On Friday February 20, the staff of Edmund Rice Centre gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of Brother Dan Stewart, whose vision led to the establishment of the Centre in 1996. A mass was celebrated in honor of Brother Dan. In his homily, Fr. Claude Mostowik msc, a long-term ERC staff member, reflected on Dan's life and his legacy in the work of Edmund Rice Centre:
Edmund Rice Centre February 21, 2020
Readings for today are very appropriate. It does not always that the readings of the day work out for a special occasion such as this. James (2:19) in one of the readings (not used at this Mass) calls us to put our faith, if it is to be alive, into practice by doing justice and mercy. According to Jesus, it is not words or rituals, but walking the way of the cross. Walking the way of the cross is not about wishful thinking or having visions but putting our passions and values into concrete. For Jesus walking the way of the cross meant walking a countercultural and subversive way. He made public affirmations that women’s lives mattered. Samaritan lives mattered. Gentile lives mattered. Sinners lives mattered. The poor mattered. Blind people’s lives mattered. Lepers’ lives mattered. Widows’ lives mattered. Orphans’ lives mattered, and strangers’ lives mattered—people who were regularly victimised by society. Today’s declaration that Black Lives Matter is simply declaring a timeless truth exemplified by Jesus. Kosuke Koyama, Japanese theologian: ‘What is love if it remains invisible and intangible? … Grace cannot function in a world of invisibility. Yet, in our world, the rulers try to make invisible ‘the alien, the orphan… the hungry, thirsty…. Sick and imprisoned’. This is violence…. The gospel insists on visibility – the emaciated bodies of starved children must remain visible to the world. There is a connection between invisibility and violence. People, because of the dignity of the image of God they embody, must remain seen. Faith, hope and love are not vital except in ‘what is seen’…. Religion seems to raise up the invisible and despise what is visible. But it is the ‘see, hear, touch’ gospel that can nurture the hope which is free from deception.
When Christendom, as opposed to Christianity, caters to the powerful masses rather than the forgotten minorities, Jesus’ message loses its power. Jesus did the exact opposite of many modern churches. He was not afraid to go against cultural norms, and those who follow him into the kingdom of God are inefficiently obsessed with including everyone. This is why Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will leave the ninety-nine sheep in order to search for the one.
The reading from Genesis (11;1-9) contains stories of evil, injustice, division, people being sidelined because a few were trying to make a name for themselves, and seeking power. This is nothing new. It is all around us today. Despite having one language the people depicted in Genesis were not united, but destructive, and divided. But the call is always, that despite many languages and races, peoples and nations, to come together to make one world with the gift of diversity that makes us struggle to understand one another and God.
Jesus (Mark *:27-33) calls us to come after him. It is about making everything incarnate. For our faith to be alive it must be incarnate, concrete. God’s word must be incarnate. Church must be incarnate. Justice must be incarnate. Values must be incarnate. Visions must be incarnate. It is one thing to have vision or value but it must take shape in our lives and the lives of others. Brother Dan Steward along with Brother Jude Butcher had a vision and made possible this Centre. They sowed the seeds little knowing the direction it would take after 24 years.
Teilhard de Chardin foretold something of this when he said: The coming of a spiritual age must be preceded by the appearance of an increasing number of individuals who are no longer satisfied with the normal, intellectual, vital, and physical existence of the human race, but perceive that a greater revolution is the real goal of humanity and attempt to effect it in themselves and lead others to it.
It seems that these words capture what the Edmund Rice Centre has been about through the vision of Dan Stewart, Jude Butcher and made increasingly concrete through people like Phil Glendenning and Steve Cram where the focus on human rights and justice issues was always a priority. But I would suggest, it was not just the human rights and justice making but the friendships formed with the people we encountered who were seeking a voice, assistance, security. What strikes me as most important is that we have been challenged over and over again to see life from the bottom up, from the viewpoint of those who suffer in any way – especially of people whose voices have been dulled. This was the vision and life of Edmund Rice and it continues. Few who come here have been able to escape the challenge of the cross, which calls us to remember that few are guilty but all are responsible, and see that it is through this making real of justice through solidarity, talking together and listening, friendship and advocacy, that we can make a new world possible.
Brother Philip Pinto in 2002 whilst Congregational Leader of the Christian Brothers spoke at a school in New York in 2002. What he said had implications for all of us here at the Centre: Fidelity to the memory of Edmund Rice calls for two things: a re-commitment to those on the margins of society and a renewed appreciation of humanity’s multi-cultural heritage.
He went on to say that it is ‘futile for earthbound humanity to still cling to the dark and poisoning superstition that its world is bounded by the nearest hill, its universe ended at the river shore, its common humanity enclosed in the tight circle of those who share its town and views and the colour of its skin. It is the task of our educators and of young people to strip the last remnants of that ancient, cruel belief from the civilisation of humankind.’
This centre has challenged and continues to challenge popular beliefs and dominant cultural values to ask the difficult questions, to look at life from the standpoint of the real experts: the minority person, the victim, the outcast, and the stranger - and give hope to those who have little hope.
And so we seek to present a new way of living:
We show wisdom by trusting people; we handle leadership by serving, we tackle offenders by forgiving, we deal with money by sharing, we relate to strangers and enemies by loving, we handle violence by suffering, we live life by choosing. And we repent for any sins of the past not by feeling bad, but by thinking differently! This is the challenge we face as we celebrate and thank God for our past.
In the gospel today, Jesus is talking to the frightened followers locked up in many upper rooms, afraid to burst out, afraid to be disturbed by the new, afraid to disturb others, or do nothing by being cynical and thus exempting themselves from involvement. Jesus calls us to stand up and be counted. As Philip Pinto said, and Jesus before him, it is a dangerous and risky. It is not fashionable. People within our organisations and outside will accuse us of rocking the boat and subverting the system. But we do it because we know that it is life-giving. This child spawned from the loins of Dan Stewart and those who shared his vision and implement that vision, has taken up human rights issues at home, around the nation and overseas. It has involved itself in ecological justice with the peoples of the Pacific. It has opened doors to people seeking freedom in Iran and Iraq and Syria. It has fearlessly confronted the media, politicians and international organisations. And we have done it together, in partnership with other like-minded organisations. What else is there?
Claude Mostowik msc