Dia-logos and the Virtue of Hope

May 7, 2015 GTU Commencement: Sr. Marianne Farina CSC

Greetings of Peace to all of you

THANK YOU - It is an honor to be asked to share these thoughts with you.

We gather today as faculty, administrators, GTU board members, donors, family, and friends to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates who each semester of their study read more than 400 pages a week, wrote approximately 20,000 words and attended at least 168 hours of class sessions!  Imagine that!

Throughout your time here, this study, writing, and class discussion helped you to explore topics critical to today’s society. More important you learned how to dialogue with varying texts, critical theories, disciplines, religions, and cultures.

Dialogue is dia-logos, that is, through words.  Through words, we exchange ideas, share ideals, promote understanding, and ultimately create meaning.

Dialogue is a sacred process, the preferred method, if you will, of God’s self- communication. And we are created with the capacity to respond to God’s speech.

Therefore, dialogue is intrinsic to our natures. We are capable of receiving sacred words and as Aristotle called us “zoon politikon,” we are creatures endowed with reasoned speech. I believe he means that we use this speech in deliberations that would promote life in the polis and not for talking to ourselves, though prudential reasoning is warranted there too!

Dialogue is existential for the critical learning in this process impacts a seeker's own mind and heart.

Ultimately, dialogue is an auspicious enterprise in that it promotes authentic, just, and generative relationships and thereby cultivates hope in persons and communities.

For when you open a browser on your computer, tap an icon on your smart device, or unfold the front page of a newspaper you find little evidence that humanity has progressed in the struggle for justice, the building of peace, or the securing of human rights.

However looking at the titles of the theses and dissertations in today’s program, we find a different testimony. They reflect the result of fruitful and courageous dialogues that convey hope--not merely a feeling of hope but the essential virtue of hope.

Reviewing these abstracts, we find dialogues encompassing textual explorations, critical studies, investigations of multiple religious traditions, philosophy, natural science, ethical, political, and social subjects and theories, inclusive of spirituality, liturgy, art and religion.

Your explorations are virtuous activities of a steadfast seeking after truth, exhibiting a confidence that these inquiries are transformative. As the fruit of dialogue, your research and writing has the potential to keep our society from despair or a barbarism John Courtney Murray so keenly identifies. He argues that the world becomes barbaric as people group together out of fear or because of force, economic interests assume primacy over higher values, and the laws of argument and debate break down. Murray warns us that, “CIVILITY dies with the death of dialogue.”

Today, as we recognize your significant accomplishments, we also acknowledge that they are commencements for future endeavors.

For I am sure, honored graduates, you will publish, teach, and lead.

You won’t acquire monetary riches, you have to appear on American Idol or Dance with the Stars to do that—but there will be rewards of another kind, and plentiful!

Moreover, because of your study here at the GTU you are prepared to be significant conversation starters in your colleges, universities, organizations, and communities. To this end, let me offer three suggestions for the ongoing process of dialogue.

1.     First, continue to be students of your contexts, the local and the global, i.e. glocal. Learn from the people, their religious traditions, cultures and environments. These opportunities provide for you a comprehensive understanding of the needs and concerns imbedded in these realities. Entering these spaces with an openness and studiousness will unveil for you the intrinsic value of all humanity and all creation. Be attentive, intelligent, judicious, and responsible in these encounters, for this fosters trust, a species of hope.

2.     Second, form various circles for dialogue—both the study and exchange—with participants that bring differing ideas, whether from within your religious tradition, other traditions, cultures, and civic groups. Let your classrooms, circles, city councils, or networks become places of deep listening, characterized by charitable humility, generosity, discretion,  reverence, and gratitude that will allow you to enter the sanctuary of another. In this way, we may deliberate wisely and justly, co-creating an environment for hope.

3.     Third, at each gathering, council meeting, or inquiry, always ask the question, “Who is missing from these conversations?” or “What question have I not asked?” Such questioning liberates us from chauvinistic, paternalistic, or group think. It reminds us that Black voices matter, voices of the poor and women’s voices matter; environmental signs matter, Muslim-Christian-Jewish voices matter; Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Jain, Sikh voices matter, voices from our prisons, voices at the borders, voices screaming from the devastation of violence, war, and terror. Truth spoken by these voices shatters social complacency. Their narratives are the seeds for restorative, reconciling hope.

Finally and once again, we congratulate you for attaining your Master of Arts and Doctoral Degrees, at the GTU-- Graduate Theological Union. Continue to be audacious in your dialogues-- bringing GTU, i.e., Goodness, Truth, and Understanding, into a world so desperate for these graces.