In the Bible the seventh instance of anything is significant. Seven is the number signifying God’s covenant, and so it suggests a certain completion and perfection.
As we approached our seventh annual Letter and Spirit Summer Institute, it would have been natural to wonder whether our Institute has now become an institution.
Every year we approach it with high expectations, based on past successes, and yet every year it exceeds our expectations. This year, I thought, I could no longer be surprised by the special joy of this weeklong seminar for scholars.
But I was! Because, once again, the camaraderie, the discussions, and the spiritual striving rose to new heights.
The Letter and Spirit Summer Institute is an intensive weeklong seminar for doctoral candidates and future university and seminary faculty members — young scholars who intend to spend their lives in higher education: forming tomorrow’s Catholic leaders, training future clergy and teachers. If we want a better world tomorrow, this is where we need to begin, influencing those who will be influential. This, I believe, is an important, but hidden dimension of the New Evangelization.
Participants represent a wide variety of disciplines. This year we were pleased to host a large number of biblical scholars — almost half of the twenty who enrolled. They converged from all points of the compass and from many prestigious institutions: the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Saint
Andrew’s in Scotland, Yale University, Notre Dame University, Catholic University of America, Marquette University, Ave Maria University, the University of Dallas, and the University of Dayton. More universities were represented than ever before.
Daily we spent six hours in the classroom — and additional time in open discussion. We prayed together at intervals throughout the day, under the direction of the Conventual Friars of the Renewal, Father Benedict Groeschel’s order. The Friars have been with us from the beginning, and they add a dimension of spiritual retreat to the academic experience.
This year we tackled what scholars agree is one of the hardest passages in the Bible: Romans 9-11. These chapters are more densely packed with Old Testament quotations and allusions than any other in all of St. Paul’s writings, so we really ranged all over the Bible and all of salvation history. (I am currently at work on a commentary on Romans for the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series, so it is very much on my mind).
The study and learning that we do in this intense week is important. But even more important for the future of the Church is the fellowship, the friendships, and the future partnerships that are formed. Attendees live together, sharing every meal. They pray together. They spend their free time together in truly dynamic interaction.
Our goal is to help build a movement of faithful Catholic scholars who read and teach the Bible from the heart of the Church — with academic rigor and apostolic zeal.
Once again, the experience exceeded my dreams, as well as the expectations of the participants. They thanked us for “the faithful ecclesial atmosphere,” the opportunity for networking and friendship, and “the huge support and encouragement.”
They thanked us, but I must thank you, because you helped to make the experience possible. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and contributions. I promise you my prayers and hard work in return.
I wonder if next year the Institute can surprise me.