Saturday I attended the St. Catherine University winter retreat day for students and alumni of the school’s Masters in Theology program (for which I do some adjunct teaching). The keynote was delivered by Edward Hahnenberg, a professor at John Carroll University, who spoke on the subject Ministry with a Mission: The Work and Witness of Lay Ministers Today.
Early in his talk, Hahnenberg quoted language from the 2005 USCCB document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: “The same God who called Prisca and Aquila to work with Paul in the first century calls thousands of men and women to minister in our Church in the twenty-first century.” Indeed, the title of the 2005 document itself is a reference to Prisca and Aquila, who are referred to by Paul as his co-workers.
The names Prisca and Aquila are familiar to many, but their story is less familiar.
Like Paul, Prisca and Aquila were leatherworkers. The couple, followers of Jesus before they met Paul, left Rome after the Roman emperor Claudius issued an edict expelling all Jews from that city. They moved to Corinth shortly before Paul arrived there. A deep and lasting friendship developed between the two of them and Paul and they began to work with him. At some point, they moved to Ephesus with Paul. When Paul left that city, he left Prisca and Aquila in charge of the church of Ephesus. In the mid-50s, the couple returned to Rome, where Paul greeted them as his “co-workers.”
Hahnenberg made the point that many have an image of Paul as a solitary missionary. The reality is that he survived because of the hospitality of many fellow Christians who traveled and ministered with him. People like Prisca and Aquila – who Paul referred to as “co-workers” and “collaborators” – were instrumental to the success of his ministry, and it is good to remember that.
Today was the first of a three-class series on the Creed I am teaching for the Our Lady of Lourdes parish RCIA candidates. I began by talking about what we mean by a creed and why having one matters. I then spent most of time dealing with the first part of the creed – where we affirm believe in “God, the father, Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” There is a lot packed in that first line – starting with the first four words.
I believe in God. The first part of this first segment of the Creed does nothing to distinguish Christians from non-Christians. That is, all religious people who follow a theistic faith – whatever their particular religious beliefs – share the conviction that “God” exists – that God is something real that truly exists whatever their understanding or concept of God, and whether or not they use the term “God” or “Allah” or “Jehovah” or something else. (Even some people who are nontheistic, have a sense of something transcendent.) Having said that, the line matters tremendously.
Luke Timothy Johnson says that to declare that God exists “suggests that the world we see and touch points to a power or powers beyond our own and outside our control, beyond our sight and touch, which must be taken into account even if we are to give an adequate account of the world that we can touch and see. To affirm the existence of God, then, means to affirm that the physical world, which can be measured and calculated, is not all that is.”
That, he claims is a critical theological concept. Because we are not here affirming one belief among many, that is not a belief of limited consequences. Rather it is statement of belief that commits us to a fundamental posture toward everything else that exists. Everything else depends on the truth of this statement, a statement that we can’t prove in the way we can prove geometric theorems.
And so, by affirming God’s existence, I affirm (in the word of Joan Chittister) that “I am steering by a star I cannot see but which I am convinced is there.” And that affects everything about who I am in the world.
Many of us with an Ignatian Spirituality do a daily Examen, a prayerful process of looking back over our day with God, recogizing God’s movement in the events of our day.
As we begin a new year, we might take some time to look back over the past year.Xavier University’s Jesuitsource.org has posted a worthwhile examen for that purpose. You might take some time with it over the next couple of days.
As I review the past 12 months, from a year ago through to the present moment:
What am I especially grateful for this year?
An event that took place?
Courage that I mustered?
Love and support I received?
I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.
Where have I felt true joy this year?
What troubled me this year?
What has challenged me?
Where and when did I find an opportunity for renewal and pause?
Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?
In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?
As I look ahead, to the coming months what comes to mind?
With what spirit do I want to enter the next few months? The next year?
I ask for God’s presence and grace, for this spirit, as I enter the next year.