News - September 2012
Building a Culture of Peace: Towards Unity in Diversity
Date Posted: Sep 18, 2012 at 05:07:05 PM
Building a Culture of Peace: Towards Unity in Diversity
Keynote address delivered by Msgr Séamus Patrick Horgan
First Secretary, Apostolic Nunciature Manila
during the Welcome Celebration for International Students
August 25, 2012, Traders Hotel
My dear students – young men and women – of Adamson University; my dear faculty members, and especially Fr Magnaye who so generously introduced me; dear distinguished guests.
The first debt I must repay this evening is to thank Sr Maruja S. Padre Juan, the Director of the Office for University Relations, for her kind invitation to address these few remarks to you.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, when addressing students & teachers during his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 remarked: “education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person.” I know that Sr Maruja’s work, and that of the other pastoral agents at Adamson University, has precisely this scope: to form human persons. And I am delighted that the University provides opportunities such as this one for its international students.
So, my dear friends, what have I to say to you this evening: what should I say? You may be familiar with that bon mot of the English novelist Somerset Maughan, who remarked: “There are basically three rules for writing a good novel: unfortunately nobody knows what they are!”
I feel that we might say the same for the giving of a keynote address!
In lieu of these three rules, I am going to begin with three advertisements – in the old sense of that word. I am going to advert to three small matters:
* Firstly, the theme for this evening’s reflections is not merely a slogan nor a soundbite. The theme is dense with meaning and its component parts are weighty and significant in themselves. Together we shall look at these words and try to extract some of their meaning. A slogan is something one emblazons on a banner; and then forgets. This theme however is to be a stimulus for reflection and for thought.
* Secondly, I am aware that I address these few words to you, dear students, as you enter into a University experience. Cardinal Newman in his famous lectures on the Idea of a University makes this remark: “The University is the place of teaching universal knowledge.” You are here my dear friends to acquire knowledge and this necessarily requires from you an investment of intellect and the discipline of serious thought. This is a place of ideas and of thought. We shall not shy away from either. That will require from us a little exercise of our intellects – and as we know all exercise makes certain demands upon us. So, courage my dear students!
* Thirdly, I am very much aware that we live now in a multi-media age. Thus I want to advise you, from the start, that this will be a rather single-medium presentation. We shall depend on those plodding, frustrating, hopelessly inadequate yet utterly irreplaceable, beguiling and winsome instruments that we call words. I shall speak them, and I pray that you shall have the forbearance and the kindness to listen to them. St Augustine, surely one of the great forces of Western Civilisation, reflected on this process of the sharing of ideas in one of his Sermons. He speaks of this mysterious process by which I have a thought in my mind, I try to give expression to that thought in words, which are limited and sometimes can betray my thought; you hear these word and you take them into your own mind and make the thought behind these words your own (cfr. Sermon 187.2) This is communication. The communication of my thoughts to you and vice verse.
Shall we attempt it my friends?
I have said that we are not going to treat this evening’s theme as a mere slogan. It has substantial elements within it. G. K. Chesterton remarked that the essential tool of the human intellect is the capacity to make distinctions. This is the beginning of philosophy and the man (or woman) who cannot make distinctions will make no hand of philosophy. So let us try to distinguish the various elements in our theme.
Let us take the second bit first: towards unity in diversity. If we are to treat this as more than a mere slogan, we must look at what it demands from us. We speak much of unity these days and of diversity but too often in a rather shallow way, precisely as a kind of aspiration. We seek unity within nations and between nations. We talk of the unity of the human family and the need to overcome divisions and disunities. We hear of celebrating our diversity and respecting diversity and overcoming diversity and so on. And indeed these are noble enough ideas. But if they are not based on something more solid, they are thin enough gruel when the going gets tough.
How then do we give them substance?
Pope John Paul II remarked in one of his earliest discourses: “The first truth we owe to man is the truth about man.” It has always struck me as a singularly illuminating remark. “The first truth we owe to man is the truth about man.”
To gain any insight into how we are to act in the world as men and women, we must first understand what we are as men and women. (Notice I don’t start off by asking who we are, but what we are.) Hilaire Belloc, that prolific Anglo-French author of the early 20th century, says that “The fundamental, primordial question is ‘What am I?’”
And thus we shall plant our understanding of this evening’s theme on a solid anthropological basis. What is man and is unity natural to him or possible for him. What does his diversity mean? Does it mean necessarily enmity and competition?
What is man then?
I shall give an answer that conforms to the wisdom of that tradition represented by a Vincentian place of learning. I shall give an answer coming from the Catholic philosophy, what Chesterton called “the central sanity of our civilisation,” an answer conforming to the sanest traditions of universal philosophy. What is the human being?
The human being is a truth seeking creature.
First of all, he is a creature. And thus he stands in radical relationship to his Creator. And he stands in a relationship of ontological equality and solidarity with his fellow creatures. Furthermore, man’s relationship to his Creator is not one of slavery but of liberation.
Pope Benedict XVI in his Corpus Christi homily of 2008 made this most interesting remark: “Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of freedom: those who bow to Jesus cannot and must not prostrate themselves before any earthly authority, however powerful.” This is true for all who give due honour to God; they free themselves from slavery to others, to the state, to the dictates of taste and of passing philosophies.
The creature then who recognizes his relationship to his Creator acquires also a right understanding of his relationship to others; and acquires the knowledge that they, like him, are created too for freedom. Here then, is the foundation for unity but also for the much abused if vital concept of human rights. We cannot simply affirm human rights as a kind of slogan (to return once again to that word), as a kind of positivistic wish. No, human rights must be based on a proper anthropological foundation. Otherwise they wax and wane as causes become fashionable or fall out of fashion.
In any case, we are dealing with unity. To return to Pope Benedict’s Corpus Christi homily of 2008. He draws this conclusion, once the premise of our common relationship to God is admitted: “We are united over and above our differences of nationality, profession, social class, political ideas: we open ourselves to one another to become one in God.”
This realization of our common relationship to God then, allows us to acknowledge that there is, I said it already, an ontological unity among men and women. What do I mean by this ontological unity? It is a unity that comes from our very being. In other words it is not an accident of culture or thought, it is not a merely fashionable or sweet idea, a romantic notion that we can allow to drop as soon as it becomes convenient. No, the unity of the human family has its basis in our very being; to return again to that idea, it comes from what we are.
Such a rooted view of our nature and our meaning as creatures then allows us to put in context our differences and diversity.
The second element in our definition of the human person is that he is “truth-seeking.” This is what saves us from using diversity as an excuse for falling into a kind of relativism and indifference. We are made to seek the truth. And in that we are unique among earthy creatures. Fulton Sheen made the observation that the human being has two fundamental drives or desires: the first is the desire for life itself, and this desire we share with all other creatures. The second is the desire for truth, and this distinguishes us from all other creatures.
Unity in diversity then should not mean indifference to distinction or syncretism. Rather it means recognizing legitimate difference of culture and creed and history and philosophy but recognizing that above and below these there is a fundamental unity in the human family that cannot be broken despite these differences. But it means also recognizing that there is a truth about reality that we must all seek and that we are capable of finding.
Indeed, my dear students, if a University education should do anything, it should equip us with the tools for this search; equip us with the tools for discovering not only facts, not only knowledge but those delicate connections that tie the various disciplines together into a unified whole, which is the truth. To turn once again to John Henry Newman in his Idea of the University: in recognizing the University as a place of teaching universal knowledge, he was trying to overcome a blinkered approach to learning; one in which a very narrow concentration on a single subject obscures the connections that unite all areas of knowledge into a larger truth. This is why Newman argued passionately for the necessity of having both philosophy and theology on the University curriculum.
To quote from his lectures: “Truth is the object of Knowledge of whatever kind; and when we inquire what is meant by Truth, I suppose it is right to answer that Truth means facts and their relations…”
A larger picture then always affords us a better chance of seeing the truth of things. And the largest picture of all, of course, exists in the mind of God.
Thus, what have we acquired so far? An understanding of what we are; a realisation of the ontological unity that arises from the right vision of ourselves as fellow creatures; the realisation that we are built for the truth and that we can acquire in the University some of the skills we need to seek it out.
I’m afraid, my dear patient students and kind guests, we still have to enter into the meaning of the first part of the theme: a culture of peace. I’m reminded of the anecdote about Oscar Wilde who wrote a very long letter to a friend and then put at the bottom, “P.S. Forgive me writing such a long letter, I had not the time to write a short one!” If I may paraphrase, forgive me for giving this somewhat complex address, I had not the intelligence to make it simpler!
Onwards! We are looking at the question of culture.
Here we might listen to this explanation from the Second Vatican Council: The word “culture” in its general sense indicates everything whereby man develops and perfects his many bodily and spiritual qualities; he strives, by his knowledge and his labor, to bring the world itself under his control. GS 53.
So “culture” is, if you like, all the efforts of men and women to arrange their common life together and to perfect their human capacities.
But where does this culture spring from, what inspires it? The answer I am going to suggest to you also illustrates why we have a particular crisis of culture in so many parts of the world today. The answer to what drives our culture is found in the word itself. The same word in the Latin cultus is translated into English both as “culture” and as “cult.” And “cult” in this context refers to an activity, that is, to our worship. This is no coincidence. Culture has always been formed by what we worship. Cult and Culture are inextricably linked. The way we worship, much more so the object of our worship, will always determine our culture.
This is why the highest cultures of the past were cultures in which one finds a central place for the divine cult: even if this was a cult to what we now consider pagan idols such as that of ancient Egypt or Greece. The strongest cultures of our human history are those cultures anchored in the worship of God. Look for the cultural achievements of Europe’s strongest cultures, for example, and you will find them in the soaring spires of France’s Gothic Cathedrals & the magnificence of the sacred art and music of Spain and Italy, the monasteries that planted and stimulated civilization from Mount Athos to Ireland’s rugged outcrops or the shimmering golden domes of Orthodox Russia. And this is true too of the East where the temples of Cambodia or the soaring achievements of the Tibetan monasteries speak of the same fact of human culture.
It also explains why our popular culture of today is so thin, so derivative and so shallow. For today what do we worship? What is our “cult”? Celebrity and pleasure. And thus, our cultural achievements? Spectacle and advertising.
Culture then, as we said, refers to all the efforts of men and women to arrange their common life together and to perfect their human capacities. And we are reflecting on how to build a culture of peace.
To discover resources for the construction of a culture of peace, we need I think to rediscover past masters, those in the Catholic tradition whom we call saints. I hope the Vincentian Fathers will forgive me this evening if, while acknowledging their splendid founder, St Vincent de Paul, I rather draw to our attention another icon of peace, St Francis of Assisi.
We think of Francis as a happy, almost carefree figure, a winsome, perhaps callow, fellow. We rarely think of St Francis – as we should – as one of the architects of a civilization and as certainly a builder of a culture of peace. Chesterton says of him: “He was the soul of medieval civilization before it even found a body.”
And what does this master teach us about building a culture of peace? He teaches us to start small. His famous prayer for peace teaches us how to start building: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” You notice, St Francis is utterly practical. He does not begin with a grandiose dream, asking God to bestow peace on all nations and peoples. No, he begins where he can have some impact, with himself – make ME an instrument of YOUR peace.
In this he gives us the key to building a culture of peace – and indeed to building any culture of value. As we noted earlier, he gets the relationships correct. It is God’s peace, and he is to be an instrument of it. “Make me an instrument of you peace.”
So, my dear students, this culture of peace that we are called to build begins in very small ways. We build a culture of peace by becoming men and women of peace ourselves. We said that a culture is made of all those efforts of men and women to build a common life together. Thus the transformation of culture begins with the transformation of individual men and women. And if we wish to build a culture of peace anywhere – even in the domestic culture of Adamson University – we must begin with ourselves. Can we make this our mantra for the academic year ahead: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace?”
And so St Francis of Assisi nicely ties together our whole theme for this evening. St Francis was utterly aware of what he was as a human person. He was a creature in radical relationship to God and thus in a relationship of unity with each and every human person – and indeed, to bring in an ecological echo, with every other creature and with the created word. He was not only a seeker of the truth but a lover of it. The truth of God may be said to have dazzled Francis at that moment of his conversion from a troubadour to a mystic, and he lived in the glow of that truth his entire, extraordinary life. He was then an instrument of peace and having experienced conversion himself succeeded in converting everyone he touched. He was a one man cultural revolution.
The theme for these few random thoughts Building a culture of peace: towards unity in diversity was inspired by the concluding message of the III World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students held at Rome at the end of last year. And indeed, Adamson University was ably represented at that Congress. In his address to the participants of the Congress Pope Benedict XVI said: “Thanks to their intellectual, cultural and spiritual formation, international students have, in fact, the potential to become architects and protagonists of a more human world.”
Thus it is a delight, my dear international students, to have had the chance to address these few remarks to you and to reflect with you on what our theme might mean and how we might respond to this challenge of Pope Benedict to become architects of a more human world.
As you begin this University adventure, make the words of St Francis your own and thus become a builder of high culture and not simply a consumer of junk culture.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” With this prayer we can build a very solid culture of peace and become architects of a more truly human world.