Monday, July 8, 2019
My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
Azure blue skies, wispy white clouds, glorious sunshine, a gentle breeze, low humidity, and temperatures in the mid-80s are making this an absolutely magnificent day. In fact, the day on which I am writing this July Magnificat reflection is so splendid that I decided to quit the confines of my office,grab my laptop, and compose my letter on the school’s rooftop patio. In the foreground, the glass-curtain window walls of the new Dolan Family Science, Technology, and Research Center glint in the golden sunshine. In the distance, the spires of Manhattan’s supertall skyscrapers punctuate the horizon, likeexclamation points proclaiming the breathtaking view. Behind me, I can hear the windchimes that Fr. Ernest has suspended in one of the trees.
Yes, it’s a picture-perfect day, and we’ve been blessed with three such perfect early-summer days in a row. Two nights ago, while the Brothers were enjoying dinner on this same rooftop patio, we viewed a vibrant, technicolor sunset. Its overwhelming beauty prompted more than a few of us to quip, “Brought to you by the Maker of Heaven and Earth.” I find it hard to see such splendors and not believe in a God who created it all.
I am well aware, however, that many would question my leap of faith from the beauties of creation to faith in a Creator. They might point to the processes of evolution as the source of all that I see before me. Others might charge me with telling only half the story. I have enjoyed three back-to-back beautiful days, but my weather app predicts rain for Monday and Tuesday, clouds for Wednesday, and thunderstorms from Thursday. Elsewhere in the country, heavy rains and flooding have submerged entire towns, and tornadoes have ripped through neighborhoods and left complete devastation in their wake. I remember well the missions trips that Kellenberg and Chaminade made to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina. The destruction of homes there was heartbreaking.
What holds true in the world of nature holds no less true of human nature. While humanity is capable of great kindness and nobility, it is also capable of terrible cruelty, division, and depravity. In late May, we brought a group of Chaminade and Kellenberg students to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The site reminds us all of the senseless hatred and violence that can not only topple buildings, but shatter lives as well. At the same time, this hallowed ground reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit, the reverence for those who lost their lives, and the resolve to bring good out of evil.
Were the world all sunny days and triumphs of the human spirit, it would be easy to believe in God.
Belief in God, I think, challenges more of you, our former students, than we, your former teachers, might care to admit. Surely any graduate of one of our Marianist schools has a solid fatih foundation!
Well, maybe not. Maybe the widespread assaults on faith and the many legitimate reasons for doubt leave several of you struggling to believe in the living God you learned about in high school. At our most recent Day of Recollection for our college-age graduates, one particularly honest young man
said to me, “Bro. Steve, all these college-age programs that you sponsor assume that we believe in God.But I’m not so sure I believe in God anymore.” Many in the conversation circle agreed.
Why do I believe? In light of the challenging question posed to me at our most recent Day ofRecollection, I think that’s a fair question. I want to try to answer it -- not by reviewing Aquinas’ fiveproofs (as cogent and convincing as they are to me), but from a more personal perspective. Here goes.
I believe because I am a sinner. I’ll be the first to admit it: I need Jesus. A perfectionist and an idealist by nature, I want to do what is good and noble, right and true. As a human being, I often fall far short. Christ put it quite poignantly when He found the Apostles asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane:“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26: 41)
In the Biblical story of the Fall, I find a spot-on parallel to what I see in my own life and in the world around me. No other explanation of the problem of evil makes more sense to me than the Biblical explanation. What God wants for us is the Garden of Eden, Paradise -- a place where man lives in complete harmony with God, with his fellow man, and with the world of nature. But because of our selfishness and sin, because we so often want be be God rather than submit to God, that harmony has been broken -- on all levels. What God wills for us is not disease and misfortune, alienation and war. What He wills for us is Paradise.
I believe because I have experienced some of that Paradise in my own life. This is not to say that my life is a utopia. It is not. This is not to say that the Marianist Community is a utopia. As fervently as I am devoted to bringing new members into the Society of Mary, I know all too well the shortcomings of my Brothers, just as they know mine. But, by God, in the Brothers, in my family, and among my students, I have seen people who strive mightily to do the right thing, who ardently desire to do what is noble and true, kind and good, and who pick themselves up and start over again when they stumble and fall. It is God, I believe, who keeps this hope alive in us.
I believe because Christ has opened the door of Paradise to us. We are not perfect. Neither is our world. But Christ bore our sins and shortcomings, our imperfections and our failings, on His own shoulders. He died for our sins so that we might die to our sins and be born to eternal life. When I think of who I am -- a sinner -- and the kind of graced life I’ve been blessed to live, then my decision is to believe. I’m not saying that I don’t have my doubts from time to time -- I do -- but, as I look around me,the evidence for God’s existence definitely outweighs the evidence that He does not.
I believe because, on the whole, I’ve been blessed with more sunny days than rainy ones. Andbecause we have been empowered to bring some sunshine where there are clouds, light where there is darkness. This speaks powerfully to me of God.
Look, I realize that a two-page reflection provides hardly enough reason for those who find itdifficult to believe that God is real. But it’s a start, and I look forward to dialoguing with you again onthis and other questions that go to the heart of our lives.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,