While preparing this edition of The Tablet, I received a letter from Brother Ed Kent, one of the jubilarians we honor in the paper this week. He has been a Franciscan brother for 60 years – a lifetime of service to the Gospel and to the people of God in Brooklyn and Queens.
He writes: “James Joyce would agree with the June 7th editorial: ‘The Courage of the Newly Ordained.’ In his story ‘The Sisters,’ Joyce reflects, ‘I wondered how anybody had ever found in himself the courage’ to be priest.” (You can read Brother Ed’s letter in the Readers’ Forum section.)
I guess Brother Ed and I share the same admiration for the Irish novelist. Joyce was a literary genius and a relentless critic of the Church. He seemed to be incapable of writing 20 pages without attacking it. But he also seemed to be incapable of writing without alluding to the richness of the Catholic tradition, liturgy or theology.
Joyce was a Catholic writer in the sense that his whole oeuvre is marked by the faith he once professed. Without a working knowledge of the Catholic world, you won’t understand half of the references Joyce throws at the reader on every page.
Joyce was a product of Catholic Ireland, where Catholicism and history seem to be one and the same. That’s why Brother Ed’s letter is so timely – because this week we honor a group of women and men who dedicated their lives to build the foundations of a Catholic culture that reaches beyond the walls of our churches. And they have done so in a place and a time full of challenges – inside and outside the Church.
The women and men religious we honor this week have dedicated their lives to show the face of Jesus to others in many places, from the classrooms of Catholic schools to the homeless shelters or the immigrant centers, from parishes to the hospitals and the neighborhoods. The impact they have produced during 75, 60, 50 years of service is incommensurable.
And they have done it without the trappings of power or the prospects of making ‘a career’ in the Church, but with a radical way of offering their lives to God and to the people of God. They are in a good measure responsible for the Catholic influence that we find in every corner of our society. Sometimes we take them for granted. Let’s hope we won’t have to learn some day how wrong we were.
At a time when the role of women in the Church is often discussed, we should remember that from the morning of the Resurrection to the morning Mass this Sunday in our parishes, more often than not women religious and laywomen have done the heavy lifting so that the Church would be able to fulfill her mission. And most of the time, they have done it without receiving much recognition. But they have kept the faith, like St. Paul, by fighting the good fight, every day of their lives.
I am sure Brother Ed Kent knows this other quote by Joyce: “All things are inconstant except the faith in the soul.” Happy Bloomsday to him and to all Joyce readers. And happy anniversary to all the women and men religious we honor this week. Thank you for keeping the faith constant, for your courage, and for the immense service you offer to the people of God.