Catholic Theological Union LogoCatholic Theological UnionLearn@CTUCatholics on CallCatholic Common Ground Initiative

Reflections upon Installation of Edward Foley, Capuchin as Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality

October 11, 2009:

First, I would like to squelch any rumors about my having to borrow a Capuchin habit for today's event.  Yes, this is my solemn profession habit from 1972; it is admittedly in pristine condition, and although not quite saving it for this moment, I did want to be part of the brown wave that ripples across CTU today; furthermore, since the religious barb of the mendicants was both a choir robe as well as at the origin of the academic gown, it seems fitting in this conjunction of prayer and scholarship to don the capuche.

Between gospel and Magnificat, it is appropriate to speak a word of gratitude rather than craft some scholarly reflections more befitting the lecture hall than this vesperal setting.  

First, to my family of origin, and the four generations of Foleys and Greens and Grometers under the leadership of our Matriarch and Mother, Tiffany Estelle, thank you being a bastion of support and love through whatever wanderings I have ventured, and in whatever undertakings I have pursued.  None of this would be possible without you; please know that your presence and the enduring memory of Dad are an unerring compass and sustaining joy in my life.

To my community of learning, under the leadership of Fr. Don Senior, to my colleagues on the faculty, staff and among the student body, as well as to those coworkers from other Hyde Park schools who join us today: thank you for the colleagueship, the ministerial and scholarly stimulation, and the enduring invitation to share in this great adventure we call Catholic Theological Union and the Hyde Park Cluster.  Little did I know how little I knew when first coming here during the 1984 academic year; all the learnings of the previous 34 years of formal education pale in comparison to the personal, ministerial and intellectual evolution that has marked my journey in this wondrous place in your good company.

And to that circle of friends and supporters who have traveled near and far to add their voices to this joyous chorus; including survivors of my first foray into campus ministry at the College of St. Catherine in 1975, collaborators in musical and liturgical ventures, my first liturgy and pastoral care professors, parishioners from St. Mary's in riverside where I shared 12 graced years of prayer leadership, and my pastor from Old St. Pat's where I am learning to preach again: you are a sustained blessing to me, and to this church which we both heartily embrace and zealously engage.   

Finally on this day celebrating Franciscans at CTU, gratitude is directed to that sister-brotherhood of Franciscans which has been a constant presence in my life since entering St. Lawrence  high school seminar in 1962.  To my Capuchin brothers, represented by my provincial -- not to mention, former student and CTU alum -- John Celichowski, thank you for actually letting me make solemn profession in 1972 ... the only survivor from the novitiate class of 1966 ... and for all of the ways that you have nourished and encouraged me in my sometimes singular journey into music, mediaevalia, teaching and scholarship. 

I also join Don and Barbara in offering particular thanks to the friars of the St. John the Baptist province, represented by their provincial minister Fr. Jeffrey Scheeler who leads us in prayer this afternoon.  It was their vision and generosity that not only established this chair in 1997, but who also bring renewed energy in this season of grace to enlivening the Franciscan presence at CTU.  Along with them, enduring gratitude needs to be expressed to the friars from the Assumption province, represented by their provincial and our faculty colleague Fr. Leslie Hoppe, and the friars of the Sacred Heart who among other things are helping us make music this day. 

The Franciscan treasure of people and resources, legacy and library that converge in this place and on this day is not simply a happy coincidence, but I would content a blessed conjunction.  From its origins Catholic Theological Union has been a unique environment in which the charisms of religious communities, lay and ordained, women and men, from near and far, across the religious spectrum, and more recently with Muslims and Jews, come to the table in a spirit of mutuality and respect, rendering hearty nourishment in the quest for God's authentic spirit, and justice in the world.  Without in any way diminishing the gifts and charisms of any other segment of this wondrous theological and ministerial stew we call CTU, it seems right and just to momentarily reflect upon the distinctive alliance of this place with the Franciscan charism, both as a source of profound appreciation, as well as for the sake of further mission. 

Historically, the Franciscans were part of the very birthing of Catholic Theological Union, and along with the Passionists and Servites were charter members.  Zachary Hayes, the first holder of the Duns Scotus chair, was one of those founders, as was his classmate and my esteemed colleague Gilbert Ostdiek OFM, who is celebrating his 42nd year on the faculty.  Gil, we salute you and pray ad multos annos.  Over the years, along with Gil, there have been over a dozen first and third order, full and part time faculty serving at CTU.

Besides this very tangible alliance of CTU with Franciscan scholars and the innumerable Franciscan students who have been part of this community of learning, there is also a mutuality of purpose, a coalition of insight, and a trajectory of collaboration across central and abiding themes for both Catholic Theological Union and the international Franciscan sister-brotherhood.  Let me sketch a few of these conjunctions:

First, there is a growing ecological awareness and responsibility in this place which strives to be a green seminary, rehearsing our intimate affinity with God's good creation and humanity's limited resources.  What better place for Franciscans to exercise their respect for the integrity of creation, in the spirit of our founder who is also the church's universal patron of ecology, than this place which increasingly resonates with this slice of Franciscan vision.  Dianne Bergant, my predecessor in this chair, worked heartily towards this purpose, and though she cannot be with us today, we nonetheless applaud her for this work.

A second convergence is to be noted: themes of justice, reconciliation, human rights and peacemaking frequently reverberate within these walls and within our graduates.  CTU's annual award is offered under the rubric "blessed are the peacemakers."   How fortuitous that a religious movement like the Franciscans - so closely aligned with human rights and peace making - is so deeply imbedded in this place.  Francis himself was so strongly associated with the renunciation of violence and peaceability of spirit that his name is forever linked to one of the church's most celebrated prayers for peace.  For this reason, as well, it is good for us to be here.

Furthermore, Catholic Theological Union prides itself as a center for dialogue, where various cultures and even different faiths are invited into respectful and mutually enriching conversation.  Symbolic of this yearning is the Catholic-Jewish and Catholic-Muslim dialogue, sponsored through the Bernardin Center.  While his goal was martyrdom, is it at least symbolic that in 1219, during the 5th Crusade, Francis journeyed in dialogue to the Islamic Sultan, Malik al-Kamil, in Egypt.  While converting the followers of Mohammed, or the people of the First Testament is certainly neither our purpose nor goal, is this yet not a good and proper place for Franciscans to join with others who continue to journey across religious boundaries in search of common ground as Francis himself was want to do?

We cannot forget, in these enumerations, that Francis was a troubadour for the great king, a musical spirit, a fiddler on twigs, a lyricist for all of creation, an artisan of joy, whose passion for the Most High freed him to sing when he needed, dance when he might, and preach to whatever critter crossed his path.  While we do not ply the preaching craft to wolves and birds in this place, this is a place -- especially through this new academic and conference center -- in which beauty and the arts increasingly blossom as is proper for any place where Franciscan charisms resound.

On a more personal note, I am always proud to recall that the Capuchin Order in shaping its current constitutions, repeated rejected the Vatican's insistence that we call ourselves a clerical community.  We argued on historical grounds that our founding charism had little to do with the clerical state, and that the designation of a clerical community undermined the vision of a community of lesser brothers.  Wondrously, in 1996 Pope John Paul II recognized that we were not a clerical order but a mixed community, lay and ordained of equal dignity.  But is that not what we strive to be here at CTU as well, and is that not only our best mode of being with each other but also our gift to church which itself is also a mixed community, but not always one in which people feel that their ecclesial position or ministry is honored.  What better place to practice poverty of vocation, and the dignity of all creation, than in a context where women and men, lay and ordained, from every inhabited continent on earth, pursue mission in mutual respect and with equal dignity.

Finally, it is useful to recall that, in words of the first antiphon for first vespers of the office of St. Francis composed by Julian of Speyer, our seraphic father is called "vir catholicus" - truly catholic, or what one translation renders as "the valiant catholic ... perfectly apostolic, [who] did instruct us to adhere to the faith of the Roman Church."  Francis was committed to repairing a church that some perceived had strayed from its gospel vision; he did it in a time marred by heresy and schism; amidst strong currents of innovative lay movements, and in the shadow of a great reforming council.  While there are significance differences, there are also striking parallels between our time and his, our church and his, our mission and his.  And in this place, so committed to building up the church for the sake of the world, what better venue for Franciscans to rediscover what it means to be valiantly catholic, and perfectly apostolic than Catholic Theological Union.

Gathering Franciscans at CTU on the occasion of my installation in the Duns Scotus chair in spirituality is both a time of celebration and mission.  Sometimes the many Franciscan energies that flow through this place have not always melded into the confluence of insight and energies that is the promise of this chair and this place.  It reminds me of a comment made by a formation director, many years ago, who suggested that Franciscans actually talking to each other was the original ecumenical movement. 

Maybe the resurgence of this gift of talent and treasure might change that; maybe this renewal of energies and vision might even go so far as unseat UPS as the most visible and prominent organization coming through CTU's doors each day  asking "what can brown do for you."  Every time a Franciscan walks through these doors, aware that CTU does many wondrous things for us, don't we also have a shared responsibility to keep asking "what can brown do for you." This cannot and should not be the only time in a decade that we applaud and explore this gracious conjunction of Franciscan Sister/brotherhood and Catholic Theological Union.  Something more needs to emerge, and with God's good grace and the energies of the newly appointed Franciscan advisory board, it will.

At the close of her Pulitzer prize winning novel, Gilead, author Marilynne Robinson portrays her protagonist, minister John Ames at the end of his life, reflecting upon the painful experience of his own father's attempt to uproot him from the town where he had lived and ministered for over 70 years.  Robinson narrates how Ames' father and an older brother had belittled the town Gilead, as a world too small and a mission too closed.  With understated eloquence, in response to this assault, the godly John Ames writes, "I don't recall that I actually said anything, taken aback as I was.  And all my father [really] accomplished was to make me homesick for a place I never left."

My deep hope and abiding prayer for all of us on this octave of the Feast of St. Francis, on this Duns Scotus festival of Franciscans at CTU, is that celebrating the seraphic charism in this very special house of learning, will not only give rise to a similar homesickness for a place we have never left, but also steel us for that journey towards the home we have yet to reach, which we seek together in peace, with all people of good will, in God's sustaining spirit, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.