By Corinne Winter
May and June are often times for graduations, new jobs and new marriages among other changes in our lives. The following is adapted from a reflection I offered at the hooding ceremony for some of those receiving Masters degrees at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. At times of transition, our hopes and dreams for one another are often expressed in “be” statements. Be safe, we may say; be good, be happy. Thinking about what I would want for those setting forth in new directions, I settled on three in particular: be mindful, be generous and be an advocate for justice.
First, be mindful. Theologian Karl Rahner often spoke of the human obligation to be subjects of our own lives. As persons capable of reflection and questioning, we have a responsibility to do the things we do on purpose: to know or at least to seek the reasons behind our actions and the goals toward which they tend. That means taking time to reflect on what we are about, on our convictions and on our relationships with God, with one another and with all of creation. It means paying attention to the deepest longings of our hearts. Longings which St. Augustine tells us are not for things, for positions or for recognition, but for communion with God and with all creation.
As we participate mindfully in our life choices and activities, we will recognize the call to communion is moved to be generous. We learn that we become ourselves only by giving fully and honestly of ourselves. We find that our closest personal relationships also grow deeper when our love for one another spills over in shared love for others. Many Ambrosians have taken part in service projects. Almost inevitably, students who return from those experiences attest that they found new or deeper friendships while working side by side. Families, too, can find that their relationships with one another are strengthened when together they reach out to share their love, their time and their gifts with others, especially with those whose need is clear to them.
We sometimes hear a great deal about burnout associated with the attempt to give fully of oneself. That message can create a kind of fear in us that if we give too much, we will have nothing left. But Pope Francis calls that fear a source of temptation. He teaches that the best protection against burnout is not holding something back for ourselves, but learning to be constantly nourished by the hope that calls us forward even when we can’t see the results of our efforts. That hope is grounded in the utter generosity of the Creator, in the intimate involvement of God with the reality of our everyday lives, and in the urgency with which God desires to share with us the divine life itself.
As we strive to meet the needs of those around us through generous self-gift, we develop a vision of the world as it ought to be. We are moved to become advocates for justice so that the gifts, the responsibilities and the rights of all may be recognized. One need not look far or listen long to be reminded of the urgent need for justice advocates in our world today. Economic, social, political and family systems need to be re-examined and re-ordered to the common good. That means not just trying to benefit as many as possible, but insisting that everyone’s needs are to be met and that those with the fewest resources receive the most attention and assistance.
St. Ambrose University has a long history of advocating for justice. Students, staff and faculty have stood for the rights of workers, for civil rights, for fair housing, for peace rather than war and for a right relationship with our environment. Working for justice is not a matter of making life better for some people. The Catholic Church shares with other religious communities the conviction that a world without justice is a world in which no one can truly live well.
Whatever new or continuing passage you are undertaking at this time. I wish for you the joy that comes from a lived commitment to be mindful, to be generous, and to be advocates for justice.
(Corinne Winter is a professor-emeritus of St. Ambrose University, Davenport.)