Towards the Lights of Veritas
In the bowels of McCosh Hall the competition had not yet ended. After spending the day delivering direct examinations and closing arguments for my Harvard mock trial team, I was outside, biding time in the brisk night-winter weather of Princeton, New Jersey. I had had enough of watching courtroom quarrels all day—it was time for a moment of tranquility. It was time that I could use to think—to consider why I was thousands of miles away from my family, why I was in that mock trial competition, and why many of the participants had such a cutthroat desire to win. I stared up at the stars, which I could faintly see through the streetlights around me. And then my gaze shifted downward to a massive stone church—Princeton’s famous University Chapel. Surprised that the doors were open and the lights on so late on a Saturday night, I walked inside. Despite my initial amazement at the grandeur of the architecture, I felt a striking loneliness— I was by myself in a chamber meant for two thousand people. So I went into a small prayer room which had a couple of pews and knelt down, trying to ameliorate my solitude with the comfort and presence of God. I must confess, I don’t often open the Bible to pray, but I did so that night for some reason. And I opened it to Psalm 41—not knowing the late-night lesson I had coming. On the left side of the page, I read:
For the leader. A psalm of David. / Happy those concerned for the lowly and poor; when misfortune strikes, the LORD delivers them. / The LORD keeps and preserves them, makes them happy in the land, and does not betray them to their enemies / “For my integrity you have supported me and let me stand in your presence forever. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from all eternity and forever. Amen. Amen.” (Psalm 41, NAB).
It was the perfect prayer—a prayer that came directly from God. I had done all my college schooling up to that point at Harvard, but I think the single greatest lesson I’ve learned in college thus far took place in a church hundreds of miles away.
While I’ve heard much about how to “become a great leader” and how to take control and inspire others to “follow you,” I quickly understood that in the eyes of God a leader is someone who is faithful to Him—someone who upholds morality; who simply has integrity. It’s not enough to ascribe to a moral code in some context-less vacuum. There will be times when “misfortune strikes,” when enemies appear, and even times when friends whom we trusted turn on us. But such times are tests of our integrity, moments when our faith in the righteousness of God will be challenged; when we are tempted to think about us instead of Him. The true leader is a leader not for the sake of himself, but for the sake of others and for the sake of what’s right.
This Scripture passage connects to our discussion of education in this issue of the Ichthus because it alludes to the various “tests” we will encounter in our lives, as leaders on Earth and followers of Christ. As Chiduzie Madubata writes in this issue, these tests are always learning experiences; moments in which we discover more about what is good, and how to pursue it. God isn’t so concerned with some Psychology of Leadership exam we’re going to be taking next week. Indeed, there are more enduring, more important things that will enable us to pass the most difficult tests. Such examinations of our moral caliber and faith in God can come at any time and from anywhere. And perhaps they will continue for the duration of our lives.
Considering this idea of the true “tests,” we should now try to consider how it applies to young Christians who are constantly tested on the seemingly trivial things in college. Some might believe it is more important to spend time developing our soul; learning how to be a good Christian, rather than brushing up on astrophysics. Indeed, my real education—the many tests of my integrity and faith—may just await me years beyond Commencement 2008.
What relationship does education in college have with the education of our soul? G.K. Chesterton has been someone I often look to for advice on such matters (and most recently, Father James V. Schall, S.J., who we are grateful and fortunate to have in our pages for this issue of the Ichthus). Not surprisingly, I found that Chesterton wonderfully described the purpose of education for a Christian in his essay entitled “The Superstition of School”:
The moment men begin to care more for education than for religion they begin to care more for ambition than for education… Education ought to be a searchlight given to a man to explore everything, but very specially the things most distant from himself. Education tends to be a spotlight; which is centered entirely on himself. Some improvement may be made by turning equally vivid and perhaps vulgar spotlights upon a large number of other people as well. But the only final cure is to turn off the limelight and let him realize the stars.
We cannot pursue education solely for ourselves—to make us smarter; to have a few extra letters by our names; to pile up the number of articles we’ve published in some journal. Winning a mock trial competition also isn’t reflective of a superior education. Such accomplishments are temporal— they’re fleeting victories we can enjoy but not really appreciate in our path of learning. Instead, real education is for exploration—for attempting to discover and realize the highest thing—the Truth of God.
This brings us back to Psalm 41 and the dictum that we should not be corrupted by selfish, short-term desires. Indeed, if we do, we will never learn anything—we will succumb to the vanity of false education. That, I believe, is a central connection between Christianity and learning. Harvard’s motto, Veritas, even without its original addendum, can only be pursued with a certain faith that Truth exists, and a certain willingness to dedicate oneself to pursuing Truth through learning. This learning can be in any field—philosophy, biology, theology, politics. But we must remember why we are doing it: so that we can learn more about ourselves and God through our search after Truth.
And in order to strive towards this horizon, we must focus on how we are learning. In the same fashion as the “leader,” the dedication to searching for Truth is selfless—it is not for any sort of personal material gain. In turn, the Lord supports those with unselfish motivations because of the integrity they employ in their pursuit of the Truth. If we are not distracted from the purpose of education by competing for personal accolades, ribbons, or plaques, we will be supported by God. The things worth having—integrity, faith, and a yearning for the Truth—cannot be found in such objects.
I’d be willing to bet that not one person in the history of Harvard has claimed, after four years of liberal arts studies, to have understood Veritas. The understanding of Truth does not come from a textbook, although it may begin there. Indeed, as Chesterton says, the University is not a “miraculous moral factory, in which perfect men and women are made by magic.” Instead, it simply gives us the lights to be able to find Truth in the darkness. This was exactly the lesson I received that night in Princeton. I could barely see the stars, for the many spotlights outside the competition were blazing brightly, but I found a stronger light where God resided. Together, let us use that light to search for Veritas.
Jordan Teti ’08, Editor-in-Chief, is a Government concentrator in Winthrop House.