SOUTH ORANGE Taking part in Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology’s day of classes centered on the theme of mercy Feb. 20 were Msgr. Raymond Kupke and Justin Anderson, two faculty members from the Paterson Diocese.
Seminary faculty taught seven different classes at Seton Hall University during the study day titled, “Developing a Heart of Mercy: A Day of Theological Studies.” Adjunct professor on church history at Seton Hall, Msgr. Raymond Kupke, pastor of St. Anthony Church in Hawthorne and diocesan archivist, taught “The Charism of Mercy in the Life of the Church as Meditated through the Saints.” Also teaching was Justin Anderson, assistant professor of moral theology at Seton Hall and brother of SOLT Father Derek Anderson, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Dover and diocesan director of the Office of Catechesis. Anderson taught “The Virtue of Misericordia: Learning to be Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean in a Javert World.”
During his class, Msgr. Kupke spoke about the charism of mercy as lived through the saints. He began the class discussing the shifting paradigms of holiness over the course of the centuries in Church history. During the early Church, saints were named by those who bled for the Church — martyrdom. As the persecutions stopped and martyrdom was less “available,” the Church shifted to find saints from those who lived exceptional and extraordinary lives. Msgr. Kupke mentioned St. Martin of Tours was the first person recognized as a saint without being martyred.
“The practice of mercy among the saints is what kept the Church real. This brought a new understanding of sainthood into the life of the Church. From now on, not only martyrdom will be a threshold, but also the extent to which mercy is experienced through the life of a holy person,” said Msgr. Kupke.
Through Church history, saints were created from missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Boniface to the “wonder workers” such as St. Rita, the preachers such as St. Anthony of Padua, to “super heroes “or those who countered the Reformation such as St. Ignatius Loyola to everyday saints, in more recent years, such as St. Therese of Lisieux.
Msgr. Kupke said, “You can still find saints in all these categories and through the life of the Church but they sometimes appear to come in waves. Very often though, the discerning entity in many of them is the issue of mercy, the quality of mercy they exhibited.”
Msgr. Kupke focused on 10 people of mercy — St. Elizabeth of Hungary, for the service of mercy; St. Angela Merici, mercy thinking outside the box and founding the Order of Ursulines; St. Peter Claver, mercy to those far off and patron of slaves; St. Vincent DePaul, all the works of mercy and founder of the Daughters of Charity; St. Benedict Joseph Cottolengo, the full gamut of mercy and founder of the House of Divine Providence; St. John Bosco, mercy for the young and founder of the Salesian Order; St. Damien de Veuster, mercy at its periphery who served a leper colony near Hawaii; Blessed Titus Brandsma, mercy during the horrors of Nazi Germany; St. Katherine Drexel, mercy for the marginalized who worked for racial justice; and Servant of God Dorothy Day, works of mercy and founder of the Catholic Worker movement.
In the case of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who lived from 1207 to 1231, Msgr. Kupke spoke about this noble woman, who was a princess and used her status, power and wealth to serve the poor. “The first hospital of any type was created because of her,” said Msgr. Kupke.
Many of the saints, Msgr. Kupke spoke about lived lives in which they served the sick, slaves, the poor, the young and victims of war.
“These men and women played a prophetic role in the life of the Church. Many of them find new and interesting ways for the Church to be real and relevant and new through the chrism of mercy,” said Msgr. Kupke.
In Anderson’s class of “The Virtue of Misericordia: Learning to be Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean in a Javert World,” the professor used clips from the 2012 movie musical “Les Miserables,” which is based on Victor Hugo’s book with the same title to show examples of mercy. He also used many quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas on mercy.
“I want to use ‘Les Miserables’ to talk about the virtue of misericordia or mercy,” said Anderson, who is a parishioner at St. Vincent DePaul Church, Stirling. “Right in the word ‘misericordia,’ we get the word misery. There is this notion one is to be pitied. What is mercy then? It is to have the heart or “cor,” to pity another’s mercy.”
Anderson showed a scene from “Les Miserables” in which the main protagonist, Jean Valjean, sings, “Who am I?” The song is a reflection by Valjean as to whether or not he should turn himself in to the authorities for a small crime he committed decades ago when another man, who is innocent of the crime, is about to face judgment. Valjean now a respected mayor could easily get away with the crime.
“Jean Valjean finds the faith in God to do what must be done — which is basically to condemn himself and he has the courage to do it. All of this springs not just from mercy but from where mercy grows — that is “the love of God poured out into our lives by which we love God and love neighbor,” said Anderson.
Anderson also spoke about the virtue of justice and explained that mercy and justice don’t conflict with each other and that they are both perfections of who we are. Javert, the antagonist in “Les Miserables,” is the definition of justice without mercy. He will stop at nothing until he gets justice by arresting Jean Valjean. When Jean Valjean has the opportunity to kill Javert and seek revenge, he does not do it and sets Javert free. This action leads Javert to commit suicide.
“For the Year of Mercy, every single character in the story of ‘Les Miserables’ is pitiable in their own way. It’s an interesting spiritual exercise,” said Anderson.