A few days after our late Father Eugene died in September 2004, this container Father Eugene had kept in the top drawer of his dresser here at the Abbey was brought to me.
I knew what was inside as Father Eugene had shared with me the story of the box’s contents, though I had never actually seen what was inside.
In the box was a well-worn baseball.
In 1927, when Fr. Eugene was 13 years old, he was with his Boy Scout troop, Troop 13 from Burlington, Iowa, which came on a field trip to visit the Abbey here in Atchison.
They traveled in the backs of trucks – obviously before the days of seatbelt laws – camping out along the way, making one of their stops in St. Louis to take in a baseball game at the old Sportsman’s Park between the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Browns.
Not only are we to forgive those who hurt us, but we are prohibited from seeking out retaliation. What did we just hear Jesus say? “You have heart that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth,’ BUT I SAY to you offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”
How would a 1st century Jew respond to that? What is our gut-reaction in the 21st century? In the here and now, we might be having a mental conversation with Jesus like this: “Wait a minute Jesus, someone just seriously insulted me and you want me to do nothing but allow that person to harm me even further?” But how would a 1st century Jew, hearing Jesus speak these words react? First of all, to a Jew of that time, to be struck by the back of some one’s hand was twice as insulting as being slapped by the palm of someone’s hand. So a right handed person delivering such a back-hand blow, which Jesus seems to be implying here, just delivered a humiliating insult. And Jesus response is to turn our cheek to allow another insulting blow.
In memory of Fr. Bert!
Graduates of Benedictine all have favorite memories. I am no different. As a student in the 70's, I had work-study hours to complete every week and felt fortunate to have the job I had. I took numbers at the cafeteria door twice a week in the morning. It wasn't a tough job, but it did mean waking up early, before the breakfast crowd, even when I didn't have an early class. It was there that I met Fr. Bertrand. I always wondered who he was, I wasn't a business or econ major, so I never had him as a teacher, or so I thought.
I guess you would say, I didn't meet him, he met me. Fr. Bertrand always came in for coffee and he always sat with me at the front table just talking, hanging out before class. He had a way of saying things that you just had to think about later. He wouldn't necessarily ask a question, but pose a situation and wait for your response. He encouraged you to think! To use what God have given you as a gift!
We human beings have a problem. We often find it difficult to forgive. Or we often find it difficult asking for forgiveness from someone we have sinned against. We all have a “Trench is dug within our hearts.” In our human fallibility, we sometimes prefer being deep in that trench, holding on to our unwillingness to forgive or our need to ask forgiveness. The result is deadly: It can kill our spiritual life with God and our neighbor.
In the previous article I gave practical advice on how to forgive someone. I still use that advice in Spiritual Direction or in Confession. The advice is meant to for one to get out of the trench, where we tend to hold on to our bitterness and pettiness of not forgiving and get on with life.
In Matthew's gospel (5:17-37), Jesus is doing something mind-boggling to his listeners. He first announces that he has come to fulfill the Law. That would startle a first century Jew.
Dr. Thomas James
James took office in 1988, a time of decreasing student enrollment and financial hardship. He then served until 1995. According to Sr. Mary Agnes Patterson, former prioress of Mount St. Scholastica, his presidency ensured the future success of the college.
James graduated from Notre Dame University with degrees in Philosophy and English in 1955. During his administrative career, James held the positions of chief officer at Nazareth College of Rochester, Chatham College of Pittsburgh, and Birmingham Southern College. He went on to become the executive assistant to the president of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala.
In 1988, Dr. James was selected to succeed Fr. Gerard Senecal as the first lay president in the history of Benedictine College and its founding religious institutions. Dr. Frank Carpinelli, emeritus English Chairman at Benedictine College, said, “Dr. James inherited short term borrowing and decreasing enrollment.” However, James, with a strong advisory team, began to make lasting improvements for Benedictine College.
According to Elmer Fangman, former Dean of Students at Benedictine College, this collaboration with others made James an impactful leader. Fangman recalls, “Dr. James constantly listened to his board of directors, and with their help, made a difference.”
At the beginning of his presidency, James immediately embraced the difficulties: merging the north and south campuses, buildings desperately needed repair, and loans needed to be managed.
“He was a man who was willing to take a risk, willing to delegate and was open to any idea that would be beneficial for the college,” said Carpinelli. “He was not afraid to ask for assistance.”
Through endurance, patience, collaborative effort, and servant leadership, the college avoided closure. The tradition of these characteristics continues to live in the structure and improvements at Benedictine College. James’s work gave many people a greater confidence in the college. By raising enough money to start planning for the new Student Union, James showed the professors, staff, and donors that the school was improving. This gave the college hope—a hope it had not seen in years, according to Dr. Scott Baird, a Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering professor at Benedictine.
The college undertook challenging tasks and achieved major accomplishments, but in this time of success, James exemplified humility. Carpinelli said, “People always remember Tom saying ‘thank you for all that you do for Benedictine College.’”
Following his career at Benedictine, James went on to become interim dean and Director of Graduate Programs in Business at Davis College of Business in Jacksonville, Fla., before retiring in 1998.
Since retirement, James has been involved with volunteer work, consulting, his website sharedglobalvalues.com, and completing his book Earth Under Scrutiny; the book explores the topic of leadership which consists of ethics in action. He and his wife Ann have six children and twelve grandchildren.
James left a strong legacy at Benedictine College. “It is obvious,” remarked Sr. Mary Agnes, “that Dr. James was a prayerful man; he relied on God’s strength to rebuild the college.”
Stephen D. Minnis
A native of St. Joseph, MO, Minnis graduated from Benedictine College in 1982. He obtained his Juris Doctorate degree from Washburn University in 1985 and Master’s of Business Administration degree in 1993 from Baker University.
Minnis began his legal career in the county prosecutor’s office for Johnson County, Kansas. He held the position of director, state regulatory and general attorney at Sprint Corporation for 14 years. He served as president of the Benedictine College Alumni Association from 1991 to 1995 and joined the Benedictine College Board of Directors in 1992, serving until October 2004 when he became president of the college. He was honored with Benedictine’s Kansas Monk Award as an outstanding alumnus in 2001 and co-chaired the college’s successful 2004 Scholarship Ball.
In 2004 Minnis was appointed as President of Benedictine College. Since his appointment Benedictine College has seen unprecedented growth. The enrollment has increased from 1,000 students to over 1,700, a record. Benedictine has built 10 new residence hall buildings; a new academic center; a Marian Grotto; put field turf on both the football and soccer facility; opened a campus in Florence, Italy; began a nursing program and an engineering program making it one of few liberal arts schools in America with engineering.
During his presidency, Benedictine has for the first time been recognized by US News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges and recognized by the Cardinal Newman Society as one of the top 20 Catholic universities in America. The college just completed a capital campaign in which the goal was $50m and over $70m was raised. The school has been recognized by the US Bishops as Minnis is one of only five Catholic university presidents to be appointed to a commission on Catholic universities in America and has been recognized by the Vatican as one of only four Catholic university presidents to be appointed to the Vatican Commission on the Church in America. This group met last year in Rome and this year’s meeting was held in Mexico City at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This group is sponsored by Pope Francis and Chaired by Cardinal Ouellet and co-chaired by Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Chaput and other Latin American Cardinals.
Stephen is married to Amy (Kohake), a 1984 graduate of Benedictine College. The couple has three children, Matthew, Michael and Molly.
The title for today’s column is a line from the song, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," by the band U2. The other day, while I was driving around listening to U2 on my iPod, I was struck by that line; "the trench is dug within our hearts."
The song is about Bono’s angst and disappointment about religious violence in Northern Ireland. Yet that line stopped me cold. I started to reflect on the trenches that I have dug in my own heart. Most of the “trenches in my heart” have been dug due to some injury or sin someone has committed against me.
Jesus explains the Kingdom of God through parables and similitudes. It is like a farmer who prepares his fields, plants seeds, and then waits. God does the rest. The seed sprouts into new life, and gradually matures into a ripened grain, vegetable or fruit. The farmer does very little; God does the rest.
Parents bring new members into the Kingdom of God when they open their love to share life with a new baby. They co-create with God a new life which will live forever. The parents do very little, and God does the rest. I marvel that the in the first cell, the tiny zygote, there is all the genetic information to perfectly coordinate every stage of the new person’s bodily life. The Kingdom of God uses our small, but indispensable, contributions. God does the rest.
On December 7, 2013 three other men and I received the habit of the Order of St. Benedict as we entered the novitiate. We had waited several months to receive it, aspiring to take on the new identity as a Benedictine monk. Upon receiving it, several questions and experiences rose to the surface: how do we wash it? What is the scapular for? How to move it out of the way when we sit (and allow it to get wrinkled)? How do we climb stairs without tripping? None of us were used to such “long robes,” and we found it awkward. How long would it be for us to get used to it?