Bishop's Column

Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture

“In the beginning was the Word,” according to St. John’s Gospel. “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is the Word – Logos – of God.  And “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

The Word of God is the incarnate presence of God in our midst. The Word of God became flesh, and entered the world as a man, bringing the mystery of God’s divine life into tangible, visible, knowable communion with us. 

Through the Incarnate Word, spoken from eternity, “we saw God’s glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

In the Incarnation of the Word, the meaning of our very existence was made present in Jesus Christ. The Incarnate Word brings the profound and true mystery of the world, the mystery of God’s love for us, into flesh, into time, into the events of history, and into the gift of salvific sacrifice. Jesus Christ, in the words of St. John Paul II, “is the answer to the question that is every human life.”

Such is the power of God’s Word.

In fact, all words have the power to bring mysteries and truths into knowable, expressible, comprehensible realities. Blessed John Henry Newman once said that “a word has power to convey a world of information to the imagination, and to act as a spell upon the feelings.”

Words touch our intellects, our hearts, and our imaginations. Words transform us. Words begin revolutions, words bring forth grace, words convert souls. When the Lord called St. Augustine to conversion, he told him to pick up a book—the letters of St. Paul—and to read – tolle et lege (“take and read”)! The Lord speaks to us in words—in the Incarnate Word, who is Jesus Christ, in the word of Scripture, and in the words of stories, poems, songs, and letters conveyed to us across history. 

We know the Incarnate Word through the words spoken to us by others.

In college, I was graced to read the words of St. Paul, of the philosopher Boethius, of St. Augustine, of Blessed John Henry Newman. I was graced to read the words of Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and Dickens.  I was graced to read the words of Homer, and Plato, and Virgil. Through these words, I encountered truth, and I encountered the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

Reading literature, history, poetry, and philosophy—especially reading it through the lens of our Catholic faith—can strengthen our hearts for Christ, inspire our imaginations with hunger for holiness, and form our minds and wills to know and serve Jesus Christ. 

For the past two years, I’ve been working with a group of trusted and talented advisors to plan a program we are calling the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. The Newman Institute will form students in the humanities—in the great literary tradition of Western culture—and form them to have hearts, minds, wills, and imaginations for Jesus Christ. The Newman Institute will use the great works of western history, “the best that has been thought and said,” to build men and women of character, virtue, and wisdom.

The Newman Institute is a partnership of the St. Gregory the Great Seminary with the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The first courses will be offered to undergraduates in Lincoln, who can study at the Newman Institute, and apply their courses as transfer credits to their degrees at UNL, or at other institutions.

Eventually, the Newman Institute will expand to students in other parts of the diocese, and expand to offer seminars and workshops for teachers, for seminarians, for priests, and for all those who would like to encounter the great words of western history.

This fall, the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture will begin, in earnest, with a lecture series, called “Reborn in Wonder.”  I will give the first lecture, at the Newman Center, along with a long-time friend and college classmate, Dr. Thomas Foster, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. The next lectures will be offered by Dr. R.R. Reno, editor of First Things inter-religious journal; Dr. John Freeh, professor at Wyoming Catholic College; and Dr. John Pepino, professor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. All are welcome, and I pray that students, families, priests, and religious will join us. After the lecture we will pray together, and have time for fellowship.

“From the beginning,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos- the Word of God.” We are disciples of the Living Word. And words—the Word of God, and the great words of our history, can form us as disciples of the Father. I pray the Newman Institute will do this. And I pray that you will join us, Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the Newman Center in Lincoln.

Bishop Conley

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