Convocation 2018

Congratulations to our 2018 graduates!

Here are a few images from the Convocation ceremony that took place on November 5, 2018.

Convocation 2018

SAS Convocation Deacons

SAS Convocation I of T

SAS Convocation MDiv

SAS Chancellors Party


Graduates, please click here for more photos and your personal photo! Login is required, please contact the webmaster if you cannot access this page.


The address for Convocation was given by Rev. Peter Turrone, Pastor and Executive Director of the Newman Centre. Full text below: 


I burned for your peace

Given at the SAS & TST Convocation Address, November 5th, 2018 

Fr Peter Turrone

 Fr. Turrone

Eminent Chancellor of St. Augustine’s Seminary, Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto and the Chairman of the SAS Board of Governors, Most Reverend Wayne Kirkpatrick, Professor Heather Boon, Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life representing U of T on behalf of the Chancellor, Rev. Edwin Gonsalves, Rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary and Members of the Seminary Board of Governors.

TST College Representatives, Invited Guests, Family members of the Graduating class, members of St. Augustine’s Seminary here gathered in Convocation-Faculty, Students, Support Staff……and the focus of this evening’s ceremonies, the graduating class of 2018.

It is an honour to address you all this evening!

When trying to figure out what to say this evening, I tried to go back in my memory with the hopes of recalling speeches that I heard from previous convocation ceremonies. It was very difficult to recall much, not because of their quality, but, like many of you graduates, I found myself fully immersed in a new chapter of my life.

It was by reflecting on my early years of theological formation that I remembered a quote I had read in vol. 1 of von Balthasar’s Explorations in Theology. It left a mark on me which I hope will do the same for each of you graduates.

Balthasar wrote: “In the whole history of Catholic theology there is hardly anything that is less noticed, yet more deserving of notice, than the fact that, since the great period of Scholasticism, there have been few theologians who were saints.”   

So what advice can be offered to a group of men and women with vastly different life experiences yet sharing a common interest in the study of God?  Immerse yourselves in the writings of the theologian saints so that you too “can become perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48).

In particular, I would like to offer some insights derived from the life of St. Augustine, the patron of this seminary. His own life experiences allowed me, and countless others, not only to come to believe in God, but to learn to kneel in awe before Him. 

I was an atheist during the early years of my undergraduate degree in the psychological and natural sciences. In God’s Providence, the professor for the humanities course I had enrolled in placed St. Augustine’s Confessions on the required reading list. Little did I know that opening that little Penguin paperback book would throw me into a deep existential crisis!  Weren’t Christians supposed to be naïve and unintelligent? Wasn’t the Christian faith supposed to be a crutch for those who cannot deal with reality? Augustine’s elegant prose began to shatter all my illusions regarding the Christian faith. 

"…You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."  What remarkable words from a remarkable man!

Like many people today, I had uncritically embraced the prevailing narrative that faith and reason were at odds with one another. This is the a priori belief that many are expected to maintain prior to beginning university, at least for those enrolled in the sciences. Not a week goes by when I meet with new students at the Newman Centre who either believe this or are being encouraged to do so. We are told that science alone is based on objective reality that can be tested. As one of my former neuroanatomy professors stated, with all the solemnity of an ex cathedra pronouncement: “we are nothing more than a bunch of firing neurons. Once they die there is nothing left”.  Religious faith, we were told, was something subjective and had no basis in the reality. It was either harmless, or, worse, a cause for suffering and an obstacle to happiness.  

Stephen Hawking, the deceased physicist, was well known for his scientific work, and also for his atheism. In his last book, Brief Answers To The Big Questions, he affirms that there is “no possibility of God’s existence and His work as Creator of the universe”.  His Excellency Scott McCaig, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate of Canada, tweeted out a splendid response.  He tweeted, “This would be valid if we professed Zeus or Thor, but we don’t. God is “ipsum esse” the very source and ground of being – Being itself, not something in the system.” Who would have thought that Twitter could be used to do philosophy or theology?  Our God is wholly Other and cannot be reduced to some caricature produced in a philosophically and theologically untrained mind. 

 

I wish all introductory science and philosophy courses would require incoming undergraduate students to read St. John Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio. This outstanding work eloquently addresses the general relationship between faith and reason. Perhaps many more students would feel better equipped to challenge this enduring myth.

 

By the grace of God, St. Augustine’s Confessions revealed an entirely new way of thinking. Like a good philosopher, he asked lots of questions. For the first time in my adult life, I was able to get a sense that there was something much greater here that the study of science alone could not satisfy.  After all, the sciences can only help us understand one aspect of the reality in which we live. Some of Augustine’s questions to God are those that many of us have pondered in our own lives. This might even be the reason why you decided to study theology to begin with.  As experience has taught me, people from all over the world have and continue to seek and ask these questions, regardless of age, class or cultural background.

 

Everyone is looking to understand the reason for the existence of the world, and their place within it.  I have had the privilege of ministering in various parts of Italy, the GTA and Mongolia. Bayra, the 12-year-old orphan who attended my catechism classes taught in mediocre Mongolian in our little yurt in the Gobi Desert had the same desires as the 80-year-old illiterate widow living in Southern Italy, or the 18-year-old teenager beginning their studies at U of T. We all have the same desires because we are all made by God for God!

Having then returned to the faith of my childhood, the desire to know God began to burn within me.

 As time passed, it became apparent to me that this unexpected journey towards God was analogous to that of climbing a big mountain.  While all analogies are limited, perhaps this one might resonate with at least some of you here.

The sciences are useful in helping us determine what is happening at the base of the mountain.  We can look around us and examine things close up, often times much closer than the naked eye can see.

Philosophy, however, helps us to get a sense of what is happening higher up the mountain. Some philosophies lead us up to the crest of the mountain, and others draw us very close to the top. Other philosophies are just plain wrong. For a time, even St. Augustine, believed the irrational Manichean philosophy to be true. Our professors slowly helped us to recognize the importance of reason within the Catholic Tradition. Consequently, the Faith was becoming increasingly satisfying on an intellectual level as well. 

The Catholic Church affirms that the human mind can come to know, through the study of nature alone, that there is a Transcendent Being.  The study of philosophy involves asking and answering the most fundamental human questions. Being higher up on the mountain made it easier to see intellectually the connection between the human sciences, and how they fit into a unifying vision of the human person within the cosmos. 

While the Church holds reason in high regard, the reality is that it can only lead us to God but not draw us into intimacy with Him. Original Sin has left a mark on our minds and hearts making us see and experience everything dimly (c.f. 1 Cor 13:12). Revealed religion provides the answers to the questions that many people are asking. 

 

You have all had the privilege of studying theology. I pray that it has helped you get, if only briefly, to the top of the mountain, where you have been able to see the vastness of the Heavenly Father’s creation and our role within His Divine Plan “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:10).  Good theology makes it possible to see the interconnection between all things, visible and invisible, and the ultimate end for their existence.

Moreover, it also helps us see how each of our own lives is being carefully guided by the Lord. At times this is rather obvious, many times it is not at all clear. However, it is prayer, and lots of it, that will help us all gain a deeper love for God and neighbour, and insight into your unique calling.

Augustine himself gained much wisdom through prayer.  In his Letter to Proba, a Roman noblewoman, he encourages her to devote herself wholeheartedly to it.

He writes: “It is neither wrong nor unprofitable to spend much time in praying, if there be leisure for this without hindering other good and necessary works to which duty calls us, although even in the doing of these, as I have said, we ought by cherishing holy desire to pray without ceasing…For even of the Lord Himself it is written, that He continued all night in prayer, (Luke 6:12)…”

Why so much emphasis on prayer?

As we all know, academic qualifications in theology are no guarantee that we will know God, in the biblical sense of the word. The devil knows theology well, but he has no love for its subject. There is no surrender and intimate sharing between him and the Blessed Trinity. 

Moreover, knowledge can become an obstacle to this intimacy. “Theology is useful only insofar as it leads to communion with God in humble prayer and in adoration. Theology is at the service of love.” (cf. In Sinu Jesu, p.219). St. Paul reminds us of this in his First Letter to the Corinthians where he writes that “knowledge has no value apart from love, knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:2)

 

I encourage you all to reflect deeply on the reason why you chose, or were chosen, to study theology.  God allowed this to happen. Try to see its deeper meaning. What has been the end result of your efforts? Do you love Him more, do you love your neighbour more than yourself? Does your heart still burn to know Him? Or has that initial desire waned with time.  Ask God to reveal these answers to you as he did to St. Augustine. In theology, we come to study God. In prayer, we allow ourselves to be studied by God!  Allow Him to look at you with His merciful gaze and to heal you of your sin and woundedness so that you can experience the salvation Jesus Christ offers each of you through His Paschal Mystery.    

 

Go on a yearly spiritual retreat!  Ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle within your being the fire of His Divine Love.  Ask Him to grant you a heart like that of the Virgin Mary, one that is entirely open to God, and capable of pondering in your hearts, all the wonderful things that have been revealed to each of you (cf. Lk 2:51).

 

And when you study, try it while kneeling. St. Thomas Aquinas spent hours studying theology on his knees. One of the most memorable moments from the last academic year was when one of our students took these words to heart. I found him kneeling in front of the tabernacle surrounded by about half a dozen philosophy and theology books! If only, he took everything else I said more literally!

Be of good cheer, Christ has overcome the world! (cf. Jn 16:33) Many in the West want us to believe that people are becoming less interested in religion.  They have told both themselves and others that the insights of faith are irrelevant to the study of the world and the human person. That is not true! If people are losing interest in religion, it is often due to the fact that they are not being given deep answers to the profound questions that are stirring within their hearts.  Radical secularism is a weak ideology that fails to provide meaningful answers.  However, concrete concern for our neighbour, coupled with well-articulated responses to perennial questions will always do so. Many non-Christian men and women have told me that they are surprised to identify more closely with Christians than with the prevailing secular culture that is in a state of rapid moral and intellectual devolution. They have been able to look beyond the scandals caused by some evil clerics and recognize, at least, dimly, the voice of God emerging from within them.

Just last week, I received yet another email from someone in search of God. In it, the young woman wrote: “I recently started my PhD at the University of Toronto and was reconsidering some of the questions I never really found answers to. I thought it might be time I started looking for those answers again.”

You are called to help them! Use what you have learned to help others come to know and love God. Help our brothers and sisters reach the top of the mountain!

There is a good chance that you will not remember a single thing from tonight’s address, hopefully, not because of its quality!  However, if there is only one thing, may it be this:  ask yourself this one simple question each night before going to bed.  Jesus Christ’s heart burns with love for me, what did my heart burn with love for today? I pray that, above all, it will always burn with love for Him!  God bless you!

 

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