University Is, As Fr. Lawton Believes, a Term Paper

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university is, as Fr. Lawton believes, a sacred place where you find "your imagination, develop your skills, and enrich your compassion," then it has an enormous task in the world as we know it today. In the world as we know it today, the very term sacred is on the endangered species list. And yet, sacred is perhaps the underpinning of it all.

There are any number of vaguely similar definitions of sacred in any number of dictionaries. The one that I think applies best here is this one:

regarded with the same respect and reverence accorded holy things; venerated; hallowed. (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language)

Universities were, in the early days, almost monastic in that there was total dedication of the professors and those being professed to -- the students -- to what they were learning. And what they were learning was, first and foremost, how to think, and they learned what great thinkers who had come before them had thought.

That still applies to the university experience today, although it has, along with everything else, lightened up a bit. Professors and students alike tear around the campus in running shoes and casual wear rather than hot, heavy academic robes. Still, under it all is the spirit of inquiry and the spirit of passing knowledge along so that it may be enjoyed and possible increased.

That this tradition has been going on for centuries and even survived transplantation from Europe to a new
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continent pretty much intact makes it venerable. That it originated in the monastic tradition of Europe makes it worthy of the same respect and reverence accorded to other holy things.

Should it be, also, regarded as hallowed? Hallowed is a term usually reserved for the ground into which heroes and saints have been buried. Or into a space, such as Gettysburg, that has seen so much suffering that to do other than to hallow the ground would be to desecrate it.

So should a university, then, be considered hallowed? That may be too strong a term, except if one moves it from the exterior to the interior concept of the university, the second part of what Father Lawson was speaking of.

At a university, he says, a student has a chance to find his or her imagination, develop his or her skills, and enrich his or her compassion.

The imagination is that which allows human beings to go beyond where they are now to where they will end up. It allows humans to create things as simple as the fork, as complex as the computer. It allows people to imagine ways to use the things they create in new ways. OF course, skills are necessary to that task as well, and the modern university -- perhaps more so than the ivied historic piles of ancient stone -- also provide for that.

Ultimately, though, neither the imagination nor abundant skill is worth anything without enriched compassion. A computer…

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