Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., Lenten Appeal
In mid-January I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, serving as guide to a group of executives from Catholic Charities USA. Besides visiting the usual biblical and historical sites, we also had the opportunity to meet with many local groups, both in Israel and in the West Bank.
One evening in Jerusalem we met with an Israeli and a Palestinian who belonged to a unique group called the “Parents Circle.” The members of this extraordinary organization have all lost family members in the ongoing conflict in that tortured land. They join together in their shared grief to reach across the deep physical, psychological and spiritual chasm that now separates Israel and the West bank.
The Israeli was a big hearty man, with a full busy beard. He had lost his only daughter who was serving in the military. A suicide bomber had detonated a powerful explosive outside the office building where his daughter worked. The father, his voice choking at the memory, said when he heard the news of the explosion, he had called her cellphone and it kept ringing. He knew even before official word reached him that she had perished. The Palestinian woman was young, her head covered with a veil. She had been born in the United States but had moved to Jerusalem with her new husband of two years. They were expecting their first child. He had gone to work and, as fate would have it, passed by a demonstration. A stray bullet fired by an Israeli soldier took her husband’s life. When a relative came with the news she could not believe it −“I had just kissed him goodbye on his way to work twenty minutes before.”
The two of them sat side by side and listened attentively and respectfully to each other’s story. Each of them had come across the “Parents Circle” group and found new life and support by being able to share their grief together and to discover that people they thought of as the “enemy” were, in fact, human beings like themselves, capable of loss and love just like them. Together they were now working to stem the violence and to seek peace in a part of the world where most people despair of finding any peace.
I have thought of that gripping evening in Jerusalem many times since — and especially now during our yearly Lenten journey. The possibility of moving from loss and grief to reconciliation and new life, the conviction that death is not the last word but abundant life is — that, of course, is the Easter story we Christians cling to, the bedrock of our hope. Jesus, too, suffered rejection and violence but refused to pass it on, living a life committed to healing and reconciliation. Because of the divine power that coursed through his being, he overcame death and rose to the fullness of life. His destiny is ours; that is the promise we live by.
It is also the spirit that has to be the bedrock conviction of the students we are preparing here at Catholic Theological Union (CTU). Whatever form their life of service will take — parish priests, teachers, chaplains, campus ministers, social service managers, working for Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Service (as many of our graduates do) — they, too, have to be Easter people, believing and living out of the conviction that life is stronger than death. Our job here is to give them the best preparation we can — making sure they are steeped in the beauty and power of our Scriptures and of our Catholic faith, skilled in the art of caring for people and respecting their differences, committed to peacemaking and reconciliation.
I want to close on a personal note. At the end of June I will step down from my role as President of CTU, after 23 years on the job! I plan on returning to my life of teaching and writing that has always been my first love even as I took joy in the opportunity of being President. I also plan on continuing our CTU trips to the Holy Land that have been such a delight for me and through which I have gained so many friends like you. One of the unanticipated pleasures I gained in taking this job long ago was the opportunity to write to you a couple of times a year, like I am doing now — for the last time.
Whenever I sat down to write these letters I tried to think of some experience that touched me and reminded me of the beauty of our Catholic faith and of the sacred task entrusted to CTU in preparing outstanding men and women for a life of service with the Church. My hope was — and is — that in speaking to you from the heart, I might inspire you to share in this great work. In incredibly generous ways you have. So, as I make another Easter appeal, I also want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P.