Updates, writings and thoughts from our rector, Fr. Russ McDougall, C.S.C.
On This Mountain: Christmas Message 2017
Published December 24th 2017
This year, at the threshold of Christmas, many of us feel a profound sense of disquiet. A profoundly ignorant man, one who may also suffer from mental illness, leads the nation that for most of the twentieth century had worked assiduously to knit the nations of the world together in a fabric of mutually beneficial relationships, but now embraces a rhetoric that places “America first.” A narrower vision of English nationalism has led voters in the UK to opt out of the European Union. Catalunya is divided between those who desire greater self-determination and those who want to preserve the region’s ties to Spain and to Europe. The wider political landscape of Europe and North America is also being re-shaped by tectonic forces of white grievance in ways that have yet to become clear.
From our perch at Tantur on a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, local developments also give us cause for unease. The US leader’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without a clear accompanying statement that this city holy to men and women of three faiths might also serve as capital for a Palestinian state, unleashed an outpouring of sentiment from many Israelis and Palestinians that Jerusalem is “ours”. That zero-sum thinking has long been reflected in the maps local folk draw of their land, according to which all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is “Israel” for some, and “Palestine” for others. Is it one or the other? Might it somehow be both?
Scot or Briton? Catalan, Basque or Spanish? Tibetan, Uyghur, or Chinese? A fundamental question we face today is how to make possible the kind of local self-determination men and women all over the world so clearly desire, in a way that also recognizes that we live within a larger network of relationships in which the actions of one inevitably affect the many.
During Advent, the period of preparation for Christmas, Christians reflect on the prophecies of Isaiah, who envisioned a future in which the “wolf lives with the lamb, the leopard lies down with the kid, and the calf, the lion and the fatling dwell together, with a little child to lead them” (Is 11:6). The prophet envisioned the possibility that wise leadership could find a way to navigate through competing local interests to achieve genuine peace—that is, the well-being of all:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines… And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever” (Is 25:6-7).
Casting our eyes around the globe at the leadership local polities, large and small, have chosen for themselves—whether Trump or Putin; Duterte or Maduro; Erdogan, Netanyahu, or Abbas —we have little reason for optimism that the wise leadership Isaiah envisioned will emerge from the current generation of political leaders. But as people of faith, we’re invited to remain steadfast in hope.
We’re invited to pray, in the words of the Advent collect: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us, and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.”
We’re also invited to act. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Prepare, [even] in the wilderness, the way of the Lord; make straight, [even] in the desert, a highway for our God” (Is 40:3). We can and should pray for the Almighty to send us a Churchill or a Roosevelt, a Gandhi or a Mandela, to lead us through the wilderness we are presently traversing. We also need to join together, both in the areas in which we live and beyond our local communities, in doing the “grunt work” necessary to pave the way for the emergence of local communities and global networks that are rooted in just relationships.
May this year’s Christmas celebration be a source of grace and blessing for Christian communities all over the world, spurring them on to follow the example of that little Child who offered his life to bring lion and lamb together. And may disciples of Jesus join together with all people of faith to work for the realization of that vision Isaiah was given so many centuries ago.
Pentecost in Jerusalem: Realities and Aspirations
Published May 29th, 2015
The season of Pentecost is upon us! Last Sunday for Western Christians, this coming Sunday for most Christians here in the Holy Land and for Orthodox Christians around the world, the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit received by the first disciples of Jesus, the gift that healed the confusion of languages at Babel, uniting men and women of different races and tongues in the praise of God.
Here in this holy city, our reality to all appearances is still the reality of Babel, divided and confused. But at Pentecost we recall that the Spirit of God is at work even now, overcoming divisions and bringing men and women together in mutual understanding. As we celebrate this great feast that brings the Church to life, let us pray for a greater openness to the Spirit’s gifts, in our own hearts, and in the hearts of all peoples.
Reflections on the Canonization of the Armenian Martyrs
Published April 27th, 2015
As the Israeli celebration of Independence Day drew to a close this past Thursday evening, April 23rd, services began here in Jerusalem to commemorate the hundredth centenary of the Armenian genocide that was carried out in what is now Turkey in the period from 1915 to 1923, and to give thanks for the canonization of those who died.
At 18:15, just after the canonization ceremony at Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia had concluded, church bells in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land tolled one hundred times in remembrance of those who were killed, and who are now honored as martyrs. Following the tolling of the bells, Armenian seminarians sang the Sanctus and the Lord's Prayer before those gathered in St. James Cathedral here in Jerusalem. Then, holding torches, we processed together to the Church of St. Gregory in Emek Refa'im where a choir composed of Israelis and men and women of other nationalities sang psalms and other hymns in Hebrew.
On Friday afternoon, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the Church of the Resurrection), the Armenian, Greek and Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem presided at an ecumenical prayer service to honor those who had been proclaimed martyrs the previous day. It was moving to be part of this vesper service that united all the Christians of Jerusalem in remembrance and prayer.
Though many, including Pope (now St.) John Paul II and Pope Francis, have referred to the massacre of Armenians that took place as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated as “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” many countries, including the U.S. and Israel, have been reluctant to use the “g-word” for fear of offending Turkey, an important ally. Prominent Turks who have acknowledged the genocide have faced criminal charges for “insulting Turkishness.”
Reconciliation between Turks and Armenians—as well as between Turks and Assyrians and Greeks, who were also massacred in large numbers—will become possible only when the Turkish people and their government acknowledge this dark period in their history. As the experience of Germans and Israelis, and of black and white South Africans, has shown, when guilt is acknowledged, a path toward reconciliation is opened.
May the prayers of the Armenian martyrs help to bring such reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples closer.
His Good Deeds Go With Him
Rev. Ted Hesburgh, "The Father of Tantur," May 25th, 1917 - February 26th, 2015
On March 4th the Notre Dame community gathered in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to give thanks for the life of Fr. Ted Hesburgh, president of the university for 35 years, from 1952 to 1987. The community here at Tantur has special reason to be thankful for his remarkable life. Though Pope Paul, Patriarch Athenagoras, Archbishop Michael Ramsey and other church leaders offered the vision for what they hoped Tantur might become, it was Fr. Ted’s energy that helped nurture the vision to life. Through the network of relationships he cultivated, he was able to gather the financial and human resources that enabled Tantur’s doors to open in 1972.
Fr. Ted would often say that he wanted the University of Notre Dame to be the place where the Church did its thinking. And he hoped Tantur would be the place where the Churches came together to think through together the hard questions we face on the road toward closer communion with one another.
We still have a long way to go. There are important ethical and theological questions, as well as questions of church discipline and order, that cause divisions both among and within the Churches. Fr. Ted’s hope, and our continuing hope, is that the scholars and pastors and laypeople who form the Tantur community might help Christians to offer a thoughtful response to the difficult questions that have led to divisions between us, and between the Christian Churches and men and women of other faiths.
Here at Tantur we join with the Notre Dame community and with men and women around the world in giving thanks to God for Fr. Ted’s remarkable life. His good deeds go with him, and bless us still. May God embrace him in love that knows no end.
Fr. Russ McDougall's statement can also be viewed at Tantur's Youtube Channel.