A girl is standing in front of the teacher, a girl rather small for her age. The round face is quite childlike, while the slight body already betrays the early maturity of this southern race. The girl is clad in a peasant smock. She wears wooden shoes. But everyone, not the children only, wear them here, except those very few who belong to the so-called better circles. The brown eyes of the girl are calm under the nun’s gaze. Their expression is uninhibited and dreamy and almost apathetic. There is something in that expression which troubles Sister Marie Therese. ‘So you really know nothing of the Holy Trinity, dear child?”
The girl keeps her eyes on the teacher and answers unabashed in a high, clear voice: “No, sister, I know nothing about it.”
“And you’ve never even heard of it?”
The girl reflects at some length. “Maybe I’ve heard about it…”
The nun closes her book with a little bang. Real pain shows on her features. “I’m puzzled my child. Are you pert or indifferent or only stupid? . . . “
“I’m stupid, Sister. They used to say at Bartre(y)s that I have a poor head for study. . . .”
“It is as I feared.” The teacher sighs. “You are pert, Bernadette Soubirous.”
Yes, this is a passage about St. Bernadette, the one with whom we just celebrated Mass at the Grotto.
But, why, you might ask, have I chosen, at this celebration of your mastery of Theology, to comment upon this short passage, written about a saint who calls herself stupid?
Because my first comment is that Bernadette was not stupid. Bernadette’s teacher knew she was not stupid. Nor was she pert.
Rather Bernadette loved. This same little girl once stood before The Lady, as Bernadette always called her, and in these visionary moments of seeing and hearing Mary was her teacher, instructing her with radiant expressions of love and light.
Bernadette was not stupid. She was smart enough to accept the limitations of our understanding when considering the Love that is God. As I heard from so many of you this week, this is exactly what we hear about when we study the Holy Trinity.
And so my second comment: Theology has been called the Science of Love. As theologians, trained under Mary’s Golden Dome, we have Bernadette and Mary, too, as our teachers in a special way. I say this, I suppose, at the risk of sounding pert myself. But we do call this place Our Lady’s University, and we all, students and professors alike, come here to study at Our Lady’s feet, don’t we? We come to study theology out of a particular love for seeking and knowing – out of a desire to understand That Which we Love, and the One Who Love us, more fully. Through these studies we come to a vision of Love, by drinking of the true Well-Spring Mary has given it to us. We have been refreshed by the two streams of Revelation, we have tasted of it at the Source and Summit, and invited to drink at the Spring by the spiritualities of saints like Bernadette.
And so this brings me to my third, and final, comment:
With bittersweet happiness I proudly send you magistri, you theologians, you scientists of Love, back into the world, back to your schools, your parishes, and your communities to share this Vision. Perhaps you’ll find someday that one of your students has become a saint!
Editor’s Note: This address was given at the annual summer celebration dinner for the M.A. in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Students had just finished their comprehensive exams earlier in the week.