The Church’s Best Kept Secret

Mad Made Tree

When I was asked to write about an aspect of religious life that interested me, on thing came to mind.  For me, this one thing is perhaps the least understood aspect of religious life today.  The ironic thing is that this one thing is the very backbone of men’s religious life: the lay brotherhood.

When I first began to realize that I was being called to a religious vocation, I was at a loss.  I knew that I was not called to the priesthood and my only other understanding of vocation for a man was that of monastic life.  Like many people in the Church, I had no knowledge of there being something called the lay brother.  My understanding of holiness for a man was a priesthood or cloistered prayer.  When I discovered the lay brotherhood, however, everything made sense. I had a distinct sense that my vocation lay in that way of life.

Click here to continue reading this article on the Theophilus Journal page

David A. Hirt, O.F.M. Cap.

(Photo Credit: Skip, Flickr.com, Some Rights Reserved)

Mouse Traps, Tacos, Bad Plumbing, …and the Trinity?

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley, some rights reserved.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley, some rights reserved.

What do mouse traps, tacos, and bad plumbing have to do with the Trinity?  For my husband and me, everything. But before I divulge, let me set the stage.

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us two very important things about its meaning. First: it is not about math; rather, it tells us that the Trinity is the symbol of God as relationship. Second: it tells us that the Trinity beckons our participation in the work of God.

From math to mutuality

The Trinity is more than a bad math equation. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 is not a problem meant to be solved by means of calculator and pencil marks. Rather, the symbol of the Trinity is meant to evoke the intimacy of relationship, but not just any kind of relationship. In fact, the Councils of Nicea (325 ACE) and Constantinople (381 ACE) solidified that the nature of this relationship is not one of “power-over.” Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity reveals that the relations among the persons of the Trinity encompass hospitality, equality, mutuality and inclusion (1). Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity suggests that we worship a God whose reality is radically mutual relationship. Simply put, the Trinity tells us God is relationship at its best.

Participating in the Trinity

We are also implicated in the relationship that is Trinity. It does nothing for our world to simply believe that God is Triune; one must participate in the work that the Trinity is already doing in the world (Fiddes, Participating in God).  We do this by engaging our relationship with God through engaging in our relationships with others. The word for this is orthopraxis (2).   Orthopraxis implies that our focus is no longer speaking about the triune God but rather acting out of relationship with the triune God. Orthopraxis literally means “right action.”  We are then left with the task of acting rightly by reflecting characteristics that embody hospitality, equality, mutuality and inclusion. Our charge then as trinitarian Christians is to ask ourselves: Do our lives reflect the relationship-centered Trinity? Does our church? What about our society?

When we take this ancient doctrine of the Trinity seriously, seeds take root. We are flung into a life of discipleship centered around a unique goal: building equal, hospitable relationships, attending to the wounds of those who have been slighted of relationship and forging relationship where it does not already exist. We are brought to places we never expected as we nurture these seeds that get planted by participating in the Trinity.   And this is where the mouse traps, tacos, and bad plumbing come in to play for my husband and me.

The seed

Our seed was planted back in November when Tom and I attended our first meeting as board members on the Port Ministries’ Young Professional Advisory Board. The Port Ministries is an organization that provides a variety of services to the Chicago’s notorious Back of the Yards neighborhood. Ministries of the Port include a free clinic, after school programming, GED classes, and the Bread Truck which provides meals all throughout the neighborhood. The evening of the board meeting, one of the Port’s directors, David, took us on a tour of the Port. Although we had been bringing college students to volunteer at the Port’s various services, we had never actually been inside the Port’s third largest building, which used to be an old rectory. David escorted us through many bedrooms, a kitchen, and even a small chapel. The Holy Spirit must have been must have been jumping up and down and waving at us frantically during that tour in order to get us to see beyond the dank, disheveled, dusty appearance of the house. Her song and dance worked, though. The seed took root. The moment Tom and I stepped outside, we looked at each other and smiled. Tom said to me, “Should I just tell David that we will move in there?”

It turns out, this same seed planted within Tom and me was also simultaneously being planted for a young woman, Molly, who was working as a nurse in Iowa. For the next few months, together with David and Molly, we dreamed and planned and wondered if something like this would really be a possibility: an intentional community that asks very little rent, and in return, community members would provide volunteer service to the Port. In February our plans were approved. In April, we started packing. At the beginning of May, we painted the two rooms that we would inhabit. And then, we moved in! Within the first week, we found one of Chicago’s best taco places in the back of an unassuming supermercado. Week two we had to set down mouse traps in our kitchen. Going on our third week, we have made a routine out of jumping from one bathroom where only the toilet works, to the bathroom across the hall where only the sink works.

The relationships

And through all of us, we find ourselves building relationships. From the helpful man who owns the pest store on Ashland, to the family who serves Chicago’s best tacos at La Internacional Tacos Y Supermercado, to the Port’s board members who are graciously helping us fundraise to fix our plumbing. And the list goes on . . . . We walk our dog a few times a day around Cornell Square Park where we meet moms who drop their kids off at the school nearby and push their little ones on the swings. We are beginning to recognize kids who regularly play soccer on the turf in the evenings. We often hear small children shout, “Mirra! El perro!” (Admittedly, he is kind of funny looking.) In fact, our dog has even befriended a German shepherd whose young owner has agreed to meet us every Friday so the two dogs can play together.

The prayer

So what do mouse traps, tacos and bad plumbing have to do with the Trinity? For us, they are signs of relationships that have begun to grow as a result of the seed that the triune God planted in our lives. This seed that called us to move into a neglected neighborhood, create a community, and grow relationships, is a result of taking the Trinity seriously.  Ultimately, our prayer is that God might create something good in a neighborhood that faces so much pain. As we “Go, therefore, and make [ourselves] disciples…” we can be assured that our triune God “is with us always” (MT 28:16-20).

**Originally published on Daily Theology.**

Dannis Matteson has served the Catholic Common Ground Initiative since October of 2014.  She recently received her M.A. in Systematic Theology from Catholic Theological Union as a Bernardin Scholar and is excited and honored to continue the legacy of Cardinal Bernardin at CCGI.  In addition to her work at CCGI, Dannis teaches theology as an adjunct professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. Dannis and her husband Thomas Cook (newly named Associate Director of Spiritual Formation for Lay Students at CTU) have lived in the Hope House at the Port since the beginning of May, 2015, alongside their community member, Molly. They hope to continue to attract people who wish to serve the Back of the Yards and live out their faith in community. Dannis’ theological interests include Trinitarian theology, political theology and eco-feminist theology.  Aside from ministry, Dannis and Tom spend their time taking care of their puppy, Paulie, biking on the Chicago lakefront, and living the lifestyle of discipleship.

Why I Wear the Habit

by Frater Michael Brennan, O.Praem.
As a “youngish” religious, I find myself somewhere in the middle of this conversation of clerical
dress, which in my case includes my Norbertine habit.  Some have accused those that wear the
habit of being overly clerical or of wanting to draw attention to themselves.  I, myself, have been
accused of wearing the habit as a way of “hiding behind it.”  This accusation disturbed me and
continues to disturb me.

Recently, I was walking through Northwestern Hospital in my habit on my way to distribute
Eucharist to patients on the oncology floors.  Before reaching the escalator, a woman called out
to me and invited me to join her and her friend in conversation over coffee.  Naturally, I agreed;
both women shared their stories with me.  One is at the hospital holding vigil with her 18-month
old granddaughter, who is battling cancer.  The other woman is at the hospital holding vigil with
her 23-year old son, who is battling a rare reaction to previous medical treatment.  These two
women have become intimate friends over the last several weeks.  They found each other
because their loved ones were having surgery on the same day.  One was drawn to the other
because she was praying the rosary in the family waiting room during surgery.  This public
display of prayer drew them together.  Thus, they have been able to share prayer, coffee and
other means of support for one another over the last few weeks.

In this example, because of my habit—a public expression of our shared belief—I, too, was
drawn into their circle of support.  They felt comfortable sharing beautiful stories of their
struggles and their joys.  We concluded our brief encounter with shared prayer, hugs and
promises to hold one another in prayer.  First and foremost, I thank God for this opportunity to
encounter these women and to share our common faith.  I also thank my community for
encouraging me to wear the habit as a means of facilitating these chance encounters.

In closing, I recognize this is a sensitive issue for many women and men; I offer this story as
part of the conversation, with the recognition of the value and call inherent in each of the individual and communal decisions surrounding distinctive religious dress.
Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem.

Blog author, Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem., is an Mdiv student at CTU.

Newcomers Adapt to Hyde Park, Chicago

Theophilus:

David Bowles, CTU MA Student, shares this blog with us via his journalism class at CTU’s partner school, DePaul University.

Originally posted on JustStory:

ellen 2 YES Ellen Salmi’s recycling demonstrates her affinity for her new, Hyde Park community. (Photo by David Bowles)

Four students attending Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park share first impressions and adjustments after recent transition.

By David Bowles

“Hyde Park has lots of gems,” Nick Mullarkey exclaimed on a recent Friday afternoon.

The “gem” he most talked about was Powell’s Bookstore on 57th street. Nick, originally from Des Moines, Iowa, moved to Hyde Park five months ago and is both a student at Catholic Theological Union (CTU), and a member of the Augustinian religious community. While living in a busy community house, the bookstore provides a quiet place for his introverted side.

Nick Mallarkey finds joy in the quiet of a local bookstore Nick Mullarkey finds joy in the quiet of a local bookstore. (Photo by David Bowles)

Another new student at CTU is Evelyn Brush. When asked where she lives, she stated. “Hyde Park,” then corrected herself and said, “East Hyde…

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HOW CAN YOU… BELIEVE THIS STUFF?

By Susan Francesconi
A reflection inspired by last Sunday's readings, specifically, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” —1 John 3:1b
This reflection first appeared on Susan's blog, The Good Disciple.


SPACE_NEBULA_STARS

HOW CAN YOU, AN OTHERWISE NORMAL AND INTELLIGENT PERSON, BELIEVE THIS STUFF?

Last month on Facebook I happened upon a lively conversation between my friend—a respected environmental activist—and his friends, on the relevance of religion in today’s world.

In his original post my friend made a proclamation of faith stating he would persist in his practice of Catholicism—which he strongly identifies with values of charity and justice—and partake in the sacraments as is his right, despite what he called the antithetical “contempt for the lives of their fellow humans” exhibited by certain Catholic Cardinals (i.e. the largely dismissed, but widely quoted Burke). If I could have “liked” his post a thousand times I would have.

I did not know my friend was religious, or Catholic for that matter. But what followed was a series of challenges to his (and my) belief system, some of which may have been driven by curiosity or a sincere desire to understand, but my sense was that most of the challengers’ questions were based on the logical conclusion that “it doesn’t take a creed or cross to understand the difference between right and wrong” (quote paraphrased from the conversation). This statement is a sad reminder to me that for many, the beauty and vibrancy of faith and religion is lost, and the grandeur of God* that surrounds and saturates every waking hour and all of creation has been hijacked by moralists and functionalists.

My friend responded with the utmost kindness, patience and clarity to his readers’ questions such as whether religious institutions teach anything that cannot be found in the writings of great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hume. My friend provided personal experiences from his younger days and concluded that being educated in philosophy does not make one a moral being, impart a desire to care for others, increase empathy, or instill a love or reverence for other humans or creation.

Another reader opined that religion is the source of authoritarian power against poor, helpless masses. He challenged my friend to name one thing, other than religious doctrine, that a church can offer which cannot be found elsewhere. My friend pointed to the radical examples of faith from people like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Tom Berry and Paul Mayer, and questioned his friend’s premise that the presence of secular moral teachings that parallel those of Jesus indicate Christianity has run its course and is obsolete. He also noted that the actual cause of the world’s problems are money and power, both of which are capable of contaminating any institution including government, religion, education, media, and business. Of these, he said, “Christianity at least has values and beliefs around which one can build a life and community.”

Believers are frequently confronted with questions like these, which seem to ask “How can you, an otherwise normal and intelligent person, believe this stuff? It gets tiresome. But, in many cases, I think people really want to know what makes believers, believe. I have to admit, if I did not know God and was standing on the side of “I can be a good person without religion” I would have questions for my believing friends, too. It’s true.

But the purpose of religion is not to teach us how to live a “goal-filled life characterized by moral direction,” as one of my friend’s readers suggested. The purpose of religion is union with God; the act of religion is grounded in love of God, the creator, the higher power, or the “something greater” sensed by many people. Religion is God-centered, not self-improvement centered. Why do we do this? Because we want to know God, and when one has an experience of divine presence and abiding love (which by the way happens all the time if one is attentive), it’s pretty hard to understand how all people aren’t actively seeking the same.

At some point in life, maybe as a child, maybe as an adult, maybe at the point of death, believers come to see that regardless of our imperfections, God loves us with a radical love. And as author Cathleen Falsani writes in my new favorite book, Disquiet Time, “God loves me. Just as I am. (…) God fights for me. God pursues me. God never gives up on me. God never stops loving me.” (Grant and Falsani 2014)**

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. —1 John 3:1b

This personal knowledge of God’s deep abiding love does not arrive by stork or magic or by lightning. People of all faith traditions have devoted their entire lives to the quest of knowing God. Spiritual practice is work; that is why it is called a practice. It requires conscious awareness, detachment and a decision to forego functionalist thinking, to follow that nagging “what if?” and traverse the jagged, unknown regions of life.

When we walk the earth with wonder and revere the miracle and dignity of every man, woman and child, every living creature, our planet and the universe, we make room for God and our hearts fill to the brim. It is entirely possible to become aware of God’s grace, God’s full-out mercy, and God’s limitless generosity. Here’s how: Remain open. You are beloved. Accept it like a soaking rain. This is the most profound statement of faith anyone can make. And the fact that one can deny it does not make it any less true. Sure, it is possible to be a good person without religion. And, let’s be honest. It’s damn hard to be good all the time. But religious people believe there is more to life than being good.

 

*God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

** Grant, Jennifer, and Cathleen Falsani, eds. 2014. Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. Jericho Books. page 6.

Susan Francesconi is “this close” to earning her MAPS degree from CTU later this summer. She is a faith blogger (thegooddisciple.me) developer of a liturgical art ministry website (artinthesanctuary.com), citizen of the world, and student of life striving to generate something good. Susan lives in New Jersey with her husband of 30 years, and Rosie, who is the cutest dog ever.

 

The Chapel of Resurrection

Introduction to the poem:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception near the Piazza Barberini in Rome is the site of one of the Capuchin Bone Chapels. It is composed of 5 chapels: the first chapel reminds the visitor that, “As you are now, we once were and as we are now you will be.” Then there are three chapels each composed focusing on one major bone type… the femur, skull, and pelvis. The final chapel, the Chapel of the Resurrection, has at its center a picture of the Resurrection of Lazarus rather than a picture of Christ’s Resurrection.

The Chapel of the Resurrection

Bone Church

david hirt poem pdf-page-001

The poet, Br. David Hirt, OFM, Cap., professed his perpetual vows in July of 2013. He graduated with an AB from Wabash College, received an MFA from Wayne State University in Scenic Design, graduated with an MDiv from CTU
in 2013 and is currently doing the summer Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University. After graduating from CTU he spent a year and a half at St. Lawrence Seminary High School as a Spiritual Director and Campus Minister and is currently the Activities Coordinator at St. Ben’s Community Meal in Milwaukee. He is a poet and an artist.

Fifty Days and a Little Fire

A Poem by Marci Madary

Fifty days and a little fire-page-001

Marci Madary, CTU DMin. student, fell in love with poetry when she was a child and began writing poems during her teenage years.  In her undergraduate studies, she majored in English education.  Marci is currently an Affiliation Co-Minister with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, but still enjoys reading and writing poetry to express who she is as a woman, mother, and child of God.

In Our Time

Golden anniversaries are occasions for great celebrations, honoring the life and spirit it takes to make it to the fifty year mark. Anniversaries ask us to celebrate what has been, but also to look forward to the new and exciting things that are not yet. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate clearly outlines the vision of the Council Fathers for building lasting intentional, mutual relationships with people of various faith traditions.  The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops along with the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America are working together to commemorate this pivotal occasion in the life of the Church with a three day conference, “Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of Dialogue with Jews and Muslims”. In our time, scholars and religious leaders from three monotheistic traditions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—are able to come together to rejoice in the fruits borne of interreligious dialogue.

Nostra Aetate calls upon the Catholic faithful to strive beyond mere toleration of the religious other, toward honoring the human dignity of the other through encounter, mutuality, and friendship. In our time, Catholics are able to live more deeply into their faith commitments by sharing with and learning from the diverse nature of the human family.

This celebration is important not only because we need to take the time to reflect and recognize the great strides in friendship that have been made through dialogue, but also to think critically about the future of interreligious dialogue and the fruits it bears. In our time, the diversity of voices critically engaged with the religious other can be heard and respected.

While the strides the Catholic Church has made over the past 50 years to nurture friendship and mutuality among practitioners of differing religious traditions has enabled dialogue to flourish, the work is not finished. Interreligious Dialogue is a process. It is not always easy, but it is on the journey from stranger to friend that the fruits of dialogue and encounter shine forth. Nostra Aetate is the tool that allows faithful Catholics to engage the religious other with love, without fear. In our time, it takes courage and strength to speak out against religious persecution, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue, will give the opening night keynote lecture, “The Catholic Church in Dialogue with Islam Since the Promulgation of Nostra Aetate.” Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York will give keynote lectures about the Church’s relationship with Jewish people, both internationally and nationally. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and Rabbi Noam Marans as respondents to the keynote addresses, respectively. In our time, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders and theologians are able to listen to one another and respond with thoughtful insights and critiques.

As the years go by, and we are ever farther away from the Council, and can sometimes lose the momentum of the Spirit ripping through the Second Vatican Council, we must look back in order to direct the course for the future.  Notably Fr. Thomas Stransky, CSP, who was present during the crafting of Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council, will be giving a presentation about his experience, “From One Who Was There: The Crafting of Nostra Aetate.” This testimony of the creation of Nostra Aetate is invaluable for the those just beginning their engagement with interreligious dialogue, as well as the seasoned dialogue veteran. In our time, we must remember our past while looking to the future.

Currently, Pope Francis is the leading voice for an increased “culture of encounter.” Introduced to the world by Cardinal Tauran in March of 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis not only cared deeply for the poor, but he also engaged in (what we would now label) dialogue with the religious other. In our time, Pope Francis embodies the spirit of St. Francis and is able embrace a Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam at the Western Wall.

With the same spirit of friendship and encounter the Council Fathers espoused, you are invited to join the celebration of the golden anniversary of Nostra Aetate. If you are not able to make it to Washington, DC for the conference, please follow along via social media. Twitter @USCCBLive and hashtags #NostraAetate #InOurTime. In our time, the entire world is able to celebrate, engage, and dialogue in ways unprecedented in history.

Translated from the Latin, Nostra Aetate means “In Our Time”. How apt is that for a title concerning the relationships among followers of various religious traditions in an ever growing globalized community? Though Nostra Aetate was written in the 1960’s, the importance of the declaration is just as important today as it was then, even possibly more so.  In our time, the Church recognizes the inherent dignity, beauty, and truth in faith traditions the world around, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2).

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a  Program & Research Specialist with Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a Program & Research Specialist with the Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

This is an edited version of a talk given by Ernest J. Miller, FSC, to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

I am one humbly trying to fulfill my small role in the world as a Brother of the Christian Schools, as a teacher with a liberationist orientation, and assuredly as a Christian, because I don’t know how to be a Christian and not be concerned deeply about love, hope and justice.

I invite you to walk with me, to listen as well as you hear. I hope I say something that unsettles you, unnerves you, and even if for a moment, un-houses you.

I want to begin with Zechariah chapter 9 v. 11-12, to draw on its central theme as a frame for our reflection this morning.

And you, because of my blood covenant with you, I’ll release your prisoners from their hopeless cells. Come home, hope-filled prisoners! This very day I’m declaring a double bonus – everything you lost returned twice-over! (The Message)

I want to have a conversation with you about the call to be positioned as powerful prisoners of prophetic hope. The Book of Zechariah is a short, unfamiliar book to most, tuck away near the end of the Old Testament.

The prophet Zechariah’s message was addressed to those he described as prisoners of hope. These prisoners of hope had come up from slavery, the Babylonian exile, now back home struggling to complete rebuilding the Jewish temple. But obstacles were in their way, stopping them from completion.

The prophet, speaking for God, does not deny the challenges the people faced. He does not dance around their despair.

In verse 11, the prophet owns where they are: metaphorically describing their situation as hopeless cells, or in another version, waterless pits.

What Zechariah does is a crucial step to prophetic hope.  Publicly owning the despair.

You ask, “What does this scripture has to say to us today?”

Sisters and brothers, as individuals within community, you have the exhausting task to respond to Zechariah’s call to be prisoners of prophetic hope.

Publicly owning the trouble that comes from bigotry based another person’s gender, ethnicity, skin complexion, sexual orientation, income, or religion, indeed, owning all that disrespects the humanity, the dignity of other persons is a crucial step to prophetic hope. It opens us up to renewing the movement for community rooted in prophetic hope.

We are now living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand democratic experiment in the United States.

On child poverty, which affects a disproportionate number of brown and black children, the U.S. ranks 36 out of the top 41 wealthy nations in the world.

Something is wrong.

Protests following the grand jury decisions in the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island has largely died down. While each of these cases including Fruitvale represent a tragedy for all involved, the case that tears at my heart the most it is the death of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, gun down by a police office in 2 seconds time.

But, as is often the case, there is still no full resolution or reconciliation in these cases. New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes: “The issue of police-community relations was raised but not solved. The memory of mistrust still wafts through the air like the smell of rot being carried by the breeze.”

Something is wrong.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 active hate groups all stripes in the U.S. A hate group is defined as having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

hate map

Hate groups by state. http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Though it is a despairing moment in U.S. history because of the distance that still remains in achieving democracy, it is crucial that we continue to look for sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton tells us:

Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which [people] can do about the pain of disunion with other [persons]. They can love or they can hate.

That is why you and I must hear the call to be prophetic prisoners of hope.

We must help our nation develop the grand vision of public life, which is to say how we live with one another, that we see articulated in the elegant prose and poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, and Maya Angelou, among others, in whose work we find a democratic vista.

The Athenian thinker and social critic, Socrates, expresses how vital self-criticism is when he pronounces in line 38a of Plato’s Apology, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Here, Plato’s Socrates is concerned with both the life of the individual as well as the community to which one belongs.

My hope is to urge you towards embracing criticism of self and society with a Socratic, jazz-infused democratic sensibility, wrestling with this fundamental question: whether the grand Christian and democratic traditions of “struggle for decency and dignity, the struggle for freedom and justice” can be both sustained and expanded across our city, our nation, and our world.

The goal of such Socratic questioning and critical exchange is democratic paideia—the cultivation of an active, informed citizenry—in order to preserve and deepen our democratic experiment.

Cornel West eloquently describes this Socratic, jazz-infused sensibility this way:

“The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism.  As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group—a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.”

Recognize the distinction between individualism and individuality—it is rooted in community, it seeks dialogue and engenders respect amidst the diversity that is humanity.

Theologian Shawn Copeland from Boston College in her theological work tries to

Shawn Copeland

unmask the thought-systems that would allow for the stigmatizing, identifying, and eradicating of whole groups of persons—persons deemed different, inferior, dangerous. Indeed, her theological vocation may be described as a defense of the vulnerable, not only from invisibility in society, but from evils that render them all-too-visible in the body public: that is, racism, sexism, and classism. (Pramuk, Horizons)

Merton offers this image: the human person as a body of broken bones. “As long as we are on earth,” Merton writes, “the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.

To reset this Body of broken bones, we must become prisoners of prophetic hope.

The unmasking of systemic colorism, classism, religious bias, homophobia, and sexism is a task that all us—black, white, yellow, red, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, of whatever religion, no matter bank account size—must shoulder together.

Each issue demands attention. For now, allow me permission to dwell on the question of “race” for a moment. I believe that “race” is arguably the most nettlesome of issues.

Copeland tells us: “The most mundane as well as the most significant tasks and engagements are racially charged—grocery shopping, banking, registering for school, inquiring about church membership, using public transportation, hailing a taxi- cab, even celebrating the Eucharist or seeking a spiritual director. We  see race. . . . We see and we interpret.”

So, what do we see when we see “race”? What do we see?

It’s about the color line. We’ve heard the experience of those who are perceived as too “white” or light-skinned by some in their brown and black communities. Look at black-oriented music videos and see colorism upfront.

This conundrum of “race” results from the fumes and odor of the Enlightenment discourse (beginning in the late 17th century) beginning with Rene Descartes.

Race is a social construct, an ideological, cultural construct.

Race has no biological element. To the degree there are those who believe race does have a biological dimension, it is because we have awarded it one. Over history race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires pseudo-science looking for a reason to fix certain people into categories to claim a false sense of superiority. (T. Coates, The Atlantic)

Yet, the paradox is race remains a phenomenon we must confront. Yes, it is a social construct but it’s institutionalized.

Copeland puts it succinctly: “The ability to read race accurately, to categorize people (black or white, red or brown) has become crucial for social behavior and comfort; the inability to identify accurately a person’s race incites a crisis.” (Horizons)

As I prepare to conclude, let me offer these final thoughts.

First and foremost, keep examining self and community.

Second, a Catholic school, especially a La Salle school must be a place where justice education is a priority. Listen to what Brother Alvaro Echeverria, FSC, former Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, writes:

Education for justice should not be merely a specific subject area but a common thread that runs through the whole
curriculum. This common thread should be reinforced by daily practice within the school. It is important to create a kind of micro-climate which offers an alternative, miniature model that does not support the anti-values which society often presents to us: … Otherwise the school runs the risk of duplicating the system and preparing students for a society of privileges … where there is no solidarity. It is precisely this situation which we have to try to avoid … (Pastoral Letter, 2003)

If education for justice is to truly take hold and diversity matters are justice issues, it must be a commitment of the whole educational community. It is not just for religious studies to consider. Education for justice cuts cross disciplines; it a concern for the whole academy.

Third, the great activist and historian W.E.B DuBois gives us two questions to consider, joining the mix of other questions we have:

What does honesty do in the face of deception? Deception defined as false, a fraud, a ruse.

What does decency do in the face of insult?

Finally, my sisters and brothers, you must possess courage. You have to be courageous to think critically, to cut against the grain. Professor West asserts: “Recognize that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than for a solider to fight on the battlefield.”

Part of the challenge for this generation is that we have too many imitations, not enough originals—too many folks just trying to fit in because we hear that success and fitting is adjusting to the status quo. Be attentive to acquiring a Disneyland mentality where we perceive the sun is always shining and everybody is smiling. Be wary of a living in a culture of superficiality.

But Martin King and Dorothy Day and all those folks in that sculpture would say don’t be well adjusted to injustice; don’t be well adapted to indifference. Be like Martin and Dorothy and all those giants, maladjusted to bigotry and all forms of injustice.

Courage is the great enduring virtue that allows one to realize other virtues such as love, hope and faith. Courage requires knowledge that transforms who you are. The struggle for freedom and justice, for decency and dignity is a long-distance race. As Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

It is up to you to say yes to committing yourself for the long haul to be prophetic prisoners of hope. It is a long-distance run.

 

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, a CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

On Dying (a poem)

In honor of World Poetry Day, we'd like to share this poem by CTU Student, Neil Conlisk, Carmelite Pre-novice.

On Dying

I know this place
I’ve been here before,
It’s something about
The rug and the door.

I’m leaving this town,
My presence is fading,
Like handfuls of sand
Thrown to the wind.

My head’s underwater,
My nose on the ground,
But something inside me
Hears a sweet sound.

Punished by banquets
Of beauty and bliss,
And sweet berry wine,
And good angel’s kiss

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

 

And given this poem’s topic, Theophilus, along with the Student Representative Council (SRC), would like to extend a quick invite for at an upcoming lecture we’re hosting at CTU. Herbert Anderson, former professor at CTU, will speak on his new book, The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying on Wednesday, April 8th at 4pm. Save the date!

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL

 

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL