Annual Franciscan Conference 2017
Adams Mark Hotel
June 16-18, 2017
Theme: “Bonaventure’s Journey into God: Franciscan Inspiration for the 21st Century”
The Presidential Address:
Kathie Uhler, OSF
52nd Annual Franciscan Conference
Adams Mark Hotel, Buffalo, NY
June 16, 2017
How to open a conference on Saint Bonaventure’s “Itinerarium”, knowing that our speakers: André Cirino, Josef Raischel and Joanne Schatzlein, will lead us carefully and even “sense-ably” around and into deep theological and philosophical waters?
I recall entering a private Easter retreat at our Ritiro in Allegany many years ago, coming directly from a semester break at St. Bonaventure University, where I was teaching in the Philosophy Department. With gusto I delved into my personal retreat text: “The Triple Way” of St. Bonaventure. But truly, by day three, I was on the brink of a physical and mental collapse! “The Triple Way” overwhelmed me: I couldn’t get my head around it, nor did I even have the requisite physical energy to tackle this dense text with the deceptively simple name. It was hubris on my part to attempt such a thing, but I didn’t know it then.
And so it is with hard-won humility that I sit at the feet of our keynoters and with great respect await their tutelage.
Perhaps what I can offer at the start of our journey are some reflections on a sort of obliquely-related concept that is more within my comfort zone: the idea of a tool that one might use to a very helpful extent as we move through the weekend. The tool is democratized mysticism. Or democratic mysticism, without any political spin. This is a term I distilled from a book by Dorothee Soelle titled, “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance.”
Why this tool? Because of the mystical nature of Bonaventure’s message. To appreciate best what he has to say through our speakers, one should be a mystic. But, can we will to be mystics? Isn’t there a special grace for that?
One day a hundred years ago when I was a postulant, I worked up my courage to share a secret about myself with the postulant mistress (Sr. Regina Catherine). I said to her, “I think I’m a mystic.” She replied, “Everyone is a mystic.” I was taken aback in a way since being a mystic was no longer something special, if indeed what she said was true. She didn’t explain but today I would say that Regina was democratizing mysticism. She saw it as inherent in each human being, more-or-less actualized. And she led me then to experience the “humility of equals”.
What are the signs that we are tuned in mystically? For many of us, I would dare say, the call to religious life was a mystical sign and experience. For some the call came in third grade, or during a retreat as a sophomore in high school; for some the call was muted and more like a push into the life that became clearer over time. But the Blessed Assurance was always there, somehow, entrancing us. Some have claimed to have had only one mystical experience in their lives, but this was enough to hold them to the end.
Here are three other signs, among many others, of the mysticism of everydayness, banal but dynamic:
- Buddhistic attentiveness or mindfulness that enables engagement in the pure now without distraction.
- Then, being alert, in the now, to mystery: to the unexplained power engulfing us that a word or fragrance, or a déjà vu, may conjure up in us. Have you ever thought, “When I caught the scent of her perfume, I was transported back to a time long ago and I started to cry.” Recently in my own life I remarked to several people, “I have heard Second Corinthians [9: 6-15] many times but never did it strike me as it did in this Golden Jubilee celebration.” In the mystical way a veil is dropped revealing a truth and a world that were always there.
- Being alert to contradictions is the third sign. Contradictions are not all bad: Engaged observers “get” that many are one, that everything is connected, that the loss of a species of animal is the loss of a presence of God in creation. That, as in Psalm 84, God is our sun and shield, both at the same time. Mystically alert, we can understand how a good and its opposite can fuse or synthesize into something else, into a new creation on a higher plane: the Hegelian dialectic. I think we know this synthesis from the Paschal Mystery as a template of our Christian faith: life, death and resurrection.
Democratized mysticism is a tool whereby we can live the humility of equality. We can let go of the need for affirmation of the ego and, as Thomas Merton said to a young Jim Forest, “… become more open to the power that will work through us without our knowing it.”
And this brings me to the sub-text of our keynote presentations: inspiration for the 21st century. Mysticism is not an end-in-itself. The blessed certitude of one’s vocation leads, directs and sustains the action and meaning for a lifetime. Specifically, allowing now for a political spin, if you will, the action includes the “No” of resistance to a culture of death and a “Yes” to a sense of what is justice and right charity. The emotion of this, in the sense self-righteous knowledge, is channeled into service and then true peace in rest.
I think the mystical approach can enable us to come to grips with the contradictions we hear in the evening news. This approach can give us the ability to encounter black and white thinking. This is not an easy dialogue. It is incremental but in keeping with our goal, as Bonaventure calls it – the reconciliation of opposites. We are not just interdependent as dialogue partners but we are mutually dependent. And this is so like St. Francis’ Canticle that’s all about the fraternal equality of all creatures.
From the mystical knowing that everything is connected and in honor of the Octave of Trinity Sunday, we can sit in adoration of the One in Three, the Divine Love Triangle. This is the Triple Way for us to travel in the next three days.
Through the lens of democratized mysticism, like those glasses we’re given to view 3-D movies, let’s observe the wedding of contradictory notions in the beauty that is the Bonaventurian literary latticework. Expect illogic as we enter into the darkness with our presenters.
Relax! Let’s enjoy the trip!