Excerpts From the Commencement Address at
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.
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
May God bless you. God bless America.