The feast day of St. Catherine of Siena was on Wednesday, the day I am writing these words. St. Catherine was born and raised in the mid-fourteenth century under the dark shadow of plague. She inspired many through a life of devotion to Christ, contemplative writing, counsel-giving, and generosity. Her saintliness and theological probity gave rise to her recognition as a Doctor of the Church.
Now and then, on rare visits to Rome, I have uttered quiet words of prayerful gratitude before St. Catherine’s sarcophagus, front and center in the beautiful gothic church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Its soaring inner architecture matches its famous saint, for in her company one can soar in joyous contemplation.
Part of St. Catherine’s attraction lies in the seamlessness with which she integrates a capacity for sorrow and flights of rapturous joy, making her the opposite of Pollyanna. In her Dialogue
, for instance, we learn that “the more the heart loves, the more sorrow it has.” She writes that “all tears come from the heart” and that weeping shows forth our infinite desire. Although we can warp or misdirect it, this infinite desire is God’s best gift to us, and it is also our best gift back to God. “I who am infinite God want you to serve me with what is infinite, and you have nothing infinite except your soul’s love and desire.” Our perfection consists in gathering up our infinite longing in a unitive love of God that makes our souls “blessed now and painlessly
In this present vail of tears in which so much seems so painfully wrong, I profoundly appreciate St. Catherine’s binding together of fully authentic, deeply Christian joy and sorrow. Both are required to do justice to the reality of life here and now. Neither sorrow nor joy can be fully true when one elides the other. Each calls for a place within our personal and corporate lives, at least until that apocalyptic day when “the former things have passed away.”
So, happy belated feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, a woman whose life and work deserve our attention, reflection, and praise.
Here are a few additional items of note within the life of the Honors College:
• Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester! I am proud of the creativity, forbearance, grit, and initiative we marshaled in carrying out good work for our students under trying circumstances. With final exams, grading, and end-of-semester routines upon us, please know my gratitude for all you have done. Now, as we also begin looking to the future, I realize many questions are at hand about the fall semester. Additional guidance is forthcoming from the president and the provost, and within the next few weeks I expect we will be able to plan courses and other activities with greater clarity. Thank you for continued patience and hopefulness.
• I always learn from reading the work of Alan Jacobs
, distinguished professor of humanities in the Honors Program. He’s recently written two pieces that deserve wide attention: one last week in the oldest, most famous literary publication in America (Harper’s Magazine
) and the other last month in a relatively upstart “magazine of the examined life” (The Point
). In “"Everything is Illuminated
,” Alan assesses a once-in-a-generation exhibition of William Blake’s engravings at the Tate Britain gallery. In “Patience: Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life
,” he treats an extraordinary film director’s exquisite presentation of the life of Franz Jägerstätter. Standing behind Alan’s critically sensitive work in these heralded venues is a long habit of scholarship “marked by quality, impact, and visibility, the third pillar
of Illuminate. Keep up the wonderful work, Alan.
• While driving home last week, I turned up the volume when I heard William Weaver
, associate professor of literature in the Great Texts Program, midstream in a KWBU interview
with Sam Cedar (B.A., University Scholar, 2019). Extolling the contemplative and recreational qualities of imaginative literature, William encourages those who are harried and isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic to read good novels, poems, or short stories. Such literature can “engage our imagination in a way that allows us to empathize and to get a different frame of reference on our particular anxieties and worries.” I hope you take time to enjoy these and other goods of high-quality reading, perhaps on a quiet porch during our gentle spring mornings.
• Speaking of good books, congratulations to Victor Hinojosa
, associate professor of political science in the Honors Program, for his new children’s book
, A Journey Toward Hope (Una Jornada Hacia la Esperanza)
. Growing out of the Baylor Migration Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration with faculty and students that Victor directs, his book recounts the story of unaccompanied migrant children journeying to the U.S. border. Co-written with Coert Voorhees and illustrated by gifted artist Susan Guevara, it dramatizes the plight of precious children who experience tearful partings, deprivation, and personal jeopardy, yet emphasizes heartfelt longing, innocence, resilience, fortitude, and hope-filled possibility. With Victor we rightly pray, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
• Before long, Erin Stamile
, enrollment management coordinator, will lay plans for recruitment events scheduled for the year ahead. Whether marquee programs such as Invitation to Excellence or small-scale initiatives such as our weekly standard appointment times for prospective students visiting campus, she must have the contributions of many faculty and staff whose amiable and knowledgeable engagement is the linchpin of our efforts. As Erin reaches out, I urge you to make yourselves available with good cheer and high hopes for bringing students of real promise into our learning community.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689