Donald J. Goergen, O.P.


Presented at the Dominican Leadership Conference

Annual Meeting October, 2002, Adrian MI


The risk in talking about hope lies in making it sound hopeful. Then it
may no longer be true hope. I  begin with a poem by a North American
poet, Jane Kenyon, entitled “Reading Aloud to My Father,”

I chose the book haphazard
from the shelf, but with Nabokov’s first
sentence I knew it wasn’t the thing
to read to a dying  man:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, it began,
and common sense tells us that our existence
is but a brief crack of light
between the eternities of darkness

The words disturbed both of us immediately,
and I stopped. With music it was the same --
Chopin’s Piano Concerto -- he asked me
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated
what was left of him.

But to return to the cradle rocking, I think
Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That’s why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.

At the end they don’t want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they’ll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire,
and let them pull it free.[1]

Yes, the word “hope” can be misleading. It can almost sound cheerful.
Even in the Eucharistic liturgy we speak about “joyful hope.”[2]  Although
the two can certainly be coupled, hope must travel a great distance in
order to find joy. This is a process that we might prefer to overlook.
Most of us would probably not want to live on hope alone. Hope insists
that we come face to face with what is real.

What Is Hope?

We get a glimpse of what hope is if we turn to St. Paul’s letter to the
Romans. Paul writes: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning
in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves
who have the first fruits of the Spirit....Now hope that is seen is not
hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not
see, we wait for it with patience” (8:22-25). In other words, all of
creation, including ourselves,  in our present condition, are living by
hope. To hope is to wait for that which we do not see. Once it comes
into the range of sight and is assured, it is no longer hope. Earlier in
the same letter, it is hope that marks the lives of Abraham and Sarah.
Abraham is described as “hoping against hope” (4:18). Clearly this is
not despair, but neither is it cheap grace to borrow an expression from
Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[3]

Hoping against hope is sheer hope, undiluted hope, not necessarily
something comforting. Neither is hope the same as optimism with which it
can be easily confused. Paul continues: suffering produces endurance,
endurance produces character, and character produces hope (5:3-4). Thus
it is ultimtely suffering that produces hope. Paul’s rhetorical skills
come into play, but we are clearly left with the impression that hope is
both a precious gift as well as a disturbing companion. Hope is no
guarantee. That which is certain is not the proper object of hope. Like
creation, we groan but groan hopefully. The hope does not diminish the
groans. Hope does not come cheap.

Thomas Aquinas can also help us. For Thomas, hope is, simply put,
“leaning on God” (ST II-II, q 17, a 1 & 2).  These are Thomas’ own
words: Our hope pertains to God on whose help it leans (II-II, 17, 1).
In other words, hope is about God and not about us. If the truth be
told, most of us prefer to lean elsewhere than on God. If the stock
market drops, we lose hope. Evidently we had been leaning on our
investments. We place our hopes in ten year plans, a Charter for the
Protection of Children and Young People, armaments or conversely methods
of non-violence, but the last thing on earth that we want to be reduced
to is relying on God alone.

We get a sense of what to expect from God by taking a look at the word
cup as it is used by Jesus. “You do not know what you are asking. Are
you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism
that I am baptized with?” (Mk 10: 38; Mt 20:22; Lk 22:42). And in
Gethsemene, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;
yet not what I want but what you want” (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36). “Put your
sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father
has given to me?” (Jn 18:11). The use is reminiscent of “cup” in the
prophetic tradition around the time of the exile. “For thus says the
Lord: If those who do not deserve to drink the cup still have to drink
it, shall you be the one to go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished;
you must drink it” (Jer 49: 12).  At the same time one’s portion may be
a cup of blessing, the cup of salvation (Ps 116:13) or the Lord himself:
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup” (Ps 16:5). The cup is often
not a cup from which one wants to drink. The question is haunting: Are
we able to drink the cup from which Jesus drank?

This haunting cup surfaces again in Jesus’ last festive meal with his
disciples as it does for us every time we celebrate Eucharist together.
After the supper Jesus takes  the cup and interprets for us an impending
sequence of events. He even embraces the cup that he had prayed not long
before to be spared: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new
covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20; Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; 1 Cor 10:16). And
in the Eucharist, of course, routinely and without thinking as we so
often do, when the cup is passed we take it and drink oblivious of its
significance, of what we are saying yes to by drinking it, for when we
accept the cup, take and drink, we forget what it is to which we are
saying yes. We forget that Jesus prayed, “Please, God, let this cup pass
me by.”

We would not be gathered here, however, if we had not all consented to
drink from the cup. So we are not looking for some kind of cheap hope.
Who are we to be spared the cup, especially after having accepted it and
drunk from it in the Eucharist? The cup after all is the sign of our
solidarity with the suffering of the world. Nevertheless, without saying
so, we in the so-called first world can still have a sense of ourselves
as somehow entitled to privelege, that we ought to be spared the cup at
the same time that we are allowed to drink from it. This point is
poignantly made by Carolyn Forché in her poem “Return,” written upon her
return to the United States from El Salvador in 1980. Her friend
Josephine whom she met there questions her as she attempts to integrate
her experience and re-integrate herself into our North American way of

And so, you say, you’ve learned a little
about starvation: a child like a supper scrap
filling with worms, many children strung
together, as if they were cut from paper
and all in a delicate chain. And that people
who rescue physicists, lawyers and poets
lie in their beds  at night with reports
of mice introduced into women, of men
whose testicles are crushed like eggs.
That they cup their own parts
with their bedsheets and move themselves
slowly, imagining bracelets affixing
their wrists to a wall where the naked
are pinned, where the naked are tied open
and left to the hands of those who erase
what they touch. We are all erased
by them, and no longer resemble decent
men. We no longer have the hearts,
the strength, the lives of women.
Your problem is not your life as it is
in America, not that your hands, as you
tell me, are tied to do something. It is
that you were born to an island of greed
and grace where you have this sense
of yourself as apart from others. It is
not your right to feel powerless. Better
people than you were powerless.
You have not returned to your country,
but to a life you never left.[4]

Somehow we feel that we should be spared the cup. We have the sense that
we are entitled to a kind of hope denied  most of the world.

Primo Levi, an “Italian citizen of Jewish race” (13),[5]  born in Turin,
Italy, in 1919, was captured by the Fascists on December 13, 1943  at
the age of 24, and deported to Auschwitz in late February the following
year,  “selected” there for the Arbeitslager or work camp at Monowitz,
Haftling # 174517, yes, Primo Levi “despised easy hope.”[6]  Was there
hope in the that “house of the dead” (31)?  “If one could only cry”
(70), Levi writes. Can one speak of divine providence after Auschwitz
where everything “depended above all on chance” (125)?[7]

In Levi’s convoy on that “journey towards nothiingness” (17), there were
31 young children and 118 old people; two men were over eighty; two
women were ninety; one was a quadriplegic; one had suffered a stroke
just before leaving.[8]  No more than 96 men and 29 women entered the work
camps at Monowitz and Birkenau, Auschwitz III and II.[9] The others, more
than 500, were not among the living two days later (20). Of the 92 men
only 29 survived from February until October at which time eight more
were “selected” for death (136), eight more for whom the struggle to
survive would not be given another chance, those who had not but from
whom more was taken away, human beings in whom the divine spark had
perhaps already died (88-90). Levi was learning what we all must learn
in life in order to survive, that hope has many faces.

Was there hope in Auschwitz?  Could God be relied upon?  On the one
hand, Levi writes, “It is absurd of Wertheimer to hope” (125);  but on
the other hand, “we would have gone and touched the electric wire-fence;
and that even now we would go if we were logical, were it not for this
last senseless crazy residue of unavoidable hope” (124). On the one
hand, in the Lager, “one loses the habit of hoping” (171).  But on the
other, one always finds something on which to pin some hope.[10] Levi’s
heart speaks to our own as he writes of the experience years later.


You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
     Consider if this is a man
     Who works in the mud
     Who does not know peace
     Who fights for a scrap of bread
     Who dies because of a yes or a no.
     Consider if this is a woman,
     Without hair and without name
     With no more strength to remember,
     Her eyes empty and her womb cold
     Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to  you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.


Perhaps when the day comes, that “dies irae,” it will be different than
we had expected. We will hop into the lap of God, find ourselves there
face to face, the purifying moment of truth endured, and God will look
us in the eyes and ask:  Can you forgive Me?  And then, with tears in
our eyes but a look of hope on our faces, we will ask in return whether
God can ever forgive us. Does not our hope ultimately lie in forgiveness
and is not true forgiveness always a mutual act of mutual love?
Ultimately our hope is for forgiveness.

Is there space for hope in the world given the structures of evil?  We
cannot be fatalistic. But neither can we make hope easy. For most of the
world it does not come easy; it is not cheap; one pays a price. They
drink the cup. Am I able to drink from the cup from which Jesus drank?

The Changing Faces of Hope

Hope comes in many shapes and sizes. The face that hope took yesterday
may not be its face today. A person diagnosed with a terminal illness
comes to grips with hope’s changing faces. She sees some sign that
carries with it forboding. His hope is that it is not cancer. Then she
hopes that it is not malignant. Then the hope is that chemotherapy or
radiation will bring remission. We hope to be spared the side effects of
the treatment. Hope remains but its face changes. We then hope to be
able to set our house in order, to be able to say goodbye to those
dearest to us. A month ago our hope was for cure. Now our hope is to be
able to die peacefully and without pain. We never know the final face of
hope until the moment comes when we face it. Hope is not simply one
thing, static, but manifests itself in many ways.

Jimmie Holland, a psycho-oncologist at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
in Manhattan, has explored the human side of cancer.[11]  She reports that
many describe the period of waiting between hearing the words “You have
cancer,” and the start of treatment as the worst time in their
illness.[12] The bad news has been given but one doesn’t know yet where to
go with it. The initial response is disbelief, followed by a stage of
turmoil, and then a stage that brings some relief which comes from doing
something about it.[13] Michael Lerner’s father battled with cancer.
Michael observed that some  had no difficulty accepting the prospect of
death. They  had hope:


hope of a death without too much suffering, hope of a death with
dignity, hope of a death that did not impoverish the family, hope of a
death that would reunite them with a husband or wife who had died
before. When we hope, we can heal. Healing is an inner process through
which a person becomes whole.[14]


There is a a connection between hope and wholeness. We cannot live
without hope. We experience its changing faces.  Viktor Frankl,
reflecting on his own experience in a concentration camp and the human
person’s need for meaning,  observed that a person can bear  any “how”
as long as they know the “why.”[15]

In the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, one did not
reveal to a patient the  diagnosis of cancer. It was considered cruel to
take away a person’s hope. It was taboo until the 1970s. Like the word
AIDS today, it was a death sentence. Patients themselves, aware of the
progression of their illness,  asked few questions, observing the taboo.
There are just some things we don’t talk about.  We live a facade. Like
all facades, it leads to isolation such as that portrayed by Tolstoy in
The Death of Ivan Ilyich.[16]  Ivan had never given his own death a
thought until his own illness. Only Gerasim, his servant, a peasant boy
who acted as a nurse to the dying man  acknowledged the truth that
neither wife nor colleagues nor friends would acknowldege. Ilyich
himself had a hard time dealing with It, that is with his own death.
Tolstoy writes, “He went to his study, lay down, and once again was left
alone with It. Face to face with It, unable to do anything with It.
Simply look at It and grow numb with horror.”[17]  Tolstoy continues:
“Ivan Ilyich suffered most of all from the lie, the lie which, for some
reason, everyone accepted: that he was not dying but was simply
ill...”[18]  Ilyich oscillated between false hope and despair. True hope
came only when he was able to acknowledge the truth to himself, namely
that he had squandered his life on what was unimportant, when he
discovered what the real thing in life really is.[19]  His screaming began
three days before his actual death. He was getting closer and closer to
what terrified him. It was not his dying but the way he had lived,  as
he could now see so painfully in the living of those around him. “Yes,
all of it was simply not the real thing.”[20]


Just then his son crept quietly into the room and went up to his bed.
The dying man was still screaming desperately and flailing his arms. One
hand fell on the boy’s head. The boy grasped it, pressed it to his lips,
and began to cry. At that very moment Ivan Ilyich fell through and saw a
light, and it was revealed to him that his life had not been what it
should have but that he could still rectify the situation. “But what is
the real thing?” he asked himself and grew quiet, listening. Just then
he felt someone kissing his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at his


Ilyich had discovered what was important in life --the real thing.

But it is social illness that is our concern here. Thus let us assume
for a moment that our world has cancer. I would agree with Margaret in
her opening preaching Friday evening and name the cancer greed. Our
world does have cancer.Should we then counsel despair? Is there then no
basis for hope?  For our world does have cancer. All of creation is in
great travail according to St. Paul (Rom 8:22). Would we counsel a
patient with terminal and fatal cancer not to have hope? But then what
would that hope be? Would the face of hope begin to change?

Revisiting Our Question: What Is Hope?

We are by now aware of the mortally sinful effects of globalization, an
uncontrolled capitalism, and cultural domination. At the same time in
the past years we have been surprised by hope. I had not expected the
disentangling of the Soviet system with as little violence as did occur.
The end of apartheid in South Africa without a blood bath was more than
we might have hoped for. I had come to expect the inevitable which
evidently was not inevitable. As we heard yesterday from our panelists,
there are many seeds of hope, depending of course upon what face our
hope takes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45),Teilhard de Chardin
(1881-1955), John XXIII (1881-1963), Martin Luther King ((1929-68) Oscar
Romero (1917-80), Bede Griffiths (1906-94), Joseph Bernardin (1928-96),
Pierre Claverie, OP (1938-96), Rose Hawthorne (1851-1926), Flannery
O’Connor (1925-64), Dorothy Day ((1897-1980), Maura Clarke, Ita Ford,
Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan (d 1980)  Thea Bowman (1937-1990), Mother
Teresa (1910-97), and Rosemary Henley(1937-2002),  are not so far
removed from our own times and you could name many more.  Our
contemporary world is not lacking  its cloud of witnesses either: Jane
Abel, Jim Barnett, Brian Pierce, Sheila Provencher, the mothers of the
disappeared, all mothers, Edward Schillebeeckx, Albert Nolan, Timothy
Radcliffe,  Beatrice Bruteau, NonaMcGreal, Cathy Hilkert,  Rosa Parks,
Dorothy Marie Hennessey, Sister Vandana, the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter,
and Rembert Weakland. Again we could add extensively to the list. There
is Christine from Zambia, Zenaida from the Philippines, Joao from Malta
and Brazil, Maria Leonor from Columbia, Luma from Iraq, Pablo from
Mexico, and on and on.

Where do we ourselves see hope then?   Hope is --
-- choosing to conceive and give birth to a child
-- letting a loved one die
-- seeing the tulips bloom
-- consecrating one’s life to God
-- opening a new mission, funding a potential scholar, not allowing
disappointment to   beget discouragement
-- inter-faith prayer in Assisi, inter-religious meditation, little
Dominican ashrams   scattered around the globe;
-- learning to read, learning to write, going to school
-- planting seeds, as indicated in the poem by the Brazilian
theologianRubem Alves:


What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming  brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection....
The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness....
Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.[22]

Hope is--
-- living with soul, an indomitable spirit, solidarity, family
-- believing that the last word about life, its bottom line, is
-- Javier Medina’s calling us to conversion, or a “por favor, Senor”
inviting us to conversion
-- Dominicans Sisters International, an explosion among the Dominican
laity, Voices of the Faithful.
Hope is hoping against hope that there must be another way.
Hope is--
-- women and men being able to relate as sisters and brothers and able
to set aside for friendship sake the glasses of gender with which they
have become accustomed to viewing each other;
--thinking in categories other than those given us by others and
believing in our own capacity to think;
--devoting a life to scholarship,  the often unappreciated, unglamorous,
but still passionate pursuit of truth;
-- becoming less preoccupied with our separate identities, a growing
awareness of our connectedness in all things, with all others, with all
-- the growing desire to reach across the boundaries of religion in the
search for the one true God, not abandoning the wisdom of the Catholic
tradition but enriching it with open hearts and open minds, as the
Gospel of Matthew says: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the
kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his or
her storeroom both the new and the old” (13:52).

What is hope?  There is no such thing as hope in itself. There are only
people of hope, seekers on life’s journey, sisters and brothers leaning
on each other and leaning on God. Hope requires a bigger picture than
the one on which we ordinarily focus our lenses. As the Dominican
mystic- philosopher Ralph Powell is credited with saying: “You can’t see
the whole picture if you’re inside the frame.” Hope requires an ability
to get oneself outside the frame and take a look from another angle,
another vantage point, such as Teilhard de Chardin or Sri Aurobindo did
with their evolutionary insights into the cosmos, such as Ken Wilber is
doing in making us aware that there is a whole spectrum of consciousness
which we tend to leave out of our vision. We look at the world, its
religions, and our church with small egoic minds which cannot see much
beyond themselves.

Just three years ago we were talking about a new millennium. I ask what
will the church  look like come the next millennium, in 1000 years? If
we go back historically one thousand years, what did the church look
like then? Would anyone then have recognized our post Vatican II church
of the twenty-first century? In the year 1000 there was monastic life
but no mendicant friars on the scene. Faith had been seeking to
understand itself for centuries but there was no Thomas Aquinas. This
was before the black death and before the rise of capitalism. The
definitive break between East and West had not yet happened but was on
the horizon. There was no Protestantism. The papacy had not yet assumed
the proportions that it would under Innocent III (1198-1216) and
Boniface VIII (1294-1303).  Europeans had not yet come to what was a
“new world” for them and had not yet entered into the age of
imperialism.  Science as we know it had not yet come into being. Health
care was of a completely different make, and on and on. If we had been
able to describe the post-Vatican II church to a Catholic peasant or
parishioner in the year 1000, do you think they would have recognized
the church, been capable of imagining it?

And likewise for us. What makes us think that we can envision the church
of the next millennium any more than our ancestors in the faith could
have envisioned  our theologies, our universe?  We are truly not able to
envision the church of the future, a church to whose making we will
contribute, a church that remains beyond our control, but neither should
we allow ourselves to be limited by the actual, as Rubem Alves
indicates.  Clearly the church, women in the church, ministry in the
church, structures of the church will be as different a thousand years
from now as they were a thousand years ago.

Now someone will say, “A thousand years: that gives me little hope.” But
our vision may be too small. We want what we want when we want it.
That’s the North American way. We place our hopes in ourselves, what we
can do, in our period of history. Yet human history itself is but such a
fraction of the story of the cosmos. The exact date of the appearance of
humanity on earth can only be approximated and keeps changing even with
recent discoveries just this past summer.[23]  But if we place the
appearance of the Australopithecines in Africa at January first on an
arbitrary calendar, summer would have come and gone before the
appearance of Neanderthal men and women around November 1. The first
indications of religious belief come with the later Neanderthaloids
around December 17. Not until December 24  did the more modern Cromagnon
humans appear. The agricultural revolution took place around December
28. The whole of our so-called human history is nestled in the last two
days of the year. Socartes, Plato, and Aristotle were born around 9:00
a.m. on December 31. Christ died at noon on December 31. The final hour
of December 31, from 11:00 p.m. to midnight, embraces all of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[24] Time is a strange phenomenon and
so much depends upon how we look at it. Sometimes we let it imprison us.
As Rubem Alves says, we must live by a love of what we will never see.

This perspective says nothing about what we can do or not do or ought to
do, but only that hope lies within an expansive consciousness which is
aware that  the future of evolution is in our hands but in another sense
not in our hands. In that bigger picture is the reality of the Holy
Spirit, the Spirit of hope. Costly grace, real hope realizes that hope
is not about  us. It’s  about God and about tapping into the
contemplative roots of our own Dominican charism. Yet hope manifests
itself in action as well. In the movie “Julia,” Julia (Vanessa Redgrave)
says to Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) on behalf of Julia’s effort to
secure release of political and Jewish prisoners in 1937 during the rise
of Nazism in Germany, in a touching and what would prove to be final
encounter between two intimate friends in Berlin, Julia says,  “We can
only do today what we can do today.”[25]

We can only do today what we can do today. Philip Jenkins in his  book
The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity documents
demographic, religious and political trends.[26]   By the year 2050 six
nations -- Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Congo and the
United States -- will each have 100 million Christians or more.
Sub-Saharan Africa will have replaced Europe as the center of
Chrisitanity. Brazil will count 150 million Catholics and 40 million
Protestants. More than one billion Pentecostals, the poorest of the
poor, will be spreading their version of Christ’s message. As one
Brazilian has indicated, the Catholic Church has made its option for the
poor but the poor are making their option for the Pentecostals. Across
the Southern hemisphere a new wave of nondemocratic, theocratically
inclined states, will compete for dominance. When not fighting each
other they will unite against a common foe, Islam. In 2050 almost 20 of
the 25 largest nations will be predominantly or entirely Christian or
Muslim. The issues confronting Islam -- the allure of theocracy, the
rights of minorities, penalties for conversion -- will transform the
Christian world as well. The new Christian wave will not take up the
vision of liberation theology but that of Pentecostalism with its
apocalyptic visions of extraterrestial justice.

Let us not have illusions about the future shape of Catholic
Christianity in the midst of a radically evangelical Christian and
zealous Muslim world. Yet we must do today what we can do today.
Following calculations done by Dr. Phillip Harter of Stanford
University,[27]  if we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of
100 people, there would be:
-- 57 Asians
-- 21 Europeans
-- 14 North and South Americans
-- 8 Africans
-- 30 white
-- 70 non white
-- 6  people would possess 59% of the world’s wealth, and all 6 would be
from the U.S.
-- 80 would live in substandard housing
-- 70 would be unable to read
-- 50 would suffer from malnutrition
-- 1 would have a college education
-- 1 would own a computer.

Yet we must do today what we can do today. Following South Africa’s
hosting of the thirteenth international Aids conference in Durban two
years ago, the English journal, the Tablet, reported that two million
people die from Aids in Africa every year, and 12 million children, most
of whom are now dead, have been made orphans.[28] The situation  has only
gotten worse.  Yet we must do today what we can do today. We do not
attach our hope to success for our hope is not in ourselves but in God.
True hope  goes deeper than a commitment to action, justice, peace, all
of which are certainly God’s dream for our world.  Hope rather is
grounded in something else. For now I will call that contemplation.

Retrieving the Contemplative Foundation

One of the mottos of our Dominican Family is contemplari et contemplata
aliis tradere
.   I think we can agree that we do well when it comes to
the tradereing. The contemplariing is another story. However, if we are
less invested in the contemplariing, we have to ask, what are we
tradereing? In the past forty years of soul searching since the Second
Vatican Council we have re-written constitutions, formulated mission and
vision statements, evaluated ministries and apostolates, re-visited the
charism of our founders, studied the signs of the times, re-appropriated
our identity as Preachers, emphasized mission, collaboration and an
identity for our times. Although there is much more that we can do in
these areas, it is noteworthy that we have focused less attention on the
contemplative dimension of the charism.  Just what is Dominican
contemplation? the Dominican contemplative tradition? Does it refer only
to our cloistered sisters, one branch of the family, essential as they
are in safeguarding and witnessing to this facet of our life?[29]  Or does
it refer to scattered mystics interspersed among us? In the vision of
St. Dominic, contemplation and mission are inextricably linked. We are
all called to be contemplative and it is this that grounds our life
together and our hope, Dominican hope: O spem miram![30]    We learn
slowly to rely on God, for a God of love is the only solid ground for
hope we have.[31]

One of the great challenges we face as the Dominican Family during the
coming twenty-five years is the integration of our contemplative side
with our intellectual tradition and the thirst for justice in our world.
These three must be held together as an integral whole. Let me begin  by
saying, “I  believe in justice.”  I am not saying that I think justice
is a good idea, but that I  believe in the end that there will be
justice.  There is nothing I  believe more strongly. It makes as much
sense as saying “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” or “I  believe in
God.”In fact, because I believe in justice, I have to  believe in God.
I believe in justice. It is an act of faith. I  believe that the  botton
line about the universe and creation is that there will be justice and
happiness for all.  I cannot not believe that. It is the only thing that
makes sense. It shapes all our lives. Because we  believe in justice, we
must do today what we can do today.

Living with hope for a just world does not exclude living
contemplatively, nor vice-versa. In fact the two require each other.
Sarah Coakley, the feminist theologian, Anglican priest and Harvard
professor, argues that “empowerment” must be grounded in “submission,”
submission to God.  She speaks of “the contemplative matrix”of power and
writes: “A particular form of spiritual ‘practice’, known in the
Christian West as ‘contemplation’, a graced means of human
empowerment in the divine which the feminist movement ignores at its own
peril.”[32]  She also addresses the falsity of the suggestions that
‘contemplative practice’ is narrowly introverted or apolitical. Because
we are seekers, seekers of justice, seekers of God, a contemplative
stance is the only stance a just  person can take unless we conceive of
our search for justice in a “flatland” way, to use an expression of Ken

Nor as Dominicans should our sense of ourselves be that we are
contemplatives in the midst of action, but rather that we are active in
the midst of contemplation. This is the sense behind Eckhart’s
interpretation of Martha as more spirtually mature than Mary, not that
Martha is active but that she is active in the midst of contemplation.[34]  

Bernard McGinn speaks of the fundamental theme of
Eckhart’s Martha sermon as: “Life, that is, actual practice, gives a
higher form of knowledge than even the light of contemplative ecstasy
without application to actual living.”[35] Even Thomas had noted that the
active life can be better than the contemplative insofar as in action
one pours out for love that which one has gained in contemplation.[36]
The contemplari precedes and undergirds the tradere. There is no true
justice without contemplation.  In the end, only contemplation will
prevent war. I am not saying prayer stops wars but that wasr will
certainly not cease among us until our societies realize a certain level
of contemplative consciousness, until more and more people move up the
spectrum or rather spiral consciousness.

In Albert Camus’ The Plague,[37]  many in Oran, Algeria, had become
“allergic to hope.”[38]  Hope was too costly. They had learned from
experience “the bleak sterility of a life without illusions.”[39] Yet in
the midst of the weariness, the seeming hopelessness, the
overwhelmingness of the struggle, Jean Tarrou suggested to Dr. Rieux:
Let us take an hour off -- to forget the plague -- for friendship sake
-- in order to remember what it is  we are fighting the plague for.[40]
Dr. Rieux and Tarrou had done that day what they could do that day. Now
they needed to remember why they were doing it.

Contemplation and justice are not two opposing stances in life but one
integral rhythm such that we cannot have one without the other.
Authentic contemplatio, as Eckhart knew, always overflows into traditio.
There is simply no stopping it. Love tends to communicate itself, the
old scholastic axium, bonum est diffusivum sui. Or as Eckhart would say,
God’s love simply boils over and lo, creation.[41]   The contemplative
thirsts for justice as much as any man or woman in the world but not for
a flatland justice.  If there is to be a just society, there needs to be
an evolution of consciousness from egocentric to ethnocentric to
worldcentric levels.[42]  As Teilhard de Chardin has impressed upon us,
structures of justice at the level of the without must be sustained by a
corresponding evolution of consciousness at the level of the within.
There will never be a world at peace until there are more people at a
worldcentric level of awareness, global consciousness not globalization.

We must take a global view, but not just a horizontally global view but
vertically global as well, a true global or cosmic consciousness, not
just our connectivity at the level of the without, the exterior web of
life, but at the level of interiority. As Ken Wilber writes, “Obviously,
we want to continue working to improve exterior development -- improve
economic conditions, housing, access to medical services, and
environmental sustainability. But unless we also encourage and support
interior development, those exterior reforms will be of limited success,
because there will be no developmental consciousness to hold them in

Our approach to world problems cannot be flat, horizontal alone. We must
do today what we can do today, but in doing it we must take spiral
dynamics into account.[44]  To bring the world to wholeness necessitates a
globally wider and deeper awareness: the contemplari. Empirical research
has demonstrated that meditation can produce vertical transformation in
adults, whereas such has not been demonstrated for many other methods
such as bodywork, breathwork, or psychotherapy.[45]  The justice that we
seek is not simply a better material existence but a more advanced, a
more whole, a more integral world. We have spent some of our renewal in
flatland,  inattentive to the ascending spiral of consciousness,
levelling everything. Even our social consciousness has sometimes been
horizontal alone, but transformation is not either/or, horizontal or
vertical, but both/and. The emotion that accompanies living in flatland
alone is depression [46] and we have become in the United States a Prozac
Nation. Is it any surprise that war energizes people?

Catholicism has a profound mystical tradition and we Dominicans a
contemplative tradition more profound than which there could not be, and
yet often the last thing we see ourselves as being are contemplatives.
From hyperactivity and saving the world we go to bed at night, close our
eyes and fall asleep. It is now time we open our eyes, smell the coffee,
and then close them again in meditation and fall awake.[47] Awakening
comes not simply from a social, political, economic and ecological
analysis of the world’s problems alone. The awakening is the
contemplari. It is not simply a question of a world-centric world view
(as important as that is) but of a world practice, spiritual practice,
the praxis of the Spirit, an integral and transformative practice or
yoga. In regard to this we will have much to learn from our Asian
sisters and brothers in particular.[48] Sarah Coakley also speaks about
“practices of transparency to God by whose light political strategies
must ultimately be illuminated.”[49]

Contemplation and  ministry are not the only two factors in the integral
yoga or spiritual practice of St. Dominic. Another integral element is
that of regular observance or common life which I shall not address
here. But I do want to mention another motto of the Order, that of
veritas, which more than anything is the mark of Dominican life -- the
passionate pursuit of truth. A Dominican loves truth more than he or she
loves anything else. As I believe Augustine said, “Amicus Plato, sed
magis amica veritas.” I love Plato, but I love truth more. The pursuit
of truth takes us beyond ideological conflicts, narrow ecclesial
confines, excessive self-preoccupation, and ready made answers.
Scholarship, learning,and reflection are part of the equation that makes
for Dominican hope. For Dominicans, it is the search for truth that
leads to contemplation.  Dominican contemplation surpasses study but
does not bypass it. It is rather the outgrowth of a studious life.
Education is a Dominican thing, and as Benedict Viviano has said, study
is worship.[50]

Perhaps I have gone too far afield, except to suggest that any lack of
hope can have much to do with the tearing asunder of our spirituality,
the sheer boredom of living in a technozoic society.  The solution is
not to do more. Much of our doing is running away.


I fled Him down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.[51]


Perhaps we need time out to remember what it is all about, as Tarrou and
Rieux needed in the midst of the plague, time out to say yes once again
to the cup, for the cup is the only other way, to embrace the cup with
tears in our eyes but with hearts full of joy, speaking again the words
of Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord, take me” (Is 6:8). As I suggested in the
beginning, the journey from hope to joy is a long journey, but joy
remains the face of hope that lasts. Hope is simply the unshakeable
awareness that God is. Hope is doing today what we can do today.  As
Janet said in welcoming us the first evening, hope is a confidence in
the power of love. A joyful hope, to use the language of the liturgy, is
contagious. It does not need globalization.  Hope is global. Joy is
contagious.I am obviously not speaking of a superficial frivolity that
is an avoidance of reality, but real joy, costly joy which knows from
the inside out “the bleak sterility of a life without illusions,”[52] the
joy which is ultimately a gift of the Spirit. And God does not ration
the gift of the Spirit (John 3:34).

If we return to the poem by Jane Kenyon with which I began, I do think
Nabokov got it wrong, but so perhaps did Jane. She is right, this life
alone is not that for which we were created. But neither is this an
abyss. This is neither the fullness of life nor a vale of tears. Some
may think it too easy for me to be able to say so, and yet the joy we
find at times on the faces of some poor tells us that we do not give
birth to genuine joy only by having a better  material world. As Pablo
said, poor people teach us what hope really is.  God created us for
happiness. Few things are as  heavenly as laughter; nothing gives God
greater pleasure. For those who lack a sense of humor, God will have no
alternative but to say, “Go to hell.”

A sense of humor is not avoidance, not denial. It is seeing the bigger
picture. It is knowing in our hearts and souls and indomitable human
spirits that there is more to life than meets the eye. Blessed is the
one who hears the word of God and believes. Bernard McGinn writes of
Eckhart: “While traditional teaching emphasized the beatific vision as
the ultimate fulfillment of all human longing, Eckhart insists that in
heaven ‘seeing and hearing are one’.”53 Or as our darling Sister Ann
Willits likes to say: “It is not: seeing is believing, but rather
believing is seeing. Once we see we will never be the same and hope will
make its home in us. Perhaps the suffering and the poor do see something
that we do not.

One of the things we must do today, each day, is play, love one another,
remember the kiss without asking for more, break bread together and pass
the cup. We celebrate Eucharist in order to remember, lest we forget the
everlasting face of hope:

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In
your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we
wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.[54]




1.  Jane Kenyon, Otherwise, New and Selected Poems (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1996): 22.

2.  In the Communion Rite: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”

3.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1963): 43-60.

4.  Carolyn Forche, “Return” (1980), in The Country Between Us (New York: Harper and Row, 1981): 20.

5  References in the text are to Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1996), unless otherwise indicated. Also see Carole Angier, The Double Bond: Primo Levi, A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002).

6.  Richard Eder, a book review of The Double Bond: Primo Levi, A Biography , in “The New York Times Book Review (June 16, 2002):11-12.

7.  Also see Survival in Auschwitz, 114-15, 157-8.

8.  Carole Angier, 286.

9.  Auschwitz I was the main camp. Auschwitz had forty or fifty sub camps all together. Angier, 302-3.

10.  “It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesmal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and it is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium -- as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom -- well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.”  (Survival in Auschwitz,131)

11.  Jimmie C. Holland, The Human Side of Cancer (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000).

12.  Ibid., 43.

13.  Ibid., 45-48.

14.  Ibid., 264-65. Emphasis added.

15.  Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984): 88.

16.  Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (New York: Bantam Books, 1981).

17.  Ibid., 97.

18.  Ibid., 102-103.

19.  Ibid., 109, 118, 126-128.

20.  Ibid., 132.

21.  Ibid., 132.

22.  From Rubem Alves,  Hijos de Maoana (Tomorrow’s Children) (Salamanca, Spain: Ediciones Sigueme, 1976): 219, 22627,  230.

23.  E.g., “The First Pioneer?” National Geographic (August, 2002); and “Redrawing Humanity’s Family Tree,” The New York Times, Science Times (Tuesday, August 6, 2002): D 1.

24.  Cf., Robert Francoeur, “Preface,” in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Appearance of Man (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1965).

25.  Lillian Hellman, “Julia,” in  Pentimento (N.Y.: New American Library, 1973):113.

26.  Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press: 2002). Also see the review by R. Scott Appleby, The New York Times Book Review (May 12, 2002): 16.

27.  See Ken Wilber, Boomeritis (Boston: Shambhala, 2002):403. Boomeritis is a novel, but one containing many facts and critiques.

28.  “Aids: Africa’s Worst War,” The Tablet ((July 22, 2000): 980-981.

29.  “At the Heart of the Holy Preaching: Dominican Contemplative Nuns,” Text of the Commission on the Nuns, General Chapter of the Friars of the Order of Preachers (Providence, RI, 2001).  Also see Timothy Radcliffe, “A City Set on a Hilltop Cannot Be Hidden: A Contemplative Life,” Letter to the Order (Santa Sabina, May 2001).

30.  O wondrous hope that you did give at the hour of death to those who mourned thee, when you promised to avail them even after death.

31.  See John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World (Yale University Press, 2002).

32.  Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002): xvii.  Also see the review by Fergus Kerr, OP, The Tablet (July 30, 2002): 16.

33.  Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Integrating Science and Religion (N.Y.: Random House, 1998): 9-11, 56-57, 60, 85, 114-15, 134-36. Also see A Brief History of Everything  (Boston: Shambhala, 1996); The Essential Ken Wilber, An Introductory Reader (Boston: Shambhala, 1998).

34.  Meister Eckhart, Preacher and Teacher, ed. Bernard McGinn,  Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1986): 338-345, sermon 86. Also see Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 2001): 67, 158-61.

35.  McGinn, 159

36.  See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae  II/II, q 182, a2.

37.  Albert Camus, The Plague,  trans. Stuart Gilbert (N.Y.: Vintage International, 1991).

38.  Ibid., 272.

39.  Ibid., 292.

40.  Ibid., 245, 255, 307.

41.  Cf., Richard Woods, Eckhart’s Way (Wilmington, Del: Michael Glazier, 1986): 89-91; Robert Forman, Meister Eckhart, Mystic as Theologian (Rockport, Mass: Element, 1991): 65-68; Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart (New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 2001):72-74, 100-106, 238, n. 208.

42.  Boomeritis, 40-61 which include further references.

43.  Boomeritis, 408

44.  Ibid., 20-39 which include further references.

45.  Ibid., 415.

46.  Boomeritis, 420.

47.  Ibid., 436. The expression comes from a poem by Ken Wilber.

48.  E.g., see William Johnston, Arise, My Love, Mysticism for a New Era (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000).

49.  Sarha Coakley, op. cit., xx.

50.  Benedict Viviano, Study as Worship, Aboth and the New Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1978).

51.  Francis Thompson, “The Hound of Heaven,” in Diana Culbertson, ed.,  Invisible Light, Poems about God (N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 2000): 125-30.

52.  Albert Camus, The Plague, 292.

53.  Bernard McGinn, op. cit., 86-87.

54.  In the Communion Rite, the Eucharistic Liturgy.