by Dr. Christa Klein, Ph.D
Theological Institute for the New Evangelization
St. John’s Seminary Boston
23 May 2017
I have read your biographies. Your goals for study and your goals as graduates are inspiring. You thanked those who encouraged you. No doubt these people have also put up with you as you worked, sometimes successfully, to balance your studies with your already full lives.
What you and I share is a profound love for the Reality that is beyond full knowing. Yet, through study, worship, formation, and friendship, now we recognize that Reality more fully in mind and heart. In this Easter Season, once again, the Gospel readings from the Evangelists Luke and John teach us about how human the central doctrines of Christianity are.
Caryll Houselander's marvelous meditation for this season, written in the 1950’s as she herself was racked with suffering, uses Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances to illustrate how personally we must convey Christ’s love. Otherwise, in our own apostolic zeal we may use our learning and devotions as “sledgehammers,” as she says, seeking conversion by concussion. [The Risen Christ, p. 42]
In John’s accounts of these appearances, Jesus reveals himself personally to his friends and calls each to a higher task. He treats the highly emotional Mary Magdalene gently and then entrusts her, of all people, with telling his disciples that he is ascending to his and her Father, to his and her God. Jesus responds to disciples, tortured with guilt over having abandoned him, by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit and telling them to forgive the sins of others. Peter, the three-time denier, is given three opportunities to express his love and then sent as a shepherd to Jesus’ own flock.
But my focus today will be on disciples like you, the studious ones in Luke’s gospel, who were walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Houselander says that these scholarly men “must come to the point of communion with [Jesus] through the travail of the mind.” “Step by step he takes them back through the Scriptures, leading them to know him by thinking their own thoughts, by linking up the academic knowledge they have acquired in the past with the events of the day, and thrashing out the problem so baffling to intellectuals of all ages, the problem of suffering.” [p. 39] They finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread and only then recall how “their hearts burned as he opened the scriptures to them.” I suspect that you know about that burning heart from your own studies and have glimpsed the new Reality more fully in the breaking of the Bread here at St. John’s.
I further suspect that your burning heart and hunger for the Mass led you to St. John’s Theological Institute in the first place and that now you dream of carrying that zeal with you--likely not as a sledgehammer, but as an instrument for hearing and respecting the needs of others and discovering how they can, in mind and heart, know the love of Christ. The experts who write about the craft of catechesis say that there should be no opposition set up between “the personal and the propositional” in both the content of the Faith and its transmission. [Wiley, deCointet, Morgan, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis, p. 59.]
The fullness of Christ in the Church calls for a fully human experience in us. As one received into the Roman Catholic Church only 14 years ago, I had tasted elements of that fullness as a Lutheran raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. There I experienced the riches of Scripture, the doctrine of the Real Presence, the historic creeds, the Western liturgy, and great hymnody. The move from there toward Catholicism was gradual but unrelenting. I was claimed by the Catholic Church’s deeper understanding of human nature, its more complete sacramental life, greater dependence on Scripture and Tradition, the Magisterium, and its moral teachings, devotions, and universality. I could not go back, even in those low moments when I experience liturgies, homilies, hymnody, church architecture, or youth ministry that do not do justice to the fullness of the Church. (Converts are snobs, you know, given to the temptation to use the sledgehammer.)
You as graduates, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, have had your eyes opened. Now let’s consider the institutions that will structure your new or continuing ministries. Most are non-profits. These human organizations belong to the created world and you are called to assist in their on-going creation. Whether you are on college campuses, in hospitals, parishes, schools, prisons, publishing, or chancery offices, your very presence will involve you in organizational change.
I would like to share a line with you that I once shared with the Board of Trustees. “Organization is re-organization and that’s all there is to it.” So spoke J. Irwin Miller of Columbus, IN. He was a mid to late 20th century Protestant hero who headed his successful family business, the Cummins Engine Co, helped spearhead the national ecumenical movement, and worked with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was also a seminary trustee, and the philanthropist who paid internationally renowned architects to make his city’s public buildings models of modern architecture. A lover of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, he was a man deeply moved by his Christian faith to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.
Irwin Miller knew that leaders had to be on-going creators of the world because institutions are time-bound. When I knew him in the 1980s he had become an advisor on seminary leadership and governance to Lilly Endowment, a family foundation committed to strengthening Christian seminaries, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Christian. He understood the challenges facing Christianity and recognized seminaries as sources of renewal.
Looking back on his advice now, I think that Miller underestimated the anchoring role that Tradition must be given for renewed and reorganized religious institutions to remain faithful. The language of “transformative” change in church-related organizations is dangerous. Only by drawing on Tradition can we in the Church reorganize to prepare and nourish the faithful in their vocations.
An even greater father in the faith, Jaroslav Pelikan, historian of doctrine and convert from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy, liked to call Tradition “the living faith of the dead,” but he also warned about being stuck in time when he said that “traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
Consider, though, a few of the many recent examples of anchored reorganization at all levels of Catholicism: Pastores Dabo Vobis and the “4 pillars” that shaped your own formation; world youth days; the new translation of the Mass; new religious orders and institutes; the founding of this Theological Institute of the New Evangelization; the retirement of Pope Benedict; financial reform at the Vatican; the Year of Mercy; diocesan codes of conduct for clergy and lay personnel; the yoking of parishes; even the two-staged move of the Theological Institute to the Pastoral Center in Braintree. In this 500thyear of the Protestant Reformation, we can be proud of ongoing, anchored organizational renewal among Catholics.
As on-going co-creators in the Catholic Church, how will you be part of this? What skills and virtues are needed?
Not omniscience, mind you. You are not God; you will make mistakes. You cannot surmise all the unintended consequences of your proposed improvements, even when you map out possible scenarios. Therefore, check your pride. Only in this way will you learn. And, as I learned, the more people we supervise, the more frequently we will need the confessional. Also, the more strategic thinking we engage in, the more teamwork and continuing adjustments in the plan are required. Checked pride is conducive to growth in the virtue of prudence.
But that is not to say that we avoid conflict at all costs. Several years ago my seven year old granddaughter Madeleine tried to squelch conflict among cousins with rules she wrote for a new club housed in a new tent on our back porch. Her ten rules were mostly directed at her little brother—no messes, no fighting, no yelling. But the 10thand last rule was prescient: “Don’t hate the leader.”
Stanley Hauerwas is a name some of you will recognize. He is a retired professor of Christian ethics (Protestant language for Moral Theology) at Duke University. Stanley is brashly wise. He is known for saying “yes, you must love your enemies, but you must first have the courage to make some.” Fortitude, along with prudence, is essential in leading change. We cannot expect or need everyone to like us for the changes we make.
For example, sometimes, one cannot wait for the retirements of difficult personnel. They may be hurting others and obstructing the renewal of the institution. Or, consider the gung ho catechetics volunteer marching to the tune of her own drummer, ignoring the elements of the Faith that are more challenging both to teach and to learn. She deprives her students of the fullness of the Faith. To know Jesus more is to love him more. Accountability requires that we hold the people we oversee accountable.
Be humble when you take courageous action. Remember that the most bothersome failures in others are often the ones we struggle to correct in ourselves. Most proposed change can be adapted without severe loss. Prudence will grow as you listen and learn. Aside from a confessor, you need at least one good friend, who, as Msgr. Moroney, quoting Oscar Wilde, likes to tell seminarians, will “stab you in the front.”
Finally, remember that our efforts are at best are provisional. Just because we have a greater sense for the Reality beyond full knowing does not mean that we automatically recognize the limitations in our own efforts to save the world. We do not look to excellent programs for our salvation. We look to the Resurrection and the Life promised by Christ Jesus. Take as your image of hope the blast of joy that comes at that moment in the Easter Vigil when the lights come up, bells begin pealing and the first Mass of Easter is launched. We are blessed to engage in provisional organizational efforts that intend to nourish the faithful. But Jesus alone can accomplish their perfect nourishment and invites us all into His perfect joy.
You have been loved here. Please love and support this institution that has nourished you. And may you be blessed with God’s love sufficiently to love your calling, the people you serve and the institutions hosting that service. Thank you.