A Reflection on Fr. Howard Gray’s Sacred Lecture, “A Life Wound By Mercy”
November 16, 2017
As a Lutheran, I’ve had the unusual job of representing Catholic positions related to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for the past 17 years. My wife and I attend Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gaithersburg, MD and are raising our kids in the Lutheran tradition. I was initially introduced to the study of religion as an undergraduate at a historically secular state school in Pennsylvania. Later, as a graduate student, I was exposed to a curriculum and campus culture with a strong focus on religious identity at a prominent Catholic institution.
Last month I had the privilege of attending Fr. Howard Gray, S.J.’s Sacred Lecture in Dahlgren Chapel. Listening to Fr. Gray speak on “A Life Wound By Mercy,” it occurred to me that Georgetown is a unique bridge between what are often two opposing college campus cultures, that is, religious verses secular.
Typically, a college or university falls into one category or another, and is principally defined as either a religious institution or a secular institution. Georgetown is exceptional in this regard in that it boldly chooses both identities. A minority of higher education institutions have the privilege of being recognized, as Georgetown is, as a premier university that also maintains a firm commitment to a particular religious heritage. In this sense, Georgetown functions as a microcosm of the world for which it is preparing its students. There is diversity of thought and expression. One encounters views that would be expected at a Catholic institution, as well as a variety of other views which might not be expected. But that’s the point. Georgetown fully embraces the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that we are to be “church in the world.” While Georgetown does not shy away from exposing students to non-Catholic culture, the heart, and unique strength, is located in its Catholic and Jesuit identity. This was made evident to me during the course of Fr. Gray’s lecture.
The Sacred Lecture series continues an early Jesuit practice intended to bridge the gap between a homily heard at Mass, and a strictly academic or theological lecture. A Sacred Lecture is intended to be something more along the lines of theological education for adults. Fr. Gray gave a well-structured and thoughtful talk using the Book of Jonah to illustrate God’s mercy in relation to humankind (mercy is on God’s terms, not ours, but we must be open to receive it). Early on, he brought attention to the homograph in the lecture’s title, that is, “wound” verses “wound.” He stated that in order to be “wound by mercy,” we must first recognize that we are “wounded.” This act of humility is essential in that it allows us to be wound by God’s mercy, and thus the healing process begins. Fr. Gray also touched upon a very practical tool of the spiritual life which is integral to the Ignatian tradition, that of being attentive to one’s connection with the scriptures, and thus, in a sense, listening for God. Further, Fr. Gray emphasized the importance of awareness when one senses a connection with scripture, and taking the time to appreciate those moments before reading further.
As I was listening, I was struck by the fact that this lecture was taking place on a university campus, and particularly at an institution which is held in high regard by secular culture. The presentation illuminated the core of Christian belief with its emphasis on lived, not simply intellectual, connection to Biblical scriptures. One did not need to be Catholic in order to benefit from and appreciate the message. Further, with our campus Muslim chaplain (who asked questions) and Hindu chaplain in attendance, it was clear that the talk was beneficial to others than Christians as well. From my perspective, this willingness of our institution to present a public lecture on campus from an unapologetically Catholic and Ignatian viewpoint, which speaks to all, is a real gem and a part of our campus culture to be celebrated. If students, faculty and staff are open and willing to look, all can benefit greatly from both the known reputation of academic excellence as well as rich spiritual teachings from our Jesuit Community.