John C Dwyer, my major Theology Professor for my BA and MA work, died Saturday afternoon (02.January) after a long struggle with Parkinson's. I have never had a finer teacher nor, in many ways, known a finer man. He was also probably the best homilist I have ever heard. It was in his homilies especially that theological content, personal passion (a function of his faith), and the compassion of God in Christ came together in a particularly powerful way.
It was John who first taught me Pauline Theology and especially the Theologies of the Cross of both Paul and Mark. More, John introduced me to the systematic theology of Paul Tillich and in these ways and so many others provided both the biblical and philosophical foundation for everything else I have done either theologically or in spirituality. There is simply not a day that goes by that I do not draw on something John taught, a phrase he regularly used, a question he challenged me to grapple with on my own --- or an example he set. Especially, it was John's insistence that all Theology had to be pastoral, all theology had to be apologetic or "answering" theology in the truest sense (that is, in the sense of the Cross of Christ) that is his lasting legacy to me. It was John who reminded us "budding theologians" that, "Unless your theology can adequately grapple with and address the questions raised by the holocaust [i.e., the very worst human beings can and do visit on one another along with how God in the Christ Event supplies the answers to such inhumanity] it is unworthy of the name."
John had been a Jesuit and did graduate work in Theology at Fordham and a year in Strasbourg followed by Doctoral work at Tübingen University under Hans Küng and Jürgen Moltmann. He received his PhD in 1971. Thereafter, he taught Theology at St Mary's College (CA) in both BA and MA programs, at the SAT program of the GTU's Jesuit School, and at St Bernard's Institute (Graduate School of Theology and Ministry) in the Diocese of Albany, NY. Many religious, priests, deacons and laity had their theological educations given both new life and intellectual and spiritual rigor through their work under John. All were touched by his integrity, humanity, caring, and humor --- as well as by his brilliance and the breadth and depth of both his knowledge and faith. His wife Odile (whom John adored!) was (and remains) as much a part of the life of many of John's students as John was.
I wanted to include a passage from one of John's books, one of my favorites (both the book and the passage!). I think it is the heart of the Christian truth he entrusted himself to and hoped his students would come to understand and make the center of their own faith and theological work. Here John is writing about the fact that on the cross is the one whom the eternal God has sought as his counterpart forever, one who is constituted as human precisely in his dialogue with God. At the same time he is reflecting on what we mean when we identify God as Emmanuel --- God with us. In speaking about the salvific effect of this dialogue, especially as it reaches fullness on the cross, he says,
[[Through Jesus, the broken being of the world enters the personal life of the everlasting God, and this God shares in the broken being of the world. God is eternally committed to this world, and this commitment becomes full and final in his personal presence within this weak and broken man on the cross. In him the eternal one takes our destiny upon himself --- a destiny of estrangement, separation, meaninglessness, and despair. But at this moment the emptiness and alienation that mar and mark the human situation become once and for all, in time and eternity, the ways of God. God is with this broken man in suffering and in failure, in darkness and at the edge of despair, and for this reason suffering and failure, darkness and hopelessness will never again be signs of the separation of man from God. God identifies himself with the man on the cross, and for this reason everything we think of as manifesting the absence of God will, for the rest of time, be capable of manifesting his presence --- up to and including death itself.]]
[[Jesus is rejected and his mission fails, but God participates in this failure, so that failure itself can become a vehicle of his presence, his being here for us. Jesus is weak, but his weakness is God's own, and so weakness itself can be something to glory in. Jesus' death exposes the weakness and insecurity of our situation, but God made them his own; at the end of the road, where abandonment is total and all the props are gone, he is there. At the moment when an abyss yawns beneath the shaken foundations of the world and self, God is there in the depths, and the abyss becomes a ground. Because God was in this broken man who died on the cross, although our hold on existence is fragile, and although we walk in the shadow of death all the days of our lives, and although we live under the spell of a nameless dread against which we can do nothing, the message of the cross is good news indeed: rejoice in your fragility and weakness; rejoice even in that nameless dread because God has been there and nothing can separate you from him. It has all been conquered, not by any power in the world or in yourself, but by God. When God takes death into himself it means not the end of God but the end of death.]] Dwyer, John C., Son of Man Son of God, a New Language for Faith, p 182-183.
John Dwyer no longer walks in the shadow of death. For him death has both come and been defeated and entirely transfigured in Christ. The dialogue with God that so clearly characterized his entire adult life is continued in a new way in the very heart of the God who has taken John into himself. Like many I grieve his death, but even more I (we!) celebrate a life spent revealing an infinitely loving God in both strength and weakness, wholeness and brokenness, vigor and diminishment. Especially, we each and all celebrate a marvelously gracious God and John's eternal life with(in) him whom John loves and even yet serves so well.
Addendum: Mass of Resurrection and Memorial Masses in New York and California
Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 11 am at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, 125 Eagle Street, Albany, New York.
A Memorial Mass will be celebrated Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 2:00 pm at the St Mary's College Chapel, Moraga, CA.