‘A Husky F. D. Maurice’ by Fr. Shawn Clerkin

tree-200795_1280I am a social media wonk. It’s not just a hobby for me; as a professor of communication, I am fascinated by the comings and goings of various social media fads and by the tidal wave of social media apps for my smart phone and tablet devices. My students are constantly telling me about new ways to share information, interests, and entertainment. And while they tell me that Facebook (what some in my generation call “The Facebooks”…good grief) is SO 2005, I still maintain my FB profile and presence, post and share information, and keep up with family, friends and alumni. Yes…I do have 5,000 “friends,” and frequently, when I post something controversial, I lose followers and can replace them with one of the many requests I have in cue.

Recently, there have been a plague of surveys that somehow are supposed to tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know, or reassure you of something that you’d like to believe is true about you. For example, I was engaged in a photo survey of my pictures on FB, and that my celebrity doppelganger is either a husky Russell Crowe or a thin John Goodman. I took both as complimentary. I also found through a questionnaire that my Anglican theologian heart is best represented by 19th century Anglican priest and university professor, F. D. Maurice. I had no idea who Maurice was until I looked him up.

1Our collect for Maurice in Lesser Feasts and Fasts asks God to “Keep alive in your Church, we pray, a passion for justice and truth; that, like your servant Frederick Denison Maurice, we may work and pray for the triumph of the kingdom of your Christ….” That resonated with me, so I looked further into his life and teachings.

Studied law? Not me. Refused his law degree because he would not subscribe to an oath of conformity. ME! Joined the Anglican Church because of personal responses to other traditions. ME! Came to theology after other studies. ME! Professor of humanities studies. ME! Formed the Christian Socialist Movement. (SHHHHH! I also have leanings in that direction…).

Maurice was a passionate ecumenist, which, after working decades at a diocesan Roman Catholic institution, I have sincere empathy. He wrote more commentaries on New Testament studies than Old, and I am drawn to the Gospels and Epistles as well. What hooked me more were some of his most quoted statements.

“We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God.” My students at Gannon University frequently say that they are disillusioned with traditional Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches who insist that their particular Christianity is the ONLY way, truth, and life. The sad reality is that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and not the religious institutions that mediate the Gospel message. The reservations of young people are communicating to us very clearly that Christian territorialism weakens the message, especially when that message is one of Christ’s desire for radical forgiveness and unconditional love.

“Competition is put forth as the law of the universe. That is a lie. The time has come for us to declare that it is a lie, by word and deed.” We are not out to triumph over one another, but to see that God’s will triumphs over all. When we divide ourselves as winners and losers, when we strive to dominate, decimate, or destroy those who differ from us, then we are not living into Christ’s examples to broaden our understanding of all humanity as our neighbor and our care.

“I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it. When we do not want it for our life, we may begin to talk of it as a beautiful composition.” Liturgy communicates faith only if the audience of liturgy understands what it is saying. Language, gestures, ceremonies without meaning and without function have no part in the liturgical life of the Church. We must be constantly creating, refining, and innovating our worship so that it is meaningful and relevant to the faithful. And we must also appreciate the nuances and delicacies with which we perform our rites and rituals. Liturgical aesthetics are important, as long as they are appreciated not as museum pieces but as living, breathing expressions of thanksgiving and oblation.

“Christian Socialism will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the unsocial Christians and the unchristian Socialists.” Those who do go to church on Sunday mornings and then flip the bird to their neighbor as they pull in the driveway are just as mistaken and dangerous as those who wish to impose economic equality without engaging forgiveness and repentance. If there is to be equity in society, then the equity is best grounded in Christian social teaching. Gannon University’s integration of Catholic Social Teaching in our coursework and service learning/volunteerism has enlivened in me the importance of working for justice and peace, not just as a humanist, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate social justice from the Gospel message; and, in fact, when we integrate them faithfully, we also become doers of the word and not just preachers.

I still have much to learn from F. D. Maurice, and I will continue to read his works and glean strength from his example. The connection is a gift I never thought I’d get…from a silly survey on Facebook!

Shawn ClerkinThe Rev. Shawn Clerkin, AOJN. Vicar at St. Mary’s Church, Lawrence Park, PA and Associate Professor, School of Communication and the Arts / Director of Theatre Center for Communication and the Arts at Gannon University.

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