Beethoven, Handel and Papa Francesco

With Beethoven's Ode to Joy and Handel's Messiah triumphantly playing before "Papa Francesco" arrived at the Vatican's auditorium today, I was not alone among my Catholic higher education colleagues in feeling renewed about our important work.

This week I spent treasured time in Rome with my peers on the 25th anniversary of Ex corde Ecclesiae considering the way forward in the 21st century. Despite all the challenges facing Catholic higher education, there are good reasons for schools like Benedictine University to be optimistic about the ability for us to remain resolute in fulfilling our work in character formation, inquiry and addressing the common good.

In 1990 Saint John Paul the Great presented Ex corde Ecclesiae to Catholic higher education. He asked us to remember that we fulfill our mission when our graduates set out into the world ready to be thoughtful world citizens. That the classes and co-curricular experiences we offer prepare our graduates to encounter the many difficult questions presented in our modern age, especially the dignity of the person. We must be devoted to our Catholic faith knowing that we serve students from all faith backgrounds.

Throughout the week we heard from South America, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe and North America. Peers who are devoted to serving students from all walks of life. Peers who fulfill their mission under extremely arduous circumstances. Catholic universities who host Buddhist and Hindu students in Asia. Catholic universities who serve students from three Abrahamic faiths in the Middle East.

Considering the work that Benedictine does in North America and Asia, I was comforted to know we are not alone in trying to make a real difference in this world. We serve students from all faith and economic backgrounds, anchored by the Benedictine hallmarks of community, hospitality and humility. Our peers from across the globe are inspired by the charisms of a multitude of congregations, but we are united and renewed by the state of Catholic higher education in the 21st century. We have made a difference. The emergence of service learning over the last generation is a compelling story about the merging of our work in formation, inquiry and the common good.

We are also blessed to be led by Pope Francis. Joyful calls for "Papa" rang throughout the auditorium today, echoing the way all of humanity feels about this holy man. His time with us today was entirely conversational and humble. He responded to presentations from African and Middle Eastern universities with respect, curiosity and calls to action. Calls to serve Christ by always serving the common good, especially as it relates to the persistent global challenges of violence and poverty.

Piano students of all ages can play some version of Beethoven's Ode because of the main melody's simple construction. Five notes in G major played as quarter notes. You may be humming it right now? Today's performance at the Vatican reminded us about what makes Ode the most recognized motif in Western music. It is joyful. It is inspired. It renews us. As does our faith, no matter how difficult the times. Though it may feel like Benedictine University is traversing one of the most difficult times in American higher education history, the meaning of our work needs to be clear, joyful and inspiring.