promised that his faith would have no effect — would have NO effect — on his decisions as president. In effect, what he was saying was that his decisions would be unguided by his conscience. Only now, two generations later, all Americans of faith see how grave, grave a price was paid. For now our popular culture discourages religion and moral convictions from even being discussed in the public square.

Our founders feared the establishment of a religion. What we are left with today is an establishment of moral nihilism. Not surprisingly, our government, being of the people, is following suit. While much of our culture is removing moral guideposts, so too is the government. With this I have no dispute. We are a representative democracy and eventually the collective conscience of the popular culture is going to be reflected in our laws.

My concern is the usurpation of the United States Supreme Court of the people's rights, through their elected representatives, to decide these crucial moral issues and the resulting dulling of our collective consciousness, and that this vital debate of who we are and what we're about is being moved from the living rooms of America to the courtroom.

A lack of focus and clarity about the larger aims of life and about the larger aims of our country's institutions is never dulling. This is especially true in the world since Sept. 11, 2001. We need to summon the moral strength to create a civilization of peace, and justice and, of course, love.

Now this is where you come in. I believe of all the great gifts God has given to the young, the greatest of these are energy, idealism and rebelliousness — that's your parents laughing. As we have seen, these gifts, like all gifts, can be used for good or for evil and as we've seen over the past 30 years, they can be used, shall we say, sparingly by our young people.

I want to challenge each and every one of you to be a radical, to be a rebel, to rebel against the popular culture. Your task will not be an easy.

You must overcome the temptation of silence; the temptation of silence in the face of frequent hostile common opinion. As Catholics you must summon the courage of your convictions, which must be continually nourished by prayer, Mass and spiritual direction, and to speak and to live the Truth.

Finally, you are no doubt familiar with President Kennedy's great inaugural address to the nation: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

You may not know that it was actually an echo from a talk given in 1843 at Dartmouth College by a great Catholic philosopher Orestes Brownson.

I want to close by again congratulating all of you, your parents, and their incredible achievement by reading in full Brownson's words upon which I ask you to reflect on this beginning day: "Ask not what your age wants, but what it needs; not what it will reward, but what, without which, it cannot be saved; and that go and do; and find your reward in the consciousness of having done your duty, and above all in the reflection that you have been accounted to suffer somewhat for mankind."

May God bless you. God bless America.

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