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Summer 2022 Stories

Fall 2022 explore Journal

Seeking Understanding and Solidarity

Leading with Compassion

Solidarity and Common Good

That Meritorious Title of Colleague

Integrating the Catholic Intellectual Tradition into Graphic Design Courses and Scholarship

The Practice of Equality

Holding On and Changing the Tradition

Catholicity and Confusion

An Easter Solidarity Reflection

An Easter Solidarity Reflection

Alison M. Benders

Alison Benders (square)

By Alison M. Benders

Vice President of Mission and Ministry Division at Santa Clara University

An Easter Solidarity Reflection

The present volume of short essays collects the thoughts of faculty members at SCU after a seminar discussing how they find meaning as they explore the Catholic intellectual tradition and the solidarity it espouses. Some members of the group are Catholics, some are not.  Some are deepening their encounter, while for others this is a new venture into a centuries-old archive of wisdom. Each essay shares a glimpse into the possibilities of hope from the writer’s particular discipline. As the inaugural vice president for Mission and Ministry here, I also have  some reflections about what the Catholic intellectual tradition can offer the world in turbulent times. I write from my own academic discipline of systematic theology, as one who professes the Catholic-Christian faith, and as a person who looks with a Catholic worldview to find God’s grace  and hope in daily life. I join with my colleagues in this collection because the faith grounding SCU offers a capacious and hopeful worldview to everyone, regardless of whether faculty, staff, and students take this path or another to find a sustaining hope in solidarity.

As I pondered my contribution to this volume, Easter triduum incense and chants filled my heart: “Let there be light! Let the world be created anew in the promise of Christ’s resurrection!” The SCU campus celebration blended seamlessly into my own family’s Easter joy, as we reconnected with each other to recall Easter dresses on bright spring mornings long past. “Happy Easter” photos and texts greeted me from Milan, Italy, to Tidewater Virginia, from the Midwestern cities in Ohio and Indiana to the sun-saturated communities in the San Francisco Bay. As joy-filled as these moments have been, Easter hope this year sometimes felt naïve or even false against our backdrop of human grief and worldwide calamity. Covid deaths in the United States have surpassed one million, with debilitating illness infecting millions more families and communities. We multiply this by similar catastrophic pandemic losses in nations across the globe. The dead and displaced due to Putin’s war in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, even in Russia, cannot yet be counted; we are witnessing an unfathomable human tragedy unfolding relentlessly in Ukraine day after day. Global warming with accompanying violent weather and shortages of food and basic goods cause human suffering that seems to signal the end of days.

Easter celebrations challenge me to find hope in the  proclamations of our faith. For me, as for others  who have written for this volume, hope resides in  solidarity, particularly Easter solidarity that the  resurrection proclaims.

Hope clothed in solidarity offers healing particularly now. The question of what hope our tradition can offer is pressing in the Catholic universities as people of all identities bring their gifts to campus. Because of the changing demographics on campuses and the evolving visions of higher  education, fewer and fewer people at this university have any grounding in the Catholic intellectual tradition. This creates the opportunity for us to explore anew the meaning of the Catholic faith, as in this seminar, so that its symbols can unite us in our shared educational mission. 

The contributors have together identified solidarity as the pivotal point for their reflections here, and rightly so. Solidarity lived in community is  both a hopeful path for these times and a powerful way to understand the Catholic worldview. Here is the connection: the resurrection is the heart and core of our faith, and the meaning of resurrection is solidarity. Easter solidarity is living as one united community, together in Christ, as people for and with others.

Among the innumerable ways to grasp the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, let me offer the lens of gift. When we are people for and with others, when we are a community committed to solidarity, the notions of gift and generosity must shape our relationships. Creation is God’s first and continuing gift to us. The universe is more than a static stage for our activities; it is rather a living, evolving expression of God’s very self. The opening verses of Genesis testify to the breath of life that stirs the abyss, and of God’s breath that enlivens the human creature.  We experience God’s life in and through creation, particularly in other human beings who are ‘in the  image of God.’ At our best, we enflesh God through generosity, freely giving of ourselves to support other  people’s flourishing. Generosity takes the form, for example, of love between partners and friends; of families that nurture children into their full potential; of visionary teachers and educators; and of dedicated  care-givers and leaders who plant seeds for a future “not their own.” According to the Catholic and Christian worldview, God’s generous solidarity with humanity continues beyond creation. Through the lens of  loving gift, the incarnation signifies Jesus as God-with-us. Thus, the doctrinal expression of Jesus as “fully human” means God lives in full solidarity with humanity, freely united with all the dimensions of our human lives. At the same time, the Gospels narrate how Jesus manifests God’s continuous gift of life to the world in his words and deeds:

  • abundant food for hungry crowds
  • forgiveness for lepers, women caught and unjustly condemned, and tax collectors who grasped a new vision of power
  • arms opened and outstretched on the horizon between earth and heaven in a universal gesture of welcome and reconciliation
  • in Jesus’ oft repeated words, “Live in my love. Love one another as I have loved you.” 

We use many words to describe Jesus’ central quality, words such as compassion, mercy, or forgiveness. Together, these encapsulate the  abundance that generosity inevitably fosters. To hoard one’s treasures and resources denies the divine source of all good things in creation. In contrast, gifts by definition spring from a desire for the well-being of others, not as obligation but as outflowing love. Gifts multiply in being passed on and paid forward in hope of future fruits. Human communities thrive when we actively understand our lives together through a lens of gift in an economy of generosity.

The consummate Catholic understanding of God’s unending gift of life and love is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection the world becomes turned inside out so that in the Risen Christ we experience the unbreakable solidarity that binds human life with God’s life. As the New  Testament epistles testify, through the resurrection, God recreates all things by inaugurating one life for all of us in Christ. We are united as one body, one being, in Christ. 

Experience of community teaches us how true our solidarity is. The truth is evident in the way we yearn to connect with other people. We know human solidarity is real when we acknowledge that we grow into our humanity through our relationships with others, from parents, to partners, to colleagues and even when we encounter those who challenge and dismay us. Dorothy Day observed the profound power of relationships for and with others to heal human heartache and division: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”1 Love is never forced; love for one another is always a freely offered gift.

It is counter cultural to establish human communities on the deeply human practices of gift and solidarity. With the rise of Western civilization, came the perfection of objectification, the power of  transactional reason to divide, delineate, evaluate and exchange quid pro quo. Unfortunately, there’s a deficit in this approach. When we engage the world only through delineation and deconstruction, we risk losing the meaning of the whole. In particular, we jeopardize experiencing the breathtaking and generous exchanges between human beings that make life in community possible. We might say that dissecting life to understand it kills it—making it  literally impossible to grasp its vital meaning. An outcome of these practices is often that all things are  measured and valued for their pieces and parts. This kind of thinking places a price on human identities and human worth. Transactional exchanges define our contemporary worldview; ideas of gift and  generosity seem to have no place in our zero-sum relationships.  

Catholic teaching on creation, incarnation, and especially resurrection testifies to a deeper reality. The essence of God is generosity, which we experience as mercy and love. Through God’s gift of life, whom we name Jesus, human beings become united. God’s gift to us is precisely the unanticipated gift of solidarity— to live as one. We practice solidarity not by counting and weighing, but by living with generosity and a magnanimous spirit. Generosity breeds more generosity in a virtuous, life-giving cycle. Right now, when it seems we face contraction and conflict everywhere in the world, we will survive and flourish only when we live in solidarity for and with others. 

In closing, I think again of Santa Clara University as Catholic and Jesuit. In the University’s vision to develop “citizens and leaders of competence,  conscience, and compassion,” the Catholic faith provides the foundation for our shared mission. Because we are Catholic, we seek solidarity for  and with others. SCU’s mission invites us here— intimately and immediately—to find the gift of God’s life in all we do. The generous practice of human solidarity demands competence in our knowing and thinking. The practice of solidarity entails the practice of conscience through which we work for the good of the whole community. And finally, the practice of solidarity calls us to have compassion for one another, for ourselves, and with our God. These values are enduring gifts of the Catholic intellectual tradition and real fruits of the Catholic faith. They are multiplied when we live into an Easter solidarity for and with others.

Alison M. Benders is vice president for the division of mission and ministry at Santa Clara University. Prior to this role, she served for seven years as the associate dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at SCU, where her teaching and writing focused on racial justice and reconciliation. Next month Liturgical Press will release her book: America’s Original Sin: a pilgrimage of race and grace, which is a reflective immersion into our nation’s history of racial injustice through personal and theological lenses.

1 Day, Dorothy. “The Final Word is Love,” The Catholic Worker, May 1980, 4, accessed July 29, 2022 Excerpt taken from Day, Dorothy. The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981. Print.