Christendom College mourns the death of Vernon A. Walters, a retired Lt.General in the U.S. Army, a former Ambassador, and a Catholic gentleman.
Fluent in seven languages, General Walters was a career soldier and diplomat who served his country with distinction for nearly 60 years, beginning in 1941. He was the only private ever to rise to the rank of Lieutenant General in the history of the U.S. Army. He personally served six different American presidents from Roosevelt through Reagan (excepting Carter) and, among his lifetime honors, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. National Security Medal, and Distinguished Service Medal. In addition, he served on Christendom’s Board of Directors and its Advisory Board.
“[A]t this College, there burns a flame that has dimmed at so many other institutions of Catholic learning. . . . This is what you are doing here in this school: setting an example for many to follow. Catholic education, if it is to be Catholic, must recognize its Catholic nature and must be aware of the implications of its Faith. . . . You came to Christendom, and by that you have given the age-old answer to the question, ‘Whom shall we send?’ ‘Here I am. Send Me.’ ” [From General Walters’ 1992 Commencement Address – see below for complete text.]
Please pray for the repose of the soul of this good man.
VERNON WALTERS’ COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS AT CHRISTENDOM COLLEGE 1992
“It is a matter of great pride for me to be able to talk to you the graduating class of Christendom College. For here at this College there burns a flame that has dimmed at so many other institutions of Catholic learning. Here it is a matter of pride to the faculty that what you learn is yours and will be until Our Lord comes again. Those who read history know that every five hundred years or so the Church is swept by storms like the ones in which we are living now, but it stands fast through those crises and goes on. Yet, always the challenge has been met and the crisis overcome, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church of God.
Yes, this has been a time of trial. Every one of the values that made us great has been under attack. All of the virtues of these two centuries that made us the greatest power in the world are ridiculed and derided. And, to young people, ridicule and derision are tough things to battle.
My generation was told by President Franklin Roosevelt that we had a rendezvous with destiny. The rendezvous was kept on the battlefields of World War II. Your generation has a different kind of rendezvous, on another kind of battlefield; that of preserving the virtues that were held up to us by the Lord twenty centuries ago. And that is a sort of battlefield on which you must fight.
Because all of these virtues are, as I have said, under attack.
Ours is perhaps the first society to have known almost everything about the societies that went before us. We know the heights they reached, and we know how they fell. These civilizations generally perished in crises that were accompanied by a “friendly” rejection of the roles and values of those societies, accompanied by a decadence of morals and galloping degradation in letters and art.
With many today, if you stand open-mouthed in admiration at everything that is degraded and seem to be drawn by everything that destroys, you have a good chance of enjoying a high opinion of many of your contemporaries. On the other hand, if you speak of moral values — virtue, beauty, honor — you can be assured of being ridiculed at many of our social gatherings which are the barometers of the cowardice of conforming.
If our society, indeed our country, is not to perish, then we must find the courage and steadfastness of those who went before us and handed on to us untarnished the faith we have today.
I do not speak of physical courage which, in our country is, unfortunately, a common virtue. Courage is perhaps the greatest of all human virtues, because it is a guarantee of all the others,whether they be faith, hope, or charity. I speak of the harder kind of courage; true courage, which is always lonely, which always swims upstream against the current, of that courage which accepts loneliness and which goes on fighting when everyone else has either given up or stopped resisting.
Once again we must revive in our people a sense of duty in guarding the nation; a willingness to accept sacrifices for the common good. Sacrifice is a word that you will rarely hear spoken of today. Sacrifice is inelegant and not socially acceptable, yet no values can survive without sacrifice. If we do not succeed then we shall lose the freedoms without
which life will have no meaning. It will be existence, not life. Yet those who mock our faith are tormented by fear that we may be right.
I was Military Attache in Paris when the three Soviet cosmonauts were killed in space and, as is customary, they opened the book at the Soviet Embassy for people to go and inscribe their
condolences there. I put all my assistants from the other services in uniform and we went over and signed the book at the Soviet Embassy. The Soviet Defense Attache, who was an Air Force general, was quite moved that we had done this and, as he was taking me back to my car, he said, “What a terrible way to die! What a terrible way to die!” I said, “Well, for you who believe that death is the end of everything, it must be quite tough; for us who don’t, it is a lot easier.” He looked at me — I do speak Russian — and he said very softly so that only I could hear, “You mean you believe?” I said to him, “Konnechna”…naturally.” He looked at
me as if I told him I believed in voodoo or black magic, and said, “How can you say a thing like that?” I said, “Kapalkin” you’re a pilot and a man of science, look around you. If this planet wasn’t tilted at 23° we wouldn’t have any seasons and we couldn’t grow any food. If the temperature went up or down 50° all life would disappear from the earth. If you look at an atom, it’s a microcosm of the solar system. How can you look at all this organization and all this order around you and tell me that there is no design in it? That’s like asking me to believe that the great Soviet encyclopedia, in 32 volumes, is the product of a chance explosion in the printing press.” I tapped him on the shoulder and said. “Be scientific about this, be scientific.”
They are tormented and I have yet to meet a Russian who had gotten me alone, who didn’t sooner or later ask me whether I believed in God or not.
Our certainties are challenged, our sense of right and wrong are sometimes blurred today. We are told, “Don’t worry about sin; everybody’s doing it.” Well, my reply is: “That’s nothing new; sin has always been extremely popular throughout the ages, but that still does not make it right.
This school helps to keep alive the consciousness of what is right and what is wrong. We are told in some quarters that national defense is immoral. I will simply point out that I can only recollect one person in the Bible who asked our Lord for a miracle that was not for him or
for a member of his family. That was the centurion. Did the Lord say, “You have to give up your killer’s profession before I can do anything for you.” No, he said: “Such great faith I have not found in Israel,” and healed the servant.
There is nothing more immoral than failing to do, or to stand up for what is right. Every people is tested in the fires of history and this is our time of testing. We can embrace cowardice with ease, but if we do our children and our children’s children will curse our memories. This is the time to stand against the currents of doubt and division, against ridicule and against cowardice. If we drop that torch, who will pick it up? Will the long night of the dragon and the bear close in upon us? Or will we pass that torch of freedom, still burning brightly to those who come after us? We will win, we cannot fail to win, for God and
history has flowed in the sense of a greater dignity, a greater freedom for every human being. Throughout history many tyrants have stopped that flow — temporarily. None has ever stopped it permanently. And the evil tyranny which is masquerading under the clothing of progressive modern communism will not escape from the inexorable laws of history. The laws of history catch up with everybody.
You remember Nietzche once said; “God is dead, signed Nietzche.” A couple of days after Nietzche died, someone found on his tomb a sign which read; “Nietzche is dead, signed God.”
We had this demonstration only recently. At the time of greatest need we elected one of the most extraordinary men of our time as head of the Catholic Church, I, by strange coincidence,
was in Italy to sign the contract for the Italian edition of my book. I was in St. Peter’s Square on that day when he was elected, as darkness fell. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
After the Pope came out and blessed us, Urbi et Orbi, an American newspaperman came up to me — he didn’t know who I was — and he said, “Are you an American?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Are you a Catholic?” and I said, “Yes.” He asked, “What do you think of the election of the new Pope?” I said, “I have just heard the beating of the wings of the Holy Ghost.” You see, I knew him before he changed his name.
An extraordinary thing happened. On the day he was elected, the Bishops of Poland sent the Pope a poem which was written over a hundred and forty years before his election. (It was by a Polish poet named Yezzi Slovak, in Paris. I can’t guarantee that it is going to be letter perfect, but this is what it said:
“At the time of great confusion, God has tolled the Great Bell
See he comes, the Slavic Pope.
He will sweep the churches and clean their threshholds.
He will make the truth of God as clear as the light of all of day.
God has opened to him the access to the Throne of Thrones.
See he comes, the Slavic Pope, the brother of all men.”
We have had these tribulations before. In the French Revolution most of the priests renounced their allegiance to Rome. Twenty years later they were back in the bosom of Holy Mother Church.At the time of the Reformation in England almost all of the Bishops
apostacized. But the faith of our fathers that survived dungeon, fire, and sword, will survive doubt, cowardice, rationalization, situation ethics, and derision. The bark of Peter will, in the future, as it has in the past, move into calmer waters. The road climbs steeply and it is a dark road and a narrow road. But the light of faith will light that road ahead, and dark is the future of a nation that moves without faith.
It may be five minutes to twelve, but if we understand the nature of the assault on our faith and our values, we will be able to turn back that assault. The pessimists tell us that this is twilight. They are wrong.
Cardinal Newman said — and he has already been quoted here; he is one of the great men of our times — “Modern education is increasingly divorced from values and a religious concept of the world. Ever since the fall of man religion is here, philosophy is there, separate from the other. Here then I conceive is the object of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in setting up universities: it is to reunite things which in the beginning were joined together by God and have been put asunder by men.” This is what you are doing here in this school: setting an example for many to follow. Catholic education, if it is to be Catholic, must recognize its Catholic nature and must be aware of the implications of its faith. Now, as in the past, the question has been asked, “Whom shall we send then; who will speak for us?” That question throughout the history of the Church has always been answered. You came to Christendom, and by that you have given the age-old answer to the question, “Whom shall we send?” “Here I am. Send Me.”