Cambridge, MA. This is Interfaith Awareness Week at Harvard, as part of World Interfaith Harmony Week; only in part by coincidence we have scheduled a rich variety of events at the Center for the Study of World Religions. After the week is over, I will reflect on some of what happened and I’ve learned during it, but for now, I would like to catch up on two testimonies to interfaith awareness that remind us how everything depends on the persons who make learning across religious boundaries — awareness, dialogue, comparative theology, however you express these matters. They are occasioned by the death last summer of Franz Josef Van Beeck, SJ, and in December, of Kenneth W. Morgan.
The first link is to The Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem. Take a look at the website, and you will see that its founder and director, Alon Goshen-Gottstein, has created a space and meeting point among religions that offers a remarkable witness to the importance of the sharing of faith and values across religious boundaries in small and practical ways. But I wish to call your attention to his moving reflection, posted several months back, on his friendship with Fr. Van Beeck, SJ.
Joep, as everyone called him, was a renowned theologian who taught for so many years at Boston College and then at Loyola University of Chicago and a prolific author and dynamic lecturer who, among his many writings, often returned to the ways we Christians can and must learn from Judaism and other faith traditions. Joep and Alon worked together on a number of projects over the years, and became good friends. Alon’s warm mention of his last visits to Joep testifies to their long friendship, and to the kind of spiritual exchange that manifests the deep and living bonds that do cross boundaries and bring religions closer to one another, however formidable the theological and institutional blocks may seem.
The other link I wish to offer you is from my own Center’s site, to the memorial we recently posted upon the death of Kenneth W. Morgan, the long-time Director of the interfaith Chapel House at Colgate University, and at 103, one of the very last links of the founding of CSWR in 1960. As the account at our site shows, his commitments too, like those of Joep, added up to a life-long commitment to learning, to finding common ground among diverse religious and secular views, all for the sake of a wisdom that came to fruition in the lives of his many students, and in institutions like Chapel House and CSWR.
As readers of this blog know, I believe in the importance of study, theological investigation, and intellectual exchange, and am often enough lost in my books. But reflecting upon the stories told in these two links, I am happy to be able to remind you and me too, that it is in the long run, by commitments that add up to a whole way of life, and in the friendships we form across religious boundaries, that we best play our part in the great interreligious story of our times. Our world will be increasingly interconnected interreligiously, and no one has the power to stop the emerging dialogue; but we have to do it well, and live what we say. Figures like Joep Van Beeck, ever the lively seeker after the truth, and Kenneth Morgan, the wise teacher and builder of communities – and Alon Goshen-Gottstein too, in his on-going ministry – remind us that we should live in witness to the new dialogical reality, and at our best should make such witness a way of life that flourishes in friendships near and far. In the life and in the friendships, faith is made visible, tangible.