Dear Members of the Fordham Community,
Peace of Christ.
On the night of 11 October 1962, the day on which the Second Vatican Council began, a large (and unexpected) group of pilgrims made their way to St. Peter’s Square and gathered under Pope John XXIII’s window. Although he was caught completely by surprise by their appearance, “Good Pope John” opened his window and delivered what is now referred to as his “moonlight address,” a sort-of homily that many think was the most remarkable speech he gave in the course of his historic pontificate.
For reasons that I hope will become clear, I have found myself haunted, consoled and enriched by it as I have prayed my way through the past week. “Haunted, consoled and enriched.” Words to conjure with, to be sure. I certainly conjure with them, and they stir up strong feelings in my heart. I hope that you will find Pope John’s words to be as consoling as I do. I also hope that they will enrich you. Of course, it will take time to see if they haunt you as they have haunted me.
Looking down at the friendly crowd that filled the Square, Pope John said, “Dear sons and daughters, I feel your voices! Mine is just one lone voice, but it sums up the voice of the whole world. And here, in fact, all the world is represented tonight. We ask for a great day of peace. My own person counts for nothing—it’s a brother who speaks to you, but all together, (we) give honor to the impressions of this night, which are always our feelings, which now we express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love, love of God, all aided along the way in the Lord’s holy peace for the work of the good. And so, let us continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whoever comes close to us, and set aside whatever difficulty it might bring. When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children. And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. And then, all together, may we always come alive—whether to sing, to breathe, or to cry, but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us, let us continue along our path.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no John XXIII. Far from it. He’s a saint and I’m a deeply flawed guy in a Roman collar. And yet, all week his encounter with the pilgrims under his window has framed my prayer, and his words have become more and more the substance of my prayer (and my charge) for you. Although you have not appeared under my window, you have crowded into my heart. When I close my eyes in prayer, I see you. I see you in the settings in which I have encountered you: in the plaza and elevators at Lincoln Center; on Edwards Parade and along the pathways at Rose Hill; at Convocation and at the Faculty Senate; in the cafeterias on both campuses; in the carpenter’s shop; at games and gatherings; the offices where you labor for us; at dances and awards events; and at Spring Preview and Opening Day. I see your faces. I hear your voices and accents. You crowd in on me from every side. And, as was the case in Saint Peter’s Square so many years ago, you bring the whole world to Fordham. And you fill my heart with pride.
If the truth were told, I miss you. Terribly. Achingly. But this is not about me. It’s about you. I know your goodness and generosity. Therefore, I ask you to put your generosity of heart to good use in a world that is deeply wounded at the moment. Take to heart the words of Good Pope John. No. I take that back. Let your actions be guided, inspired and driven by his words. If you do, you will be God’s missionaries to the world He loves with His whole heart, especially at this very difficult time in the history of the human family: “Continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way, to welcome whoever comes close…when you go home, hug and kiss your children (and your parents and siblings)…And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. And then, all together, may we always come alive — whether to sing, to breathe or to cry, but always full of faith in God who helps us and hears us, let us continue along our path.” May you be consoled, enriched, energized and, yes, haunted by this charge.
And so, my dear brothers and sisters, although I miss you, as we enter into a new and challenging phase of our nation’s response to the present crisis, I entrust the worlds in which you live to your care. It matters not if you are a believer or non-believer, may your homes be places of blessing for all of you. May you find solace and joy there. May you be enriched by the memories that have hallowed them over the years. Cherish your families there. May you discover God’s sustaining presence there. And may your encounters with the God of all consolation make you ever more what you are meant to be (and what I have come to know you are): lights shining forth in a world in need of comfort, hope and love.
Prayers and blessings,
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.
A Prayer in the Midst of the Present Crisis
God of all mercies, grant:
To the Fordham family, safety and good health:
To those afflicted with COVID-19, swift healing;
To the frightened, courage;
To the dying, comfort;
To the dead, eternal life;
To health-care providers, strength and stamina;
To our leaders, wisdom and compassion;
To our nation, unity of purpose;
To the Church, the grace to serve the suffering selflessly;
To all believers, strong faith in Your presence;
To the whole human family, unity of heart; and
To us, your servants, the reward of knowing that we are doing Your will when we spend ourselves in loving service of others.