A robust mutual sense of humor between Father Marcel Rainville and Pontigny Society special guest Sister Sandra Schneiders was present throughout a special weekend at Saint Anne's Shrine in 2019. This Religious Sister’s zeal and vigor were apparent from the moment she sat down to discuss chapter 6 of her book, Jesus Risen in Our Midst: Essays on the Resurrection of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.
Sister Sandra is a professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University, Berkeley, Calif., and has published several works on spirituality, feminism and theology. She is a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich. The topic of her discussion was in the spirit of true Edmundite tradition and there was an emphasis on the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours throughout this retreat weekend in a wet and windy month of May.
She traveled to the Shrine from her home in California. The dangerously high waters of Lake Champlain encroached on St. Anne’s Road in Isle La Motte where she stayed for the weekend with about 20 others who came to hear her talk. Ground water seeped up to make pools that reflected the Shrine’s A-Frame Chapel to the left of the main Sanctuary. It was opening weekend at the Shrine as well. Thousands of pilgrims would celebrate Mass there surrounded by pristine nature on this historic shore in the coming months.
Poised in front of the stone fireplace in the Boucher Building, with a crucifix above her, Sister Sandra sussed out complex theological themes in her book that dealt with original sin and how the resurrection of Jesus solves the problem of violence. At the end of the first night of the three-day retreat she asked, “How does our own level of forgiveness contribute to the overall peace of the world?”
Sister Sandra pointed to the competitive nature of some people in our culture and the “all against all” mentality that encourages a perpetual children’s game of “King of the Mountain” that plays out into adulthood. Most Americans work in environments saturated with rivalry, dishonesty and manipulation. This creates a sick culture—a violent society, she said.
The good news she brought with her was that the resurrection power of Jesus cuts through it all and lets an all-forgiving love shine through, allowing Christians to change the direction of their day. Christians are called to jump out of the evil games and into fostering connection, collaboration, to spot the mechanism of scapegoating and stop its momentum wherever they can.
She explained the easy way humans create a quick community is to find a common enemy. Instead of facing and rectifying individual evil behavior, humans are taught to place it on an unsuspecting “other” and vilify them. People take all of the evil they cannot handle and dump it on a scapegoat, she said. Jesus was the ultimate scapegoat but he turned this depraved cultural mechanism inside out. It worked, but not how it was intended because this Lamb of God took the sin of all sins and rendered it powerless through forgiveness.
The resurrection took away the root of Adam and Eve’s sin—the fundamental antagonism between God and man where Satan introduced rivalry. The desire for ultimate power is the root of all sin. The scramble to compete with one another is just a perpetuation of that original fear of powerlessness.
The truth is that humans will never think up a rebellion to take over divinity, so it is futile to even try. Original sin was born from a fear of slipping into nothingness and trying to grasp control from the hands of God. Jesus came to render this fear dysfunctional, Sister Sandra said.
Violence never solves violence; it only creates more. The resurrection is the sword that cut through the Gordian knot of violence for the last time because it took original sin away like a mother who takes a toy and sets it out of reach when siblings fight over it. What’s left after the toy is gone is the ironing out of hurting souls, the smoothing of ruffled feathers, the nurturing and building back of broken relationships. Precisely the work Christians are called to carry out.
The job is to clean up all of the reverberating sins, the resulting weeds in the garden, Sister Sandra said. The message in her book is that those who believe in the resurrection power of Jesus live as protected children of God; and through their rebellion and reconciliation, Christians learn, grow and come to love God and live in His Kingdom on earth. Their job is to reconcile people back to God through the power of forgiveness.
Trying to justify living by gaining personal power from anything other than God is useless, she said. Christians are called to help their Church be a place that nurtures individuals. Jesus empowered the first disciples to be a community of forgiveness. This forgiveness sets people free from the cycle of violence, she said.
Upon departure, Father Marcel told his Pontigny Society retreatants to use their freedom wisely, to take the living Word of God as their mission, to make the Church an attractive foyer of nurturing invitation. He asked them to exemplify the love of God, welcome people, be a loving stronghold and walk with joyful forgiveness.
The task is to learn how to be in control of personal thoughts, words and deeds while at the same time living in complete surrender to Jesus who loves everyone. That’s no small feat, but with retreats like this, Edmundite guidance and powerful educators like Sister Sandra Schneiders, it certainly is motivation to learn how to step up and out of cultural norms and into the love of God.
The Pontigny Society is an Edmundite Campus Ministry program that provides an opportunity for Saint Michael’s College faculty and staff to gather in an effort to enrich the Catholic character of the college. Father Marcel Rainville, and the advisory board, develop opportunities throughout the year for the group to learn about Christian, Catholic and Edmundite intellectual traditions.