Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB, abbot of Saint Anselm’s and Chancellor of the College gave the following homily this morning at mass, in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the monastery and college on August 1, 1889.
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” So wrote the psalmist 3,000 years ago. If ever we turn away from the Lord, we are on our own, what we build is limited to just what our own abilities can create, limited too, to just our thoughts, to just our vision.
If, instead, we turn to the Lord what we might then build is unlimited, for it is informed not by our thoughts but by the Lord’s. Not by our vision but by God’s.
The founders of Saint Anselm College placed their hopes and dreams in the hands of God. They struggled, they worked, they may even have been brought to tears as they witnessed their very first building burn to the ground, the building they had hoped would house and make possible the beginnings of their work and of their dreams. But they did not turn back, they did not retreat. Rather, day after day, year after year they turned to God in prayer to entrust to Him the work of their hands, and hearts, and minds. How much we owe them!
Immediately after fire burned the original building, what must those first monks have been thinking? Did they feel a bit like Jeremiah who did as he was told by the Lord, who recited the very words that God gave him to say, only to be shouted at by those who could not bear his words, those who wanted to put him to death? Did they feel like Jesus in his native place where there was exhibited so little faith in him that he could not work a single miracle there? It must have seemed to those first monks that God’s plans did not include a Benedictine school on this hilltop. We can only guess how the early founders must have felt. What we know is that placing all their hope in God they moved forward.
And because they moved forward we are here today, 125 years later celebrating all that came from the seeds of hope cast here so long ago.
May we, for our own lives, draw from their example the lesson of steadfast faith. It was a lesson known to Jeremiah who understood that whatever may come, even in the most difficult of times, one need only remember what is vital and certain, that it is life to turn to God and to remain by His side. Jesus too, in his darkest hour knew that his only task was to give Himself over totally to the Father.
The founders of Saint Anselm College understood this too, and giving themselves to God in work and prayer, built a foundation upon which rests this school dedicated to serving the minds, and hearts, and souls of the over 25,000 young men and women who came here to learn how to distinguish truth, and how to pursue wisdom, not just while they were here at Saint Anselm, but for all the days of their lives.
I would guess that almost every one of those 25,000 students of the last 125 years, at one time or another, walked through the doors of our Alumni Hall, the very doors still there today open to all and beckoning all to choose the true source of wisdom, Christ, and to remain steadfast today, and tomorrow, and every day, that their lives may tend ever more to the blessing that is eternal life.