The culmination of 15 years of planning and effort, the dedication was a deeply moving experience for those of us in attendance, and it filled the alumni especially with pride to see this crowning achievement of our humble alma mater.
How can the story of Christendom rising not give us hope? Imagine what God might do with us, little people who have even less to offer and are more broken and even weaker… His victory is assured, and all things will be restored in Him.
Christendom College was founded a mere 45 years ago in an old hunting club on the Shenandoah River. The happy dedication day of the new church brought to mind the incredible richness and beauty of our Catholic patrimony, with all of its glorious architecture, sublime art, liturgies and rites. But more than that it gave me hope to see God’s Providence in action here on earth, and the grand narrative in which I have the opportunity to play a tiny part.
Beauty and Truth
To begin with, the physical structure of the new Chapel is truly gorgeous. Embodying “beauty, ever ancient ever new,” Christ the King Chapel is a combination of treasures rescued from churches now long gone, with new works of art specifically commissioned for a project. If Dostoyevsky is right that "the world will be saved by beauty", it will do so by drawing us to Truth Himself. I experienced that in action at the dedication.
Christ the King Chapel (courtesy of Christendom College)
Every inch of the very large structure has obviously been meticulously designed to give glory to God, imbued with symbolism and meaning, beautified in every way imaginable. After the initial blessing of the courtyard, we all walked into a very beautiful but "empty" building. It wasn't until the blessing of the water, the deposition of the relics, the anointing of the altar and the walls, the incensing of the altar and church, and the lighting of the altar and church, that a palpable change came over the place. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the first time, and the "empty" building was transformed into a temple of divine worship.
And when we walked outside, the sun broke through the clouds with the bells pealing joyously, and somehow we were all transformed.
To Restore All Things in Christ
Christendom College’s official motto is “Instaurare omnia in Christo” (“To restore all things in Christ”). An auspicious motto, to be sure, perhaps—on its face—laughably so. And yet that is the mission the College has set for itself.
Cdl. Arinze (courtesy of Christendom College)
Hearing Vespers led by Francis Cardinal Arinze in the Chapel the evening before the dedication, I thought about all the donors and artisans and laborers who had contributed to making this beautiful dream a reality, and I was filled with admiration for what they have achieved here in the name of giving glory to God. I thought of a recent $300M gift that had been made by a single donor to Harvard, an institution that already boasts a multi-billion-dollar endowment, and it struck me how small and pathetic in the eyes of the world our new Chapel might seem to be. But is it? The Bible speaks of the widow’s mite and, here we are, having scraped together our pennies over the course of 15 years to help raise this Chapel with her twin spires for all to see from miles around, reminding the world that God is still here. And here we are celebrating this amazing achievement; this act of love – without Harvard’s millions, perhaps, but with all the faith and hope in the world.
Christendom College is now 45 years old. That’s either a venerable age or the blink of an eye, depending through which end of the spyglass you’re looking. Today, with its beautiful new Chapel, it boasts a very fine, if small, campus, including a large gymnasium, sports fields, an impressive library fit for the pursuit of wisdom, a refectory, and even fairly modern dormitories. From a worldly perspective, it has steadily worked its way, if not into the realm of ‘respectable’, at least into something that is ‘not ridiculous’. And it wasn’t always so. In fact, the heart and soul of Christendom since its founding – what sustains it to this day – is a beautifully Catholic willingness to be seen as ridiculous in the eyes of the world, to become a fool for Christ. This is one of the thoughts that overwhelmed me during the dedication Mass – it’s not just the new Chapel but the whole of Christendom College that is a small but stirring testament of how God is still working in the world. He worked miracles when He walked the earth two thousand years ago; and today He works miracles still, through “little people” like us. He works through our acts of simple faith, even the ‘ridiculous’ ones, maybe especially the ridiculous ones.
Christendom was founded by Dr. Warren H. Carroll in 1977, just as the great Catholic universities of the previous era were declaring their de facto apostasy. All the cultural and political headwinds were against little Christendom having any chance of even being founded, let alone ever being in a position to hire professors willing to work for next to nothing, and students willing to take a chance on what was obviously a startup alternative. But Dr. Carroll persisted, inspired a coalition of the willing, and some twenty-six “pioneer” students whose families had decided to give Dr. Carroll’s Catholic dream a chance.
It is worth noting that Dr. Carroll was many things – a passionate convert, a fine historian, an enthusiastic (albeit tone-deaf) singer of Irish ballads, and I believe there is no doubt he will be remembered as a great man. But he was an unlikely choice for such an ambitious enterprise, at least as far as the world could determine. He was not famous, he was not influential, and he didn’t come from money. He was not from ‘central casting’ for this role. But he was faith-filled, and he was more than willing. He gave both fish and all five loaves, and that was all that God needed.
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Thirtyfold, and Sixtyfold and a Hundredfold
Dr. Carroll’s faith in the project was contagious. Over the years, talented people from all over the world were drawn to the ‘crazy school on the Shores’; friends and allies who were willing to give their two fish to Christ as well. Brave professors, generous donors, faithful families, oft-times reluctant students – all willing to look foolish in order to participate in the slow-moving Catholic miracle that was Christendom rising again.
In many ways, the dedication of Christ the King Chapel was the triumph of Dr. Carroll’s unlikely little crusade to restore Catholic higher education. Fish and loaves that were ridiculously insufficient in and of themselves, were nevertheless handed over to Christ and gradually began to feed the multitude. The actions taken by those who participate in Christ’s miracles in the Gospels are typically quite ordinary, small, even simple, i.e., fishermen casting their nets again on the order of a Carpenter; waiters filling stone jars with water on the order of a woman; a boy giving some Rabbi’s disciples his entire lunch. All simple, everyday acts, but “not less than everything” for the simple people who followed Christ. And from those simple acts so much was gained, and much was learned.
In the sanctuary during the dedication of Christendom College’s Christ the King Chapel was no less than the Bishop of Arlington himself, along with 30 priests and deacons, representing the nearly 200 religious who had their vocations fostered at Christendom College. Those priests and religious today minister to thousands of God’s people all across the country.
Also in attendance at the dedication were dozens of the over 500 married couples that met at Christendom College, couples that have gone into the world and established large, faithful, well-populated domestic churches of their own – all in obedience to God’s first command to “be fruitful and multiply”. They work in every profession imaginable, some to a modicum of acclaim, some anonymously, all carrying the light and joy of Christ and His Church to the world as best as they know how.
And all this began just forty-five years ago with what the world considered the laughable folly of an unknown history professor who’d set out to become a fool for Christ.
How can the story of Christendom rising not give us hope? Imagine what God might do with us, little people who have even less to offer and are more broken and even weaker… His victory is assured, and all things will be restored in Him. It is happening already. All we need do is be willing to hand Him our fish, be a little ridiculous, seek first the Kingdom, and we too can participate in that miracle of Catholic restoration.
Long live Christ the King, and may Christendom continue to rise.
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