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Dear Members of our St. Bonaventure Family,
“The Lord give you peace.”
In these troubled times, as our society seems to lurch from tragedy to tragedy with pain as its constant leitmotif, it is this greeting of St. Francis that resonates most deeply in my heart. His words are a comfort, yes. More so, I hear in them a challenge — to all of us Bonnies, in the integrity of all our respective faith traditions and belief systems, who call this great Franciscan university our home.
As University President Dr. Dennis DePerro stated in his letter to us, the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and, only last week, George Floyd in Minnesota, have unleashed a torrent of rage that our nation has not witnessed in a half century. The roots of this rage, though, are by no means recently grown. They have been nourished by far more than the half a century of enduring prejudice and systemic racism experienced by African-Americans. “The Lord give you peace.”
We cannot but recall the racism and rise in hate crimes experienced during the ongoing pandemic by Asian-Americans, who have been harassed and assaulted, spat upon and told to “go back where you came from.” These men and women include those among our family, friends and fellow citizens, and those who serve as first responders and essential medical personnel. “The Lord give you peace.”
“The Lord give you peace.” A comfort? Yes. St. Francis named a hope that lies deep within all our hearts, especially in the hearts of those whose lives are so troubled by the lack of peace. His words, I believe, are also a challenge. The peace he named calls for a commitment from all of us to realize – together.
What is this peace? What does it look like? It is the peace of the Kingdom of God, which the Lord, Jesus Christ, Himself proclaimed. This is why Christ said that this peace is so unlike the peace the world so often gives (cf. Jn 14:27). For the peace He gives is not the veneer of calm that masks the trials some people live through on a daily basis, much less is this the peace of a law and order purchased at the price of injustice. No, this peace looks like what He described in the first sermon he preached. As St. Luke set the scene in his Gospel,
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing (4: 16-21).”
This is the peace that St. Francis wished every sister and brother whom he encountered: hope for those trapped beneath the millstone of grinding poverty; liberty for those held captive by the injustices that mark their days; sight for those blinded by fear and prejudice to the dignity of their sisters and brothers, particularly of those sisters and brothers who fight oppressive systems and structures so that all people may live the freedom that is theirs as fellow children of God. “The Lord give you peace.”
Earlier today, a fellow Bonnie shared with me several profound reflections by the Nobel laureate and retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Mpilo Tutu. I heard one particular reflection resonating so deeply with this peace, and from a perspective speaking so directly to our times, that I wish to share it also with you. It is on the significance of black theology and comes from his book God Is Not a Christian.
Black theology seeks to make sense of the life experience of the black man [sic], which is largely black suffering at the hands of rampant white racism, and to understand this in the light of what God has said about himself, about man, and about the world in his definitive Word. ... It is a clarion call for man to align himself with the God who is the God of Exodus, God the liberator, who leads his people, all his people, out of all kinds of bondage – political, economic, cultural; out of the bondage of sin and disease-into the glorious liberty of the sons [sic] of God. When we practice black theology, we no longer use “black” as merely an ethnic epithet. It refers to all who are oppressed in any way and who are ready to appropriate for themselves the insights of black theology insofar as these are relevant to their own particular life situation. Black theology is thus the theology of the oppressed, and to this extent it is a theology of liberation. It seeks to lay bare for all to see that the divine activity is in fact ultimately of a piece: God sets his people free to enter the Promised Land in this life and not merely in some vague celestial future (pages 119-120).
I know that not every Bonnie is Christian. I know that not every Bonnies believes in God. Yet I dare say there is not a Bonnie who does not believe that this is the peace our hearts desire, and that, if we but open the ears of our hearts, we will hear a voice greater than our own calling us to strive and (if necessary) struggle for this peace – for ourselves, yes, and also for every sister and brother whom we, like St. Francis, greet each day and share our lives.
Great! So, where to begin? And what to do? Conversations are already taking place among members of our St. Bonaventure Family about what we may do now, as well as when we are (finally!) able to come together again as a campus community next semester. As a Franciscan friar and as Vice President for Mission Integration, may I offer that there is something each of us can do, today and every day moving forward. Everywhere we Bonnies are, let us live the values we hold dear as members of this Franciscan university.
Let us be people who nurture COMPASSION in our hearts, our homes and our neighborhoods: “We are convinced that all of creation is God’s gift, an awareness that calls forth a sense of solidarity with everyone and everything. As images of God, we strive to share God’s unconditional love, particularly with those on the margins of society — the needy, the ignored, and the excluded.”
Let us be people who seek WISDOM in all we say and do: “We are convinced that education must be transformative of the whole person, concerned not only with the intellect, but also with the will, the heart, and the body. Education must be eminently practical, not just about learning concepts and skills, but discerning how to truly live humanly, deeply, and well in the world.”
Let us be people who build a world of INTEGRITY, beginning with ourselves: “We are convinced that each of us must accept responsibility for our actions and that our relationships should be based on respect for the dignity of others, honesty, and transparency, realizing that the values we espouse mean little unless they are embodied in our personal and professional lives.”
No matter that we may be scattered throughout the country and the world right now, let us always remember that we Bonnies are never alone. We are a COMMUNITY of sisters and brothers that “affirms the unique dignity of everyone, each person reflecting the goodness of God, and invites all of our sisters and brothers to forge bonds of mutual acceptance and understanding that create a true sense of belonging.”
Until we meet again – wherever you are, whatever your struggles, in the deepest yearning of your hearts – may the Lord give you peace.
Br. Russel, ofm
Rev. Russel T. Murray, O.F.M., Ph.D., S.T.L.
Vice President for Mission Integration
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