This story originally appeared in The Catholic Messenger on Dec. 6
DAVENPORT - Father Bud Grant acknowledged at the beginning of his homily in Christ the King Chapel on Dec. 2 that he had his work cut out for him. He would be preaching about the first Sunday in Advent, the Feast of St. Ambrose and presentation of St. Ambrose University's McMullen Awards - all within the context of Luke's Gospel.
And he would be preaching to a congregation that included Bishop Martin Amos, the awards' honorees, the Vatican Library's prefect, faculty, staff, students and fellow priests.
Not that he was nervous, of course!
Fr. Grant, a theology professor at St. Ambrose University, and director of the Academy for the Study of Saint Ambrose of Milan, was relieved that the fourth-century saint had things to say about Luke's Gospel. "He says Luke's Gospel is the historical Gospel," and indeed it is, but in passages proclaimed on the first Sunday in Advent, Luke wasn't talking about chronological history. He was giving his version of the little apocalypse, Fr. Grant said. "He gives us this shocking, scandalous, perhaps terrifying account of the second coming of Christ."
Luke was encouraging people to examine their lives, to be prepared for that day. "Ambrose locks in on a phrase "the virtues of heaven, or heavenly virtues," Fr. Grant observes. The phrase refers to being empowered in Christ, the priest said.
He noted that the Vatican Library's Prefect, Msgr. Cesare Pasini, in his biography of Ambrose describes an extraordinarily well-educated, well-cultured, confident man, comfortable in his own skin, not afraid to speak truth to power. Ambrose was empowered in Christ.
"We are called to examine our own lives during this season ... to root out all that is sinful, deceitful," Fr. Grant said. "You can't do that until first you love yourself, know yourself to be loved ... and in that place, dig deep. Be kind to yourself and be better."
The priest challenged individuals, the Church, the nation, and his own university to be better, because that is what the Gospel calls for: Christians are expected to reach out to the poor and the oppressed, to work for justice.
Those who have responded to the call to do better include the recipients of the McMullen Awards, Fr. Grant noted:
• The late John "Jack" Bush and his widow, Patricia Bush, natives of Davenport who have supported and advocated for Catholic education at all levels.
• Professor Emeritus Richard Geiger, who taught for 39 years at St. Ambrose.
These individuals embody the school's mission as an independent, diocesan and Catholic university that enables its students to develop intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically to enrich their own lives and the lives of others. St. Ambrose established the award in 2006 to begin its 125th anniversary celebration. The award's namesake is Bishop John McMullen, bishop of Davenport Diocese from 1881-83 and founder of St. Ambrose College.
"I'm very humbled," Geiger said after the presentation. "It's a great honor to be included among such a distinguished group of award recipients." The award belongs as well to the colleagues and students he's worked with through the years, he added.
Patricia Bush also expressed gratitude for the award, but with modesty, said, "I think the award is really for Jack, but he's not here; he was always the doer of the family."
Msgr. Pasini, to his surprise, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from St. Ambrose University "in recognition of his remarkable career as a distinguished Saint Ambrose scholar." The award is in appreciation for "his contributions toward the establishment of the Academy for the Study of Saint Ambrose of Milan at St. Ambrose University."