Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Homily by His Grace Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau
On the Occasion of the Inauguration of Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, SJ as President of John Carroll University
Readings : Isaiah 32: 15-20
James 1: 22-27
Matthew 5: 38-48
“When at last the Spirit is poured out on us from on high, then will the desert become a garden, and this garden will be free as fallow land. Justice will dwell in the wilderness; and in the fertile land, righteousness. Justice will bring about peace; justice will produce calm and security forever.” (Isaiah 32:15-17)
It is a great pleasure to bring greetings to this impressive assembly from my native Bahamas , most particularly the Catholic community of our islands. I’m honoured to have been invited to share in the inauguration of Father Robert Niehoff of the Society of Jesus as the 24th president of John Carroll University. I am humbled that he has invited me to give the homily at the official launch of his first university presidency, which must be one of the most memorable occasions of his professional life.
I offer my sincerest congratulations to Fr. Niehoff. His selection for so strategic a leadership position is doubtless a reflection of his scholarship, administrative skills and probity. I pray that wisdom, courage and insight will attend him in making his toughest decisions and confronting his greatest obstacles. I pray also that the fit between the skills he brings to John Carroll University and the needs he encounters here will correspond seamlessly. It is my prayer that the connection will result in great benefit to this fine institution and all who depend upon it.
I would like also to commend Fr. Niehoff and the planners of this event for their choice of a timely and absorbing theme: Engaging the World. It reflects a subject matter that appears to be exercising minds in every sphere of society across the globe. I have seen books and heard sermons on the subject. Many academic conferences have made it their focus. This rising interest should not come as a surprise, however. Considering the current state of our world, even to think of engaging the world is a frightful proposition. Yet because this is so, we are compelled to confront it. Still, many are terrified that the engagement might turn into a nightmare of a marriage.
Nevertheless, global engagement, the desire to move, to seek involvement and benefits beyond our own territory has been a feature of human life since the beginning of the human adventure on this planet. Whether purposeful or through happenstance, the encounter of diverse populations and exchanges among them have been an integral part of practically every society and economy that exists today.
Nowadays, globalization, through the communication revolution, is canceling choice in the matter of global engagement. I have seen one too many documentaries of late in which some of the most reclusive tribal groups have presented themselves to the camera wearing brand-name t-shirts, caps and sports shoes.
But when an account is made, it becomes clear that global engagement has seldom been impelled by a desire for fellowship and has generally not been a credit to the dignity of humankind. On the other hand, the purposeful contact of peoples has all too often been characterized by belligerence, fueled by greed and a penchant for dominance. In the days of New World exploration, the Spanish conquerors, in their passion for gold, destroyed the aboriginal population of my home The Bahamas and other areas of the newly uncovered Americas . Unfortunately, the destruction of the Lucayans has been just one of the many instances of genocide that have befouled the human record over the millennia of our existence.
Throughout the many cycles of globalization, trade has tended to be extractive, with the strong taking advantage of the weak. The researchers, archaeologists, industrialists and merchants of developed nations have long viewed developing nations as viable markets, points of extraction, suppliers of cheap and vulnerable labour and as locales for building offshore noxious factories that their environmental protection agencies would never permit within their territorial borders.
A case in point is described in the Human Development Report 2005 in a paper focusing on the trade in horticultural produce from Kenya . It says that the supermarket companies involved as buyers have significant control over the commodity chain and use their power to push the costs and risks of business down the supply chain, with the small farmer at the end of the line being the most disadvantaged. We know that this is standard business practice in our world today.
This relationship of inequity may appear as a mere blip on the radar of human infractions against humankind when we compare it with others — the cutting down of life — sustaining rainforests to feed the trade in beef; the use of ozone-layer-depleting chemicals in aerosols and refrigerants to sustain modern notions of progress and ease; the failure to provide adequate protection for workers in such extractive industries as coal and asbestos mining; the dumping of toxic wastes in poor countries and oceans at a price that will not cover the ensuing health and environmental calamities they will later generate and last, but certainly not least, the waging of international and decidedly uncivil wars.
In the encounters of humankind to the present day, we have seen ever increasing discrimination based on creed, race, skin colour, ethnicity, nationality and geography. We are also witnessing ever-growing inequality in the distribution of the world’s goods. While the developed world is marked by rampant consumerism placing an unconscionable demand on non-renewable resources, citizens of the developing world suffer for want of adequate housing, supplies of potable water and healthcare — in short, the basic necessities of life.
In my part of the world, we are beginning to suffer the results of destruction of fish nurseries and habitats such as the coastal mangroves and coral reefs. We struggle with oil spills, over-fishing and the challenges of producing fresh water and energy, all of which have a decidedly harmful impact on the quality of life in small island developing states.
In the face of these global imbalances, it has been noted that, “many prefer to adopt a fortress mentality, based on a determination to defend their prosperity against perceived external threats. This is a trend that has increasingly ugly, xenophobic undertones to it. There is a tendency to demonize those who come to rich societies in search of a better life. Migrants are exploited and blamed for economic ills that have nothing to do with them. Refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers in search of safety are treated harshly and, more and more often, turned away.”
The foregoing are just a few bars from the litany of our un-saintly actions to date. I use the word ‘our’ with great deliberation — there is hardly an adult alive today who can point fingers. We have not been good stewards of our planet; we have not been our brother’s keeper, we have not created space for our neighbours to rise. We have all sinned through commission or omission. If we have closed our eyes and hearts to the problem, we are as guilty as the perpetrators and no amount of hand washing will absolve us.
Thus far, we have not made a good job of global engagement. And yet global engagement is our divine vocation. In the Book of Genesis , we are told that man was given dominion over the earth. In the New Testament our Lord commanded us to go into all the world and take the good news to the people of the earth. If we study the Scriptures, we will know that the term ‘good news’ incorporates notions of social and economic justice, peace and security. The good news is about a brand of dominion over the earth and over the self that brings productivity, sustainability and seeks to secure the common good. I believe that this should be the character of global engagement, which can only be realized if we follow the scriptural prescriptions for engaging the world and our fellow human beings.
Today’s readings provide much insight into what is needed to set things right. The verses from the Prophet Isaiah tell us that when the spirit from on high is poured out upon us:
Then will the desert become a garden,
And this garden will be as a fallow land
Justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And in the fertile land righteousness,
Justice will bring about peace;
Justice will produce calm and security forever.
The Gospel of Matthew provides what many may now view as a radical approach to dealing with others — showing impartial love in imitation of our Lord:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
In contemporary language, we are often told to put our money where our mouths are. The letter of James exhorts : Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. (James 1:22)
Further along, it says:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
If I may take the liberty to refer to the beginning of the second chapter, we note that James also writes of differential treatment of rich and poor and condemns such behaviour : .Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? (James 2:4)
Again and again, Scripture exhorts us to recognize and to emphasize our unity, our equality and our oneness in Christ. Certainly, we should have “a vision of a world where the colour of a person’s skin, their religious or ethnic identity. where [their] diversity is regarded as a strength and not a problem.”
This is how it should be. Humanity must evolve to the point where we can all say like the metaphysical poet John Donne “Every man’s death diminishes me.”
I believe most our faith should not be introspective and egocentric only. It should impel us to engage the problems confronting our global society and help us to see that every human being has an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It should raise awareness of our individual and collective responsibility for the earth and for each other. If we are doers of the word rather than just hearers, we will be driven by an impulse to reach out and care for our neighbours, regardless of differences.
Education should have the same objectives. It should encourage students to appreciate the world beyond their homelands and to participate in the creation of a better and safer world. A more globally sensitive education can be a key to reordering our policies and methods of global engagement.
However, education alone is not the solution. Knowledge has to be energized by an outpouring of the spirit from above as described by the Prophet Isaiah. For Christians engaging the world is a mission for Christ and thus, a privilege. It is a wonderful opportunity to participate in his nature and to give others a foretaste of His kingdom.
Engaging the WORLD must be complemented by engaging the WORD. We must be doers of the Word and not just hearers only. We must make it our ambition to promote the common good. In engaging the world we must do all that we can to ensure that “Justice will bring about peace – that justice will produce calm and security forever.
May God bless this university and this presidency which begins today. May it bring forth good fruits, in abundance, to last long and to benefit many.
John Carroll University names its 25th president,
Michael D. Johnson, Ph.D.
Learn more about Dr. Johnson at presidentialsearch.jcu.edu
Robert L. Niehoff, S.J.