Lay leader and campus minister Maria Siebels gives us a message of hope amidst recent events during the first communal prayer of the new semester at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.
Welcome. Welcome first-year students, returning students, welcome to our continuous students- our faculty and staff who live in this place of learning. Welcome back and welcome home.
I am so encouraged by the vast range of peoples from every walk of life gathered today. We have single young men and women fresh out of undergraduate studies – eager to cram their noses into Sacrosanctum Concilium for the first of many times here at the School of Theology, clergy members from across the globe, married husbands and wives, seekers coming to get second or third degrees; we have families, monks, sisters, nuns, and a whole host of blessed people gathered together here in this sacred space of learning. It is a gift to come together weekly as a community to pray, share, and greet one another with peace and unity.
We read today in Isaiah of a leader who brings about the ultimate peace and unity. A leader who rules with a spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Isaiah prophesized this leader would cast out the wicked and wear justice as a band around their waist and faithfulness a belt upon their hips—now correct me if I am wrong but I do not believe student government has added bands or belts of justice and faithfulness to their uniforms yet, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.
What a comfort it is to know we as Christians stand together confidently and say amen, alleluia in Christ Jesus the perfecter of our faith, who overflows with love, compassion, and mercy – while remaining our steadfast beacon of justice.
Now, when I was first asked to reflect on this prophecy, I had a good idea of where I wanted to go from here. I was going to say that while we are not cows or bears nor wolves or lambs, we are all from different backgrounds and we ought to strive for unity with each other and I am sure it would have been lovely.
But that was before last week – before I read the horror stories of sexual assault that came out of Pennsylvania. Like many of you I was sickened, I was angry, I felt helpless, and enraged at my church. I wanted to storm the streets, I wanted to hide in my room, I wanted to scream at someone and I wanted to hold the hurting. And to be honest… I still want to.
To quote Francis in his most recent letter to the People of God-
“we showed no care for the little ones- we abandoned them”
In these moments of anguish, we look to Jesus and say why? and we say how? and we say where?
Where is the leader Isaiah spoke of that will come to life in our church today? A leader who refuses replace love with power, a leader who lives in the spirit of wisdom and counsel, who puts the wicked in their place, who strikes the ruthless with the rod of their mouth? Because we are desperate and searching for such wisdom and strength in this time of hurt and brokenness.
So, I searched for such a hero for our times; and then I realized where I was. I am in a school of theology and seminary commissioned for the Lord’s service.
We are the future leaders of this church, brothers and sisters. Our baptism gives us the duty of being priests, prophets and kings on this earth for the goodness and proclamation of the kingdom of God. Why can’t it be us? Why can’t it be the sister from China, the priest from Nigeria, the liturgist from Northern Minnesota? We have a duty and obligation to ensure that this atrocity never happens again to our children and most vulnerable. Francis said; “Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.”
The time of peace Isaiah speaks about is possible, my friends – where children can be free from the fear of evil vipers in their midst, but we are not there yet. Because we still have the vital work to do here—in our classrooms, in our practicums, in our CPE’s, board meetings, over coffees, and on walks to Stella Maris Chapel. We have hope in our Benedictine Values to ground us, in the new and bright ideas crossing this threshold of knowledge every day, and hope rooted in some of the best theological minds Saint John’s University offers in its faculty, all working together to build up our church and to make this a home we would be proud to pass on to the next generation.
Let us start this year, together, unafraid of the future-running fearlessly into our studies and ministry. Let us follow Christ’s perfect example of unity and peace and allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit to come and enliven this Saint John’s community, as Isaiah promised, our land can be filled with the knowledge of the Lord—as waters cover the sea.
Maria Siebels is Master of Theological Studies Systematics candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary and Director of Retreats at SJU Campus Ministry.