Sacred Texts as Mirror and Medicine: Introduction to Spring 2013 explore

by Michael C. McCarthy, S.J. ’87 |

In the ancient Christian tradition, Scripture was characterized as both mirror and medicine. Thinkers such as Athanasius of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo would urge their fellow Christians to see themselves in passages of the Bible, to make their own the story they read about and to recognize that it was, after all, their family story.

But Scripture was not just a mirror; it
 was medicine too. If one looked long enough or deeply enough, Scripture had the power
to transform us the way we needed. It could heal us. For instance, if anxious, we would be soothed to trust by the words “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And the examples of so many people in the “great cloud of witnesses” could encourage us with their lives. David provided an example of repentance when he sinned; Mary a model of trust and courage; Jesus an effective sign of generosity and God’s self-giving love to us.

This year, the Santa Clara University community has witnessed amazing energy around the 2012-13 Bannan Institute on “Sacred Texts in the Public Sphere.” Literally thousands of people, both from the University community and beyond, have gathered to reflect on how sacred texts of multiple traditions move us, change us, inspire us, even trouble us.

This current issue of explore is a testimony to the power of sacred texts to serve as both mirror and medicine. As mirror, they reflect tremendous qualities of our community; as medicine they draw us closer to divine qualities to which we, as a community, aspire—such as kindness, justice, fidelity, and love. In his essay on God’s command to Abraham to leave his country, beloved English Professor Jeffrey Zorn ponders the journey
from an all-Jewish upbringing in the Roxbury- Dorchester neighborhood in Boston to a long and fruitful career at a Jesuit, Catholic university. In an article co-authored by two Jewish and Baptist colleagues in the SCU Law School, Stephanie Wildman and Deborah Moss-West explain how God’s commands in Leviticus and Deuteronomy inspire their work: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Our distinguished graduate Maggi Van Dorn ’08 explores mystical texts from a range of religious traditions that moved her to encounter God more and more as “the Tender One,” who can speak in ways as intimate as a writer of love letters. This piece leads nicely to an essay by current Santa Clara University student, Seher Siddiqee, on the patient study of the Qur’an, culminating in a response celebrating the blessings of God: “Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny?”

We are happy to welcome to the SCU community Fr. Thomas Massaro, S.J., the
new Dean of the Jesuit School of Theology
of Santa Clara University. He challenge s
our concept of “Sacred Texts” by turning 
to a little-known document issued by the International Commission on the Apostolate
 of Jesuit Education in 1986. At the center 
of the document are 28 bullet points, which outline, in a very direct and convincing way, the characteristics of Jesuit Education. Among these “marks” of Jesuit Education is that it is world- affirming and “serves the faith that does justice.”

Ironically, in the same year that this document was published, Professor Sukhmander Singh joined the faculty of Santa Clara’s School of Engineering. Initially worried that, as a
 Sikh, he would not belong at a Jesuit, Catholic university, soon he found himself very much at home here. What is marvelous to me about his essay is that he uses Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, as the basis for understanding why his presence at a Catholic institution is so right: ““O Nanak, He Himself creates [people] and makes them different. Who shall we say 
is bad for all have the same Master.” And this
 is an extraordinarily important point. The fact that we may come from different religious traditions does not require us to check in our commitments at the door. It does not mean that we hide our faith lest we impose it on others. Rather, we allow each other to be different.
 That mutual generosity is as liberating for those members of the Santa Clara University who 
live out their Christian faith as it is for the
 Sikh professor (or any other member of the community) who exercises his or her vocation at a Catholic institution.

Finally, in a moving letter to his twin daughters, Lester Deanes from the Office of Student Life, reflects on aspects of Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which still echoes fifty years later at
Santa Clara University. Mr. Deanes provides a convincing case for MLK’s letter as both mirror and medicine.

The lead article of this year’s explore is written by the distinguished Jesuit scholar, Daniel A. Madigan of Georgetown University. Fr. Madigan has spent most of his academic
 life dedicated to deepening the understanding between Christians and Muslims. His essay comprises a fine discussion on how texts of multiple traditions function as sacred texts, how interpretation of such texts is a complex task, and how in the end, through our encounter with sacred texts we are guests of the divine Word. 

The fact that we may come from different religious traditions does not require us to check in ourcommitments at the door. It does not mean that we hide our faith lest we impose it on others. Rather, we allow each other to be different.

Let me thank these writers for their excellent articles, as well as all those who have contributed to and participated in the many events that have made up the 2012-13 Bannan Institute. In particular, I am deeply grateful to staff members of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education who have launched such a successful program: Susan Chun, Margaret Glomb, Michael Nuttall, and most especially Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley, our Director of Institutes and Spirituality.

From conception to execution, this year’s institute has been a work of extraordinary care and grace. I have every confidence that Fr. Lou Bannan, S.J., whose family founded the Bannan Institute in his honor to promote the distinctively Jesuit, Catholic tradition of education at SCU, is exceedingly proud.

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