“But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
This verse from the Book of Daniel caught my attention immediately. What could be more affirming to an educator at a Catholic University that claims as its mission the preparation of students for “participation in the creation of a more just and humane world”? As a matter of fact, this very verse is inscribed on the base of a sculpture sitting in the center of our campus that depicts the founding of our university! “Those who instruct others unto justice shall shine like the stars forever” reads the bronze lettering beneath Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli and the young nineteenth century women, daughters of immigrant miners, receiving an astronomy lesson on the shores of the Mississippi River.
I was also struck by the fact that in this passage, the Lord praises the wise and calls attention to the teachers of justice precisely at a time in Jewish history when the people are experiencing “unsurpassed distress.” During the period in which the prophet Daniel speaks, sacred sites of Jewish worship were being profaned by foreign rulers, religious freedom was threatened, and the great world powers were at war with each other. Violence and fear lurked around every corner.
The people were struggling for liberty and faith.
Those were times perhaps not unlike our own. We also live in a distressing age marked by violence and fear. Our heads are filled with news and images of children locked in cages at the border, young people shot down in our streets, journalists disappeared, hurricanes destroying our towns, sexual abuse in our spaces of work and worship.
Not to mention the more private distresses we carry like caring for aging parents, suffering with mental illness, experiencing the break-up of families.
In times such as these, where do we turn? How do we set our feet, as the psalmist says, on the path of life, toward fullness of joy? Who can show us the way?
The Scriptures call us to consider all the great teachers of our lives, those both inside and outside the classroom. The psalmist invites us to remember those whose wisdom has had a great impact on us. The prophet’s voice points toward those whose witness to justice has challenged us. In tumultuous times, when we are under duress and anxious about the future, the Living Word acts as the North Star, guiding us into the joyful presence of God. We mine both memory and imagination for the wise ones who can lead us to liberation.
From my own life, I remember Mary Ellen, my pastoral counselor when I was going through a very painful divorce many years ago. Distress, sadness, and turmoil around my self-concept brought me to her door. She memorably advised me: “The only thing you can control in this situation is the kind of person you want to be.” All these years later, now in a happy marriage and blessed with two wonderful daughters, I have not forgotten that her wise insight led me to the path of hope and forgiveness.
I remember Dominican Sister Patty who comforted me during challenging years in my professional life. I was struggling at work, and confused about what my future would hold. “I love you for who you are, not what you do,” she said. And she showed that her love was true in countless ways. Her faith and companionship saw me through a dark time. It led me to the discovery of my life’s calling, and eventually to the very fulfilling ministry I enjoy today.
I see my former student and now colleague, Fanny. Brought to this country from Mexico by her parents when she was just a little child, Fanny saw her future unravelling amidst a rising anti-immigrant sentiment and growing threat of deportation. At a demonstration demanding educational access for immigrants like her, she stood tall before the rallying the crowd declaring, “I am undocumented, and unafraid.” Her courage changed the world.
I think of those known to me and perhaps to you too only through their writing and public action for justice. Remember leaders like:
Nelson Mandela and his hopeful struggle for freedom in South Africa,
Saint Oscar Romero and his clarion call for Christians to transform history,
Malala Yousafzai and her brave insistence on education for women and girls,
Wangari Maathai with her creative healing of the Earth.
And how about you? Who comes to your mind? Who are the wise ones shining brightly in your life? Who are the ones leading you to the path of justice?
It is true, isn’t it? They are splendid! They do shine like stars! Their ways are the ways of life and joy! I have no doubt that when the Son of Man comes in great power and glory, they will be gathered among the elect.
May their example lead us to justice on earth, and delight in the eternal presence of God.
Claire Noonan, DMin, is a practical theologian who brings more than two decades of experience in university ministry, adult faith formation, and social justice education to her work as Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The Catholic University of America with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Religion. She earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and her Ecumenical Doctor of Ministry degree at Catholic Theological Union with a concentration in spirituality. She is author of Full of Grace, a book of spiritual essays and exercises for women; Together We Share, Grow and Rejoice! Daily Reflections, Prayers and Actions; and most recently, Sharing the Bread of God’s Love (all with Twenty-Third Publications). She is a frequent speaker at local and national gatherings, addressing topics such as the Dominican tradition, Ignatian spirituality, interfaith education, vocation, faith development of young adults, and the spiritual life of women. Her writing has appeared in U.S. Catholic magazine, the Journal of Catholic Higher Education and other venues. She currently serves on the Board of the Community of Congregations (Oak Park, Illinois), the Mission and Identity Committee of Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory High School, and the Mission and Governance Committee of Trinity High School. She and her husband, Anthony Schmitz, are the parents of two beautiful daughters.