Thursday, May 10, 2018


By Sr. Laura Coughlin, SC Federation Perpetually Professed

Last week I finished my first year of doctoral studies in theology at the University of Dayton.  My brain is tired, but in spite of this, I still find my days rich with new intellectual and theological material.  Next year I will be teaching an introductory Religious Studies class at the university.  The opportunity to teach was one of the main reasons I found UD to be an attractive program.  In our department’s case, UD does a great job preparing us to teach from the discipline in which we are being trained. 

Yesterday I attended a workshop at the Dayton Woman’s Club hosted by the Humanities Commons program here.  The program aims to help students inquire deeply into the question of what it means to be human.  The inquiry is carried out in an enriched cross-disciplinary setting which is why a large number of professors from varied disciplines were gathered at the workshop. 

(see more about this program here: Humanities Commons)

We used our time together to discuss the 2018 program whose theme varies from year to year.  This year the Humanities Commons will base its inquiry in the classic Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, and in a Dayton Ballet performance called Dracula: Bloodlines.  Both the novel and the ballet will be a reference point throughout the year for classroom learning about issues of power and vulnerability.  Workshop attendees were asked to think about how the theme of 2018-19 might find its way into lesson plans when the students return in August. 

So I am thinking about Dracula, and about power and vulnerability.
And one of the handouts we received noted that “power need not be oppressive…and vulnerability need not be weakness.”  And that got me thinking about the authentic human reality, the ideal human life, in other words, that can be found in the dialectic between power and vulnerability. 

Maybe a first assignment could be something like this: Write a rich description of the ideal that lives between the power and vulnerability present in each of the following situations?  How do the actors in these excerpts reconcile vulnerability and power such that he or she better understands what it means to be human?

* * *

“I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

Jesus in John 10:17-18

* * *

God said to Abraham: “Please take your son.”
Abraham said: “I have two sons, which one?”
God: “Your only son.”
Abraham: “The one is the only son of his mother and the other is the only son of his mother.”
God: “Whom you love.”
Abraham: “I love this one and I love that one.”
God: “Isaac.”

Genesis Rabbah[1]

* * *

“On August 26, 1832, a request was made that four of the [African American Oblate] sisters might nurse the indigent sick with cholera, a disease that had reached epidemic proportions [in Baltimore]….When [Father Joubert] asked for volunteers, all stood up.[2]  [He] chose the four to go, one of whom had not yet made vows.”[3]

At some point after 1843 this same community was told by the Archbishop of Baltimore, Samuel Eccleston, that “there was no need for black religious and that they might do well to disband and become domestics.”[4]  Their community was saved from this fate by a caring German Redemptorist, Thaddeus Anwander, who pastored them under the tutelage of St. John Neumann.

Excerpted from The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis, OSB

* * *

“Facing a firing squad is a pretty good test, I guess, of your theology of death.  I didn’t exactly pass the test with flying colors…The first thought I actually remember thinking was a question:  ‘Is this the end, Lord?’  I know I started the act of contrition, but I remember the sensation of realizing that another part of me could not understand the words I was mumbling.
I suspect that most of my panic…was due to such animal instinct in the face of a sudden and totally unexpected physical danger…For the thought of death itself does not terrify me.  The good news of Christianity is…that death has no hidden terror.  Christ’s…death and resurrection [was] the central act of salvation.”[5]

Excerpted from He Leadeth Me: An Extraordinary Testament of Faith, by Walter Ciszek, SJ

[1] Kessler, Edward. "Bound by the Bible: Jews, Christians, and the Binding of Isaac." In Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, 11-28. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, 16-7.
[2] Ouch! - It is noted in this same passage that the Sisters of Charity had been asked for eight sisters and had only sent four.
[3] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (Crossroad, 1990), 101.
[4] Davis, 103.
[5] Walter J. Ciszek, SJ and Daniel L. Flaherty, SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1973), 165.

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