A New Birth of Freedom
A charge to 2014 graduates to take up the task of cultural renewal.


George Weigel

Mr. Weigel delivered this commencement address at the University of Dallas this past Sunday, May 18.

Bishop Farrell; Bishop Olson; President Keefe; members of the Board of Trustees; distinguished faculty members and university staff; parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins of the graduates; and, most especially, my fellow members of the Class of 2014 of the University of Dallas:

Thank you for the invitation to share this day with you.

Three weeks ago, the Church recognized the heroic virtues of the two “bookend” popes of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII and John Paul II, as Pope Francis solemnly declared them to be saints before a million pilgrims in and around St. Peter’s Square. St. John XXIII is the first bookend of Vatican II: the pope who had the inspiration to summon the 21st general council in the history of the Church, and the courage and wisdom to see the Council through its difficult first period in 1962. St. John Paul II is the second bookend of Vatican II because it was he, working in close harness with the man who would become his papal successor, Joseph Ratzinger, who gave Vatican II an authoritative interpretation through his remarkable magisterium.


Our two new saints are not random or accidental bookends, however. They’re a matched set of bookends, because both popes shared a vision of the Council’s purpose and a hope for the Council’s impact.

John XXIII wanted Vatican II to be a new experience of Pentecost for the world Church — a new encounter with the fire of the Holy Spirit that would enliven Christian witness at the end of the 20th century, offering the world the medicine of the divine mercy through which we experience the Truth who is the Triune God. John Paul II, on the day after his election as pope, said that the “full implementation” of Vatican II would be the program of his pontificate, a pledge he fulfilled over more than a quarter of a century. And in doing so, John Paul II led the Church into that new experience of Pentecost for which John XXIII hoped and prayed, through the Great Jubilee of 2000.

In closing the Great Jubilee on January 6, 2001, with the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (which, for any non-UD graduates present, I will translate as “Entering the New Millennium”), John Paul II urged the Church of the 21st century and the new millennium to leave the comfortable but shallow waters of institutional-maintenance Catholicism and to “put out into the deep” of late modernity — to rediscover the evangelical and missionary passion that seized the first Christian community and led them into mission, once the Holy Spirit had given them the words with which to explain what they had “seen and heard” in their encounters with the Risen Lord.

The graduates of the University of Dallas are singularly well prepared to be the agents of this “New Evangelization,” as John Paul II called the grand strategy of the 21st-century Church that John XXIII had the courage to envision. For in the challenging cultural circumstances in which 21st-century Christians must witness to the Gospel and offer men and women the possibility of friendship with Jesus Christ, there is no better preparation for what Pope Francis has called “permanent mission” than the classic Catholic liberal-arts education for which the University of Dallas is known and respected throughout the world.

Here, through that classic Catholic liberal-arts education, you have learned the ecumenism of time, drinking deeply from those wells of wisdom that are fed by streams of knowledge and insight drawn from the great minds and spirits of the past.

Here you have learned that “tradition” is neither a synonym for dullness nor the enemy of human progress; for here you have learned that “tradition,” as the great Chesterton noted, is “the democracy of the dead,” the willingness to think that those who came before us — Homer and Virgil, Augustine and Aquinas, Dante and Milton and Shakespeare — may have important things to teach us.