Finding the Human Connection

The arrival of March means a few things here in Chicago. It is the arrival of meteorological spring, although I wouldn’t put away the winter coat quite yet. We are in the Lenten season for many Christians, and this year Ramadan will start for Muslims worldwide during our spring break. It also means Saint Patrick’s Day, which turns our hearts toward all things green and Irish. I think the spirit of this season reminds all of us to bring the beauty of our full selves to this community, and to look with special care for those among us who may be a bit lost, but who with a bit of minding could blossom beautifully.

As with any saint, especially one who lived sixteen centuries ago, we know a lot more about the Patrick of hagiography and myth than the one of history. On the bright side, we can learn a lot from hagiography and myth. For many, Saint Patrick represents the plight of those who fall victim to great evil,[1] but who under God’s care can turn evil to good. In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Saint Patrick speaks poignantly against the horrors of slavery as someone who had experienced it himself. In the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, Saint Patrick’s Day became a symbol of Irish cultural and religious pride and an honoring of immigrants more broadly.

After its establishment in 1898, DePaul University’s mission was centered upon providing higher education and a ladder to a better life to the children of immigrants in Chicago, many of whom were Irish Catholics. Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M., DePaul’s President from 1910 to 1920, oversaw tremendous growth in DePaul’s student body and began coeducation of men and women together over the objections of the archbishop. He also made DePaul the first American university to grant an honorary degree to an international figure when he bestowed one upon Irish leader Eamon de Valera in 1919.[2] De Valera had escaped from an English prison and was touring the United States to raise money and political support as the Irish War of Independence raged.

Given that March is Academy Awards season, it also seems appropriate to note that a commitment to include and honor people from different cultures and identities in a deep way can often best be achieved through the arts. There were three powerful Irish films released last year that also may evoke some mission-related reflection.[3] In The Banshees of Inisherin, we see what appears to be an idyllic Irish village. As the story unfolds, we see that the village contains elements of evil and corruption, but most of all feelings of loneliness and of being trapped. These are brought to the surface when the vital human connection of friendship for one of the residents is cut off without warning. Aisha tells the story of a Nigerian Muslim woman seeking asylum in Ireland who, having already suffered immense trauma and hardship, is now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. And, in the Irish language film An Cailίn Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), we witness the effects on a neglected young girl spending a summer with distant relatives who truly see and care for her despite her quietness.

Each of these films dramatizes the profound human need for connection. We see how much can lie beneath surfaces. One of the paradoxes of DePaul’s mission is that we emphasize the individual care and attention we call personalism, while also proudly carrying the banner of the nation’s largest Catholic university. There is great potential in this paradox. We can offer the diverse resources of a large school while providing personal holistic attention to each student as well. To fulfill this potential, we need to remind ourselves of the value of connecting with those students who may be quiet, who may feel lost in bureaucracy, who may suffer from traumatic life circumstances, or who merely feel an unmet need for friendship that can make life seem meaningless. Perhaps in a nod to their Irishness, none of these films offers an easy, happy ending, but each demonstrates that even in the midst of difficulty, reaching out for true connection is always worth it for all involved.


Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care and Muslim Chaplain.

[1] The predominant understanding has been that Saint Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as an enslaved person, although as with most everything about his life, the historical accuracy of that has been questioned. See “Was St. Patrick a Slave Trader and Tax Collector?” IrishCentral, March 7, 2022, https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/saint-patrick-slave-trader.

[2] See “DePaul Presidents: Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M.,”               The Full Text (blog), DePaul University Library, February 24, 2010, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2010/02/24/depaul-presidents-rev-francis-x-mccabe-c-m/.

[3] By the time you read this, you will know how many of the fourteen nominations garnered by Irish talent resulted in Oscar wins. See Emma Jones, “Oscars 2023: Banshees and the Irish Films Breaking Records,” BBC, March 6, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20230303-banshees-and-the-irish-films-breaking-oscars-records.

 

Spiritual Times: Times When We Hope Together

The prudent [person] acts in the way [they] should, when [they] should,

and for the purpose [they] should.[1]

In the coming days, followers of the Abrahamic traditions will enter an intense spiritual time. Ramadan has begun for Muslims and will continue into May, and this week sees the start of both the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week in preparation for Easter Sunday.

At this holy moment, I would like to talk about spiritual people, spiritual times, and spiritual wisdom in service to humanity, providing a constant reminder of something that is bigger than we are. Both religious and nonreligious people find a sense of something greater in community, or in humanity, or in the universe. Some may find this sense through love and compassion. For all of us, there is a place of connection beyond ourselves, beyond our own small egos. The celebration of mystery, and of the mystery of God for theists, is only possible if we individually and collectively dare to fully embrace our own mystery of connection to something greater.

Spiritual times are times for hope and trust, not for magical thinking. These are times to wonder and ponder, times for amazement and openness to surprise. For Christians, the time of the resurrection is a time to overcome our doubts and to end our exhaustion, our divisions, and our fears. This is done by committing to an abundant life, a life of love, joy, peace, and kindness, so that all might live with dignity.

For those celebrating this holy month, our faith gives us an opportunity to go deeper into our inner sanctuary, that holy place inside each one of us. This is the place where we feel connected to something greater and where we make sense of life, that place we call home.

Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac served humanity by caring for the most abandoned. Their life’s work was rooted in a profound sense of the mystery of God. They surrendered before this mystery. They trusted.  Nothing of their lives and commitments can be explained if it is not connected to this experience of mystery, to their sense of spirituality, and their sense of transcendence and trust in Providence. Vincent often articulated his trust in Providence in terms such as these: “Grace has its moments,” “The things of God come about by themselves and […] wisdom consists in following Providence step by step,”[2] and “Allow yourself to be guided, and rest assured that God will be the one who guides you; but where? To the freedom of His children, to a superabundance of consolations, to great progress in virtue, and to your eternal happiness.”[3]

During this month, when billions of people celebrate their faith and stories of mystery and how they are called to be and connect in the world, I invite you to consider your own mystery. How does your grounding in something outside yourself give you strength and inspire you to care for others and our “common home”? I ask that you connect with the inner meaning of your life as you consider the larger social purpose of your existence, your work, your relationships, and the ways in which you contribute to the common good.

Saint Vincent never stopped recommending that his community—and we are his community today—pray for what is essential: hope. Asking for hope in Vincent’s Christian heart is asking for “the justice of God”; If we ask for that, “the rest of what we need will be given to us.”[4]

Justice, compassion, and solidarity can restore hope at all levels! May we all commit with pragmatic, realistic hope, a hope that is found in everything we say and do. This hope is a real source of joy and community, a joy of celebration and connection, committing with our faith or with our convictions during these spiritual times.

May DePaul be a community in which we all can struggle for and build hope together while resisting prophecies and actions rooted in destruction, division, and dissolution. May the celebrations of these holy days help us to keep our hope alive and to commit our entire selves to make our collective hope a reality, as Vincent always did with hope for the communities he served. We hope, we care, we struggle together because we are DePaul, a community of many faiths and abundant commitment to something greater.


Reflection by: Fr. Memo Campuzano, C.M., Vice President for Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 35, “Prudence,” n.d., CCD, 11:42. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/‌37/.

[2] Letter 704, “To Bernard Codoing, Superior, in Rome,” March 16, 1644, CCD, 2:499; and letter 720, “To Bernard Codoing, Superior, in Rome,” August 6, 1644, CCD, 2:521. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/27/.

[3] Letter 2854, “To a Brother of the Mission,” May 28, 1659, CCD, 7:589–90. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌‌depaul.‌edu/‌‌vincentian_ebooks/32/.

[4] Matthew 6:33.

Living Our Words through Actions

During this Black History month, I have been reflecting a great deal, as I often do, on the life of Malcolm X. February 21 marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of his martyrdom. Encountering the life and work of Malcolm, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, changed the course of my own life, and I have studied and taught about him for three decades now.

There is often mystery involved in who becomes known and influential and who is largely forgotten to history. Some people are famous during their lifetimes and become unknown later. Others are obscure in their lifetimes and become famous after their deaths. Many people become known and thought of in ways that would surprise them and those who knew them. For those of us who have faith, we believe there is divine providence in these processes, and yet none would deny that many truly good people are never known or recognized beyond their families.

One of the Vincentian virtues, in fact the virtue most beloved to Vincent de Paul, was simplicity.[1] Although Malcolm first came to national prominence on the basis of his rhetorical powers, I believe it is his simplicity that continues to inspire. Simplicity involves actions such as witnessing to what is true, living in a way where deeds match words, and believing with complete sincerity in ideals. None of us—not even Vincent or Malcom X—are perfect, but if we strive in a way that honors this virtue, it will show in our lives.

It can at times be easier to love such exemplars from a distance. Simplicity requires us to tell the truth, as we understand it, to ourselves, those whom we love, and those who have power. It requires us to push ourselves and others to live up to our words when hypocritical virtue is often more comfortable. It requires us to not only speak what is popular but to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. It requires us to change and grow, which often demands more courage than facing physical danger.[2] In the last years of his life, Malcolm was passionate about acknowledging the shortcomings of people and institutions to whom he had devoted all his gifts and energies. He saw it as necessary to honoring the ideals that he held sacred.

Some may say Malcolm X is far different than Vincentian role models such as Vincent, Louise de Marillac, or Frédéric Ozanam. Malcolm’s rhetoric was revolutionary and at times harsh, even if often marked with humor and love that are salient to anyone truly familiar with his life and character. Yet the similarities are what strike me. Malcom and our Vincentian role models were all committed, not just to speaking about suffering or injustice, but acting effectively to lessen it. They were all driven by a need to be true to their ideals and to form and live in vibrant, life-giving communities. And they were all willing to change and grow even when it was hard or scary. They were all able to embrace these challenges due to their profound faith in God and love for humanity.[3]

Christians around the world are preparing to enter the season of Lent, when, through intensified worship and closeness to God, they prepare themselves to better meet such challenges. This year, the fasting month of Ramadan falls shortly after, when Muslims will pursue similar goals.

What are some ways you can live up to your own ideals effectively through your work at DePaul? Are there ways in which you have changed or may feel a need to change to be true to your values, even if it is hard or frightening?


Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain, Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] For past reflections on simplicity, visit https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/tag/simplicity/.

[2] For Malcolm, change involved physical danger as well. Vincentian role models also faced danger in their work. For example, Marguerite Naseau, who is regarded as the first Daughter of Charity, followed God’s call to serve the poor and the sick. This resulted in ridicule and, eventually, in her own illness and death. For more, see https://daughters-of-charity.com/marguerite-naseau/.

[3] For a deeper examination of what we may learn from Malcom X, see my article, “Lessons from the Life of Malcom X.” Available at https://muslimmatters.org/2011/06/29/lessons-from-the-life-of-malcolm-x/.

 

UMMA’s Fast-a-Thon Iftar Dinner will take place this year on March 9, 2022, at 5:30 PM in Cortelyou Commons. DePaul community members can RSVP on DeHub: https://‌dehub.‌campusgroups.com/‌event_‌details?uid=d5ef46fe6af4f974d637b60ec8a25c2b

Ramadan and the Vincentian Question: Guidance and Inspiration in Times of Challenge

Muhammad ibn Abdullah(1) was a man living in seventh-century Arabia. Coming from a prominent clan and tribe, he traced his own lineage to the Prophet Abraham through Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (ar. Haajar). That family history was a source of collective pride for the people of Mecca, where Muhammad lived and where a house of worship built by Abraham and Ishmael served as a place of pilgrimage for tribes from throughout the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, substantive connection with Abraham’s guidance seemed to be lost to most Arabs, except for a few Jewish tribes and scattered individuals who claimed to be followers of Jesus or of a general Abrahamic monotheism. Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother when he was just six years old, and he was raised as an orphan by his uncle. Despite his noble lineage in a society wherein lineage was greatly valued, these circumstances meant Muhammad lived a humble life.

Muhammad’s experience as an orphan left him sensitive to the plight of the vulnerable in society. He felt his society did not live up to the chivalric values it claimed to hold dear and which it celebrated in its self-image and poetry. This was especially true when it came to those who were marginalized, which often included women as well as those who were enslaved or without tribal connections. Muhammad felt a call to do something and yearned for specific guidance from the Creator. He began to spend periods of time in meditation and prayer in solitude in a cave outside of the city. It was while engaged in this practice, in the lunar month of Ramadan, that the Prophet Muhammad received the first of what he understood to be revelations from God, which we call the Qur’an.

Muslim communities worldwide, including thousands of DePaul students, faculty, staff, and alumni, will begin observance of the month of Ramadan with the sighting of the crescent moon this week.(2) Muslims will commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an by fasting from dawn to sunset each day for the next lunar month while also engaging in special night prayers and acts of charity. These spiritual practices serve to develop spiritual discipline, generosity, compassion, and connection to the Most Merciful. Ramadan is filled with many different practices and traditions which make it an eagerly anticipated and joyously welcomed time in Muslim communities. Of course, as was the case last year, this year’s observance will be limited by precautions due to the pandemic. Despite that caution and uncertainty however, there is also a hopefulness this year that better times are coming.

Madame de Gondi once asked Vincent de Paul what has come to be known as the Vincentian question “What must be done?”(3) to confront the widespread material and spiritual poverty of seventeenth-century France. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad sensed that profound change was needed to address the social and spiritual challenges of seventh-century Arabia. Today, we as a DePaul community must ask the same question in facing the challenges of twenty-first-century Chicago. The spiritual practices of Ramadan serve to remind us that the guidance and inspiration we need to address the most profound challenges can come from being open to signs from the transcendent, being spiritually in touch with ourselves, and being socially connected as a community.

What spiritual and social challenges do you see as most pressing from your vantage point in twenty-first-century Chicago? What spiritual and social practices help you to remain committed to addressing them in your life and work?


1) Commonly referred to as the Prophet Muhammad. This of course spoils our narrative as neither he nor others thought of him in that way when our story begins. It is considered proper etiquette for Muslims to say the Arabic formula ﷺ often translated as “Peace be upon him” after the names of prophets and other sacred figures. I will not write the formula in this reflection, but I encourage those who wish to follow this practice to do so as you read.

2) It is expected that the moon may be visible on the night of Monday, April 12, which would make Tuesday, April 13, the first day of fasting.

3) For a discussion of the Vincentian Question see Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Podcast: “The Vincentian Question,” 2 December 2015. At: https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2015/12/02/the-vincentian-question-2/

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

The Beauty of a Higher Purpose

Virtue is so beautiful and amiable that they will be compelled to love it in you, if you practice it well.1

In the remarkable short letter from which this quote was taken, Vincent responds to news that several of the missionaries would be travelling on a ship with “some heretics.” After briefly expressing his distress at what they may have to “endure from them,” Vincent spends the rest of the letter reminding them that this is God’s plan. He encourages them to use their best manners and “be careful to avoid every sort of dispute and contention.”2 Vincent expresses hope that an example of beautiful character will be “helpful” to all.

Muslims are now entering into the final week of the observance of Ramadan. Ramadan is normally a month filled with fasting, prayer, and charity; it has been this year as well, although in all other ways it has been different with mosques closed and social activity curtailed by the pandemic. In a traditional saying of the Prophet Muhammad (which he sources to John the Baptist) it is said, “the similitude of the fasting person is that of someone who is carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people—all of them marveling at its fragrance (although they can’t see what has created it).”3

The experience of long days of fasting and nights of sporadic sleep risks making one impatient or hard to be around. However, we find that when undertaken with intention and perseverance, a connection to a higher purpose along with increased gratitude and vulnerability reveals a beauty in the fasting person that is attractive to those around them even if they don’t know the source of it. Such a state also increases generosity that rains upon us all, even upon those who may be seen as heretics in a particular time or place.

During times of difficulty and anxiety like those we are living now, it is tempting to be less patient, less compassionate, more selfish, or even divisive with each other, particularly with those who hold differing worldviews.

What are some practices or exercises you can engage in to remain grounded in a sense of higher purpose? Is there a foundational belief or perspective which enables virtue to emanate from you, such that its beauty and fragrance is enjoyed by and helpful to all whom you encounter?

 


1) 3032, To Philippe Patte, In Nantes, [November or December 1659], CCD, 8:209.

2) Ibid.

3) Jami at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Amthal (Chapter of Parables), Book 44, Hadith 3102. See: http://sunnah.com/urn/630960

 

Reflection by:

Abdul-Malik Ryan
Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain
Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care
Division of Mission and Ministry

Ramadan

“You must have an inner life, everything must tend to that direction.  If you lack this, you lack everything.” — Vincent de Paul (Pujo, The Trailblazer, 252)

Muslims around the world are currently observing the lunar month of Ramadan, fasting dawn to sunset daily from food, drink, and intimate relations. They also attempt to fill these days with reflection, good deeds, and spending for good causes. Many gather each evening, including here at DePaul, for communal meals to break the fast, and for special extended nightly prayers. One of the primary purposes of such practices among Muslims, as well as those in many other spiritual traditions, is to break free from the routine of daily life. It is done to gain a renewed sense of gratitude for simple things like food and water, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm and confidence to take on the many individual and collective challenges they will face. Over the next several days and weeks, what are some ways that you can cultivate gratitude and passion in your life, and in your work?

 


Note: The translation used is from Pujo’s biography, which is not the official translation of Vincent’s statement