Thursday, July 5, 2012

Theologians Point to Human Dignity, Prayer

Harpist Friar Robert Hutmacher
CHICAGO -- The third day of the Quinquennial Congress featured two Franciscan theologians.

Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF, led off with her third and final talk, addressing the Franciscan understanding of the human person; that is, seeing the human person as sacrament.

Then, following Mass celebrated by Fr. Stephen Gross, OFM Conv. and a lunch break, Secular Franciscan Ed Shirley, OFS, who teaches theology at St. Edward's University, addressed the topic, "Deepening Our Relationship with God."

In the  evening, musician/composer Friar Robert Hutmacher, OFM, performed a concert on the harp and piano.

Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF
THE FRANCISCAN tradition is really a heritage of human personhood, Sister Ilia said in her morning talk. Francis of Assisi becomes a model for recognizing human dignity. As his relationship with God deepened, Francis started gaining a new vision of everything around him. On the road one day he came upon a leper, and on impulse he embraced and kissed him. What once filled him with fear he now saw as a person who bore the image of Christ.

He recounted, "what was bitter, tasted sweet," because he met the goodness of God in the human person. He realized humanity is good and loved by God because it bears the divine image. In the person, God is alive.

Sister imagined Francis stepping back and saying, "WOW! God is among us!"

And this experience of God means we are in relationship with others, even with all of creation. "When we unite, God becomes alive in us," she said. Like Jesus says in the Gospel, "when two or more are gathered in my name, I am with you."

In today's culture, she noted, we've lost sight of human personhood. But Franciscans have the solution. As Franciscan thinker John Duns Scotus put it: God creates us in a way that He's uniquely present in everything. Each person, each creature is unique to God.

"Everything has a unique being-ness to it," sister said. It's a "this-ness" that's irrepeatable.

"Each and every thing, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is of infinite value because it images God in its own unique being."

And people of faith like Francis recognize this with "a penetrating vision that gets to the truth of reality" -- unlike today's culture where "we see but we don't see, we hear but we don't hear." Modern culture "has deadened our eyes and ears to all of this."

The Franciscan understanding of the sacredness of life takes it a step further. "To love authentically is to accept other humans and all creatures on their own terms." And to give them time. "We in our culture don't have time for one another," she said, nor for creation. She showed images of homeless people, noting that society treats them as disposable.

Gen. Min. Encarnita del Pozo and Sr. Ilia Delio
"Francis had time."

The Evangelical life is a relational life, she said, and added: Francis came alive in the reality of God's gift. Do we see each other as gift?

"We are called to be among people…and discover the presence of God in every person." And that comes with bearing witness to the Christian life, not engaging in quarrels and disputes (even though we differ), and not controlling others, but, for God's sake, entering into dialogue, offering respect, listening and learning.

To accomplish all this, we need to "let go" (spirit of poverty), have inner space for God, and compassion.

Of course, it's not easy. Francis himself struggled. Sister Ilia imaged the saint saying to himself, "I'm running off to the mountain and never coming back. These guys are nuts."

But he always came back, moving outwardly because of what filled him inwardly.

"Francis did not so much pray as he became a living prayer."

With Francis as a model, and with on-going conversion, "we need to reclaim that every person is an icon uniquely written by God."


Ed Shirley, OFS
ED SHIRLEY'S afternoon talk zeroed in on the transforming power of prayer, with some theology tossed in, such as Bonaventure's look at the Trinity.

He began the session by referring to Sister Ilia and saying he would throw down the gauntlet were she present. "Sure, she had a great presentation, but can she do that and play the harmonica, too?" He whipped out the instrument to a roar of laughter and then began playing "Ode to Joy." After a couple of bars, the audience began to sing along.

He noted that a Franciscan view of the Trinity (with the Father as the source, the Son expressing the Father, and the Holy Spirit as the love uniting them) sees a dynamic, inter-penetrating relationship that wends it way through and is imprinted on all of creation. It's a realization that led Francis to declare the sun as his brother and the moon, his sister.

Ed Shirley plays "Ode to Joy" on harmonica.
 Ed Shirley "danced" around a "fancy word" -- Perichoresis -- which refers to the indwelling and inter-penetrating relationship between the Father and the Son. He called it the divine do-si-do of the Father and the Son, with the Spirit being the Dance.

Like the Trinity, there are three phases of Franciscan life, all mentioned in the Rule, that have a dynamic relationship, a flowing back and forth, he said. They are prayer and contemplation, transformation of consciousness/vision, and apostolic action. Prayer leads to transformation, where we begin to see the world as pregnant with Christ, which leads to apostolic action and in turn leads more deeply into a transforming vision. And seeing the world "shining with the Trinity and incarnating Christ, we are struck with awe and wonder." This in turn, leads to deeper prayer.

This deepening prayer and grander vision should lead us to be "transforming lives, just as certainly as bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ."

It's a little like the attitude and vision of three stone carvers. When each was asked what he was doing, one said 'carving a stone'. The second said he was putting food on the table, and the third said he was building a grand cathedral. What is the difference? Their vision, their mindfulness.