Edith Stein Project Closing Banquet Address
16 February 2019
University of Notre Dame
I am grateful to IDND and everyone involved with the Edith Stein Project and this conference for the invitation to address you briefly this evening as we prepare to return to our daily work.
“The birth of glory is received in grief. Grief and glory are not mutually exclusive if one is receiving the love of God in faith and hope. ‘I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.’ (Phil 4:13)”
This weekend we have heard talks and lectures from some brilliant theological and anthropological minds on the topic of claiming our status as the beloved of God. We’ve heard academic papers, literary reviews, and personal testimonies. What is the hallmark of each of these?
Pain. The grief of moving from the lie that tells us we’re not loved, and from the lifestyle we’ve built upon the foundation of this untruth, to living in the glory of being now called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)
I see the biggest obstacle to reclaiming our status beloved to be what Father Julian Carron, in his book Disarming Beauty, calls the modern “crisis of ‘relationship with reality.’” We have become disconnected from reality, we “struggle to simply recognize and embrace reality as it appears, that is, full of attraction, as a manifestation of a foundation that is within everything and to which everything refers beyond itself.”
Before the fall, when Adam and Eve existed in harmony with God, with themselves, and with each other and creation, they possessed a deep-seated, ordered, affinity for reality. We can understand reality in this case as “ the cosmos according to God,” the way things “actually are.” Of course, many influential modern minds would depart from us here, denying, at worst, or expressing skepticism, at best, that there is a way, one way, things “actually are.”
What we possess now, after the fall, is deep-seated but disordered affinity for fantasy. We can understand fantasy in this case as “the cosmos according to me.” This often involves rooting ourselves and our identity not in God but in the past, in something or someone that we’ve loved and lost; in self-blame or in a spirit of inadequacy; in negative spirits of productivity or achievement.
Over time this way of life becomes exhausting because as I mentioned we are hardwired for the One in whose image we are created; we are hardwired to live in the “freedom of the sons of God.” (Romans 8:21) By remaining firmly rooted in an identity whose origin is a fantasy, an idea disconnected from reality, we become emotionally spent. It is exhausting to maintain something at all costs when every fiber of our being and every effort of God is working to the contrary.
To live this way, at least to live this way obstinately, is to resist the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit, who is sent to us by Jesus for the express purpose of guiding us into a new kind of life, to recognize and accept a new kind of love, that the power of the resurrection might come to full fruition in us and we might become a new kind of self.
This process of moving from a life of lie-based living to beloved discipleship will – not “may” or “might” or “possibly can”, but will – involve the pain of dying to one’s self, to one’s image of one’s self, to one’s image that one believes others possess of one’s self. But this pain is not forever, the necessary grief of being born to new life will not last forever. The birth of glory is received in grief. To receive the hints of the resurrection is to receive the truth that our capacity to love and to be loved is real.
God’s Spirit is constantly trying to “establish us in the present,” in what that marvelous Miles Teller/Shailene Woodley movie would call “The Spectacular Now.” Now, in the present, living in the age where things exist as they “actually are”, that is, according to reality is to live in a place of freedom, “where love and life are ever available and ever running” from the heart of God.
Freedom – it doesn’t mean being perfect, having it all figured out, or having moved completely through one’s many and nuanced areas of grief. To be free means, according to Father Carron and to Father Giussani before him, to “be ourselves, within reality.” Rather than changing and conforming to the way we think we should be or would rather be, true freedom comes from being ourselves, as we are according to the reality of now, for better or worse. This freedom gives us the room to live according to who we are and thus to change and grow in a way that will bring about about actual change and actual growth because we have become an aware, integrated, personalized individual and not simply a shadow of the someone we are meant to become.
For the bulk of my time in seminary, I wasn’t. I carried secrets that were heavy and dark. They were the cause of my walls, my defensiveness, my sarcasm, and my shame. They were the reason I put on masks, pretended to be someone else, and took every measure I could think of to hide the truth from myself, from those around me, and especially from formation. In third theology, I stumbled upon the song “Liars” by Gregory Alan Isakov, which he recorded with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Isakov sings: “do you remember when we were young / the swing sets, the costumes / the dirt in the sun / I sold all my baseball cards to buy me some clothes /that’s how it goes…I sold all these clothes to buy me this land / now I’m sorta happy most of the time…I sold all this land / to buy me some dreams / just like the movies we played when we were kids / now we’re just liars / now we’re just liars / now we’re just liars / now we’re just liars.”
As I sat there, alone in the dark, listening to those last lines, “now we’re just liars”, it dawned on me that it was my lying, my running from the reality which sat constantly before me, that prevented my freedom. I was both prisoner and jailer. I finally decided, then and there, that enough is enough, and suddenly my freedom took on a new urgency; I must become free, I have got to become mature.
It hit me like a wave, like a ton of bricks: the slow, gentle, initiative of God to move my heart and my life into the present moment, into reality, the only place and the only context in which I can ever hope to be free, to be fully me, to embrace as true and to take and run with my deepest, most meaningful, most attractive identity: as a beloved son of God, holy and free.
The birth of glory is received in grief. Grief and glory are not mutually exclusive if one is receiving the love of God in faith and hope.
Dear friends, my very dear fellow beloveds of God, receive the love of God in faith and hope and endure whatever may come. The world, your fellow students, your families and communities and every person you encounter, needs the witness of glory being brought to full fruition in you.
“By the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” (1 Cor. 15:10)