14 April 2019

First Bible Study Series Concludes: What's Next?

Deo Gratias! Last Wednesday evening I finished the final  meeting of the series on the Parables of Jesus. I am feeling both exhilarated and a bit exhausted, but more than anything I am feeling grateful to God for sustaining this project and for moving me to take it on! One of the more surprising findings from these last nine weeks (we took one week off on Ash Wednesday) was how well this particular activity meshed with my eremitical life.

I wrote about this earlier; I noted that far from detracting from my eremitical vocation it underscored, nourished, and inspired it. I have known for a long time that teaching is one of the best ways to learn (writing is another!). Neither have I been slack in reading Scripture as a central formative pillar of my own vocation. Even so, the chance to teach a few of the parables, to sit with others who share their own readings of these texts, who spend time together in silent lectio or just discussing different "takes" and conclusions and struggling with stories that have the power to do justice in an unjust world has been incredibly formative for me. And of course it reminds me of the third "good" or pillar of Camaldolese life, viz, evangelization and a painting by Brother Emmanuel O'Herlihy, OSB of this dimension of Camaldolese life; it shows two Camaldolese monks, sharing the Scriptures.

On Wednesday morning, as we worked through the very difficult parable of the "shrewd manager (steward)", one person sat back after I had suggested one reading or conclusion re the steward and said softly: "Oh, I don't know about that, I don't know about that." She was thoughtful, doubtful, uncomfortable, and honest. Then, a while later, she was speaking again when she stopped, looked like she had just realized something, and then said, "Is it like this? If it is then (gesturing with her hands) it turns everything upside down!" And then she commented on the sense it made of things. She was more than a little stunned by what she had seen.

And what she had seen was precisely the way Jesus' parables work to orient, disorient, and then finally to reorient us to the Kingdom of God! It was an incredible moment for me as I watched happen the very thing I had taught and hoped for for each person in the group!  Others in the group realized exactly what had happened --- for they had had similar moments, though not as public perhaps! It was SO gratifying for me, but not for myself so much as for the parables of Jesus  --- for the power of the word of God and my strong sense that even if I sometimes felt unprepared to teach this effectively, the parables themselves would carry the day!

And so we are planning a second series of Bible Study at St Perpetua's Catholic Community to be completed before Summer arrives. The topic selected after input from both the morning and evening groups is, "The Sermon on the Mount" focusing especially on the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. In particular we will approach the Beatitudes from the perspective of virtue ethics, an approach to Moral theology which is significant in the contemporary Church --- just as it was important in the ethics of the Church Fathers.

For a long time the Beatitudes were seen as law and taught as impossible for most people to live. Some taught they were Evangelical counsels suitable only for religious or priests but not for the laity as a whole. Others (Luther, for instance) taught they were so impossible for anyone they were meant merely to convict people of their incapacity so they would then throw themselves on the mercy of God --- a variation on what St Paul taught about the Law (Ten Commandments, Torah). But virtue ethics are a piece of allowing Christians to take the Beatitudes seriously as a people graced by God and grow in the virtues (habits of heart, attitudes toward life and reality) which mark disciples of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, the Lord's Prayer, the very heart of the Sermon, is another key to understanding the nature of human happiness and wholeness or completion spelled out in the sermon; it is a model or paradigm of all authentic prayer which itself is the heart of authentic human life. It should be an incredibly nourishing and challenging series!

The tentative dates for this next series will be 15. May - the end of June (26th or 27th) and once again, there will be eight meetings, one on Wednesday mornings and one in the evening (possibly on Thursday). (More on this soon!) As with the series on Jesus' parables, folks will be able to choose to come either time and mix and match as their schedules require.)