Jesús A. Izaguirre, Ph.D.
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
University of Notre Dame
May 1, 2002
We have lived this academic year between two crises: the attack on the world trade center by terrorists, and the attack on youth by some priests and of the general sentiment on the Catholic Church. This clearly tells us that these world crises are crises of saints.
We should not think of saints as pious men and women only. Saints are those who live heroic virtues, virtues to a heroic degree. They are usually recognized as such by people of all creeds and no creed. Just think of Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II.
Hopefully the Notre Dame character is more than just belonging to an "old-boy-network", and more than common love for sports and all the traditions at Notre Dame. Hopefully Ronald Reagan's comments in his commencement address in 1981, that those who seek young men and women of ideals should come to Notre Dame to find them will be true.
I want to speak about virtues, stable habits in our character that help us to perform virtuous acts effortlessly, because they have been forged with the fire of sacrifice and struggle to overcome our passions. Our passions come from two sources: our senses and our intellect. The former attract us towards what is pleasurable, whereas the latter towards what is difficult. We have to recognize that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak", that we are wounded in our capacity for enduring difficulties for the sake of the good. That is, unless we train ourselves in virtues. This is what I call integral formation.
I want to consider five aspects of this integral formation:
Probably the first struggle has to be the struggle to be truly human. The greatest risk nowadays is that men and women become a mere object and player of a juggernaut-like game, crushing human dignity in its pursuit of economic power. We need to recover our capacity for wonder and amazement at life, and to give rein to the natural sentiment of gratitude for everything that we receive as gift.
This attitude helps us transcend our limited surroundings and ourselves: we discover the meaning of our life, our eternal destiny, and the greatness and intense meaning of all creation. We discover this in leisure, in openness to the reality about us, in a rest in God that is an anticipation of the eternal rest of heaven. Leisure is not just a recuperation of energy in order to perform better at work. It has an intrinsic value of its own. As Josef Pieper writes: "The point and justification of leisure are not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary should continue to be a man (…); the point is also that he should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness."
Only in leisure can we live the preeminently social virtue of justice. We all know that justice means giving each one what is their due. Only if we live leisure can we find the time and spiritual resources to know ourselves and become interested in others and the objective reality about us.
Leisure is closely linked with worship, the highest duty of justice. For among the beings deserving our gratitude no one exceeds the Supreme Being who grants us everything. The weekly duty of worship on Sunday thus becomes both a duty and a joy, for it allows us to "become like little children" in the presence of their powerful Father.
From the fulfillment of this duty grows the most important of all virtues: charity, the love of God and of neighbor in God. Love is the moving force of the universe and of our own wills. Nothing is worth doing if not out of love. But what we feed our heart to love can be base or noble, beastly or angelic.
True justice cannot be separated from this charity. We cannot fail to give others even more than it is their due, when we realize that all we have received (and how much it is!) has been an undeserved gift. Our sense of justice compels us to want to give ourselves to other.
We live justice and charity in a clear order: those closest to us have a right to expect our just behavior. How is it that we are so given to speak and treat our roommates, classmates, professors, siblings, and parents so unjustly at times? We are quick to judge them; oftentimes we misinterpret their actions and put evil intentions in their wills; or we repeat gossip and hearsay, hurting people's reputations; or we judge without listening to both parts, such an elementary part of justice. This concern about people's reputation and honor is one of the foremost and frequently forgotten duties of justice.
Quoting a modern saint, "Magnanimity means greatness of spirit, a largeness of heart wherein many can find refuge. Magnanimity gives us the energy to break out of ourselves and undertake generous tasks that will be of benefit to all. Small-mindedness has no home in the magnanimous heart, nor has meanness, nor egoistic calculation, nor self-interested trickery. The magnanimous person devotes all his strength, unstintingly, to what is worthwhile. As a result he is capable of giving himself. He is not content with merely giving. He gives his very self. He, thus, comes to understand that the greatest expression of magnanimity consists in giving oneself to God." (Bl. Josemaría Escrivá, Friends of God, no. 80).
We need this magnanimity, this desire to do great things for the service of other, not seeking self-power or gratification of our passions, whether our petty ambitions or sensual pleasures. As Ronald Reagan put it in that commencement address twenty-one years ago: "But is there anything wrong with young people having an experience, feeling something so deeply, thinking of someone else to the point that they can give so completely of themselves? There will come times in the lives of all of us when we'll be faced with causes bigger than ourselves, and they won't be on a playing field."
If our life is toil and work, what is it but stupidity to waste it? Let me speak to you of an ordinary way that can be made magnanimous, that can be a forge of virtue and sanctity: our work and study.
We spend more time at work (and your current work is to be a student) than at any other activity. Our workplace is a workshop to grow in virtue and sanctify ourselves: by doing it with a spirit of sacrifice, out of love: for God, for country, for others. By living the human virtues we talked about, plus that of industriousness and diligence.
We will sanctify ourselves in our work and will sanctify it if we finish things properly. Taking time to finish details that nobody but the Divine spectator may notice. We do this by making good use of our time: doing what we ought, and concentrating in what we are doing. It is enough to ask ourselves a few times a day: am I doing what I ought to?
We cannot wait for extraordinary opportunities: it is in the greatness of ordinary things that we will be great. It is there where we will meet God and discover something Divine that comes to meet us.
We have the example of Christ, who worked in obscurity of silence for most of his life, as an artisan, a carpenter. Our profession, too, can be turned into service. As Fred Brooks wrote: "the computer scientist is a toolsmith-no more, but no less. It is an honorable calling." (F. Brooks, The Computer Scientist as a Toolsmith II, Communications of the ACM, (39):3, p. 61).
We have to prepare ourselves well during these years and the years to come. We have to be competent so that we can serve well later. We have to focus on our users and measure our progress by their success (cf. F. Brooks, op. cit., p. 64).
Our formation cannot be limited to getting an "A", or worse, just "getting by". This would be a grave irresponsibility. Sloppy work and buggy programs are defects as serious das distorted balance sheets or neglectful acts in a nuclear reactor facility.
We have to form ourselves well to have sound judgment in the future, when we will face serious responsibilities. Ethics cannot wait. We are facing tremendous and accelerated technical progress, and the questions of what is right to do are being relegated by the questions of what is possible to do. Questions regarding the morality of bioethical research, some means of communication through the Internet are pressing.
We have a beacon of light and we cannot let it be darkened. Just as in democracy we value the voice of the common man, as Catholics (or Christians or Jews or Moslems) we need to value the voice of sacred traditions.
The gipper also said in 1981: "We need you. We need your youth. We need your strength. We need your idealism to help us make right that which is wrong. Now, I know that this period of your life, you have been and are critically looking at the mores and customs of the past and questioning their value. Every generation does that. May I suggest, don't discard the time-tested values upon which civilization was built simply because they're old. More important, don't let today's doomcriers and cynics persuade you that the best is past, that from here on it's all downhill."
To be virtuous, we need to be prudent. Chief among the acts of this virtue are asking for advice, judging rightly, and deciding promptly. How can we ignore the wisdom of 2000 years of the Christian tradition for example in important matters?
Partly it is because liberalism teaches us that public life and religion should not mix, that faith has really not much to tell to reason. Let religion inform the private life of the individual: let it not shape his or her public life.
If we were to shun this light, we would have lost the brightest guide. We should not fear making violence on others. Indeed, truth brings freedom, and it is better to seek for truth even if it costs our life, than to give up before even beginning.
This summer can be a great time to deepen our knowledge of our religious tradition. We may discover treasures of wisdom that we were hereto unaware of.
We need true friends. We generally do not know how to be good friends. Can one be a conditional friend: only for as long as I have pleasure or gain something from our friendship; only for as long as it does not cost much?
Friendship requires loyalty, sacrifice, generosity, much more than it requires sentiments and feelings: loyalty that defends the friend from unjust attacks, that shuns the poison of envy, that comforts in time of sorrow and rebukes in times of pride; the sacrifice of making time to spend with a friend, sharing activities in common; and the generosity of sharing the deep things in life, chief among them our faith and doctrine.
Friendship with humans begins by friendship with God. Only thus can we acquire the knowledge of the high standard of our friendship ("to give our lives for our friends"), the encouragement of grace, and the direction of doctrine.
Reagan said about Knute Rockne that "As a coach, he did more than teach young men how to play a game. He believed truly that the noblest work of man was building the character of man." There is no highest aspiration for a teacher either.
We need to struggle against our passions and evil inclinations if we want to be good. We need guidance to do this. We need to set goals for ourselves and struggle to achieve them, without pause and without rush.
This way we will achieve the self-mastery of temperance. This is the dominion of our senses and passions that allows us to give ourselves. If we find our vision flat and our life boring and dull; if we are afraid of being alone with ourselves, and all this talk about virtue leaves us cold, we need to consider whether we are not enslaved by our passions? Through temperance we are able to care for the needs of others, to share what is ours with everyone, and to devote our energies to great causes.