Sursum Corda

On Sunday, June 12, our little IHM School had its graduation. Two young ladies made up the entire graduation class. What follows is the very brief opening speech I gave at our commencement exercises.

At some point in their intellectual formation at IHM School, these young ladies have learned the definition of truth — specifically that of logical truth. For those who might not have heard it before, or who have forgotten it, it is this: “The conformity of the mind to reality.”

We live in a time when a man can choose to identify as a woman or a woman a man, and woe betide you if you gainsay the perversion as contrary to nature — or, as we say, to reality: in this case a very deeply impressed chromosomal reality. We live also in an age where college students have “safe zones” that will protect them from hearing words or opinions that they don’t like. And, amazingly, there are people — young women in particular — who refuse to interact socially with other people at all except through the artificial medium of “social media.” Why? Because there, you can make your own reality, and you can “unfriend” or ban anyone who might trigger your emotionally unstable constitution by contradicting your reality.

The realities of the world around us must be conformed to, not in the sense that we conform ourselves to the standards of this world, but in the sense that we see reality as it is and bend our wits to acknowledge that it is what it is. Saint Paul will not allow us to be conformed to this world, but would have us, instead, be “reformed in the newness of [our] minds” (Romans 12:2). At the same time, he would insist that we conform our minds to reality and not play pretend.

We must therefore judge, and discern what is good, bad, or ugly (to quote a movie title); what represents a threat or an advantage, what is an opportunity or a danger, and so forth: especially in matters concerning our salvation. We cannot — no matter how strongly tempted by life’s difficulties — take refuge in that river in Egypt: Denial.

So, no matter how challenging or off-putting it may be, it is our task to recon with the veracity of what our senses present to us, and what our reason logically infers from it all. And this requires, of course, that we not attempt to “think” with our emotions.

All these are things our graduates have heard in a variety of ways over the years. But as my last official teaching act before they receive their diplomas, I intend to tell them a little bit more about conforming their minds to reality. So, please pardon me as I address myself to them directly.

Ladies, while your senses are reliable and your minds have the capacity to know truth from what you experience with those senses, do not fall prey to the vice of curiosity by applying your capable minds to truths that are not worthy of pondering. Just because it is real, and just because you have the ability to know it does not mean that you ought to know it, or ought to think about it. Remember how Satan tempted Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan’s lie promised a God-like knowledge, but the foul deed Adam did with Eve’s help produced only an experiential knowledge of sin and its effects — a knowledge not worth knowing, a knowledge that actually darkened the intellects of our first parents, and weakened their wills.

In order to help you avoid imitating Eve at her worst, I have some practical suggestions. I can reduce them to two familiar words — familiar because they come from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: “Sursum Corda!” Lift up your hearts.

And just how are you to do that?

Apply your minds daily to the truth, beauty, and goodness of God lest you forget Him. Strangely enough, He in whom we live, and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28), who has hidden Himself in plain site in His creation, is all too easily forgotten. We simply choose to think of other things instead.

But you, choose instead to think of Him. Set time aside each day to render to your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier those homages that are His due. Recall that all you have — including your very self — comes from Him, and that your life is a journey of return to Him. And, especially in these days of “safe zones” and “trigger warnings,” ask for the grace to see reality for what it is, not only according to the light of natural reason, but also in the larger light of Faith, in the divine light of supernatural grace.

In order to help you lift up your heart, read good things every day, so that thoughts of God, His truth, beauty, and goodness, overpower the din of this insane world that will drum itself relentlessly into your ears.

To that end, I have ordered for each of you a copy of the collected poems of Saint Robert Southwell, the Jesuit poet-martyr.

I’m going to conclude my words here by reading one of his poems, called, “Man’s Civil War.” It is a meditation on the battle between virtue and vice that goes on in each of our souls, and it wonderfully complements what I have been trying to say here. [The speech concluded with a reading of the poem.]