Fr. H. Richard Rutherford, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest and professor of theology at the University of Portland, was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant for Spring 2010 to study early Byzantine / late antique church architecture involving baptismal spaces on Cyprus in comparison with similar structures in costal Asia Minor (Turkey). Today this scholar priest shares with us what it means for him to be an educator in the faith in Holy Cross.
What’s a priest doing crawling around photographing long abandoned and forgotten rubble of ancient structures in back country Turkey or the windswept coast of southern Cyprus? Surely that is not the ordinary picture on the cover of vocation fliers or the topic of the everyday blog – except, of course, when the priest is Holy Cross and the long abandoned and forgotten structures are early Christian churches. No, I discovered over a half century ago that there is nothing at all ordinary about being a Holy Cross priest and nothing unusual about Holy Cross priests engaging in extraordinary pursuits.
As a seminarian at Notre Dame in the 1950’s I found myself “walking side by side” with Holy Cross religious who introduced me to the academic apostolate and instilled in me a love of early Christianity and the roots of our Catholic liturgy. Now at nearly 72 and on the farther end of a long teaching career Holy Cross continues to nourish that lifelong love and to encourage my pursuit of research projects that help keep alive an appreciation for the roots of our faith and worship. Blessed with a Fulbright research grant to study the unique role early Christian Cyprus played in shaping the history and liturgy of Baptism I spent spring semester 2010 on that historic island that has known “many footprints on the road” from those of Saints Paul and Barnabas, himself a Cypriot, crisscrossing it together on their first missionary journey to Pope Benedict XVI’s on pilgrimage there in June of this year.
Indeed, when we enter Holy Cross we join “a great band of men (who) passed this way” and we “fall in step with them” as they teach us our mission in the service of the Church. Soon too we learn that in this service men of Holy Cross stand in continuity with an even greater band of Christian women and men who span time and space back to the very origins of our Church. To stand at the ruins of altars where they celebrated Mass and to climb down into waist-deep baptismal fonts in which they died and rose with the Lord as new Christians is a privilege. To bring to today’s college classrooms those experiences and an understanding of how those sites and rites shaped their Christian life in times of persecution as well as peace is the stuff of Holy Cross at its best.
As I return to the classroom next week for my 34th year at the University of Portland, I hope to bring to my classes the wisdom of a grandparent, the courageous faith of life in Holy Cross, and, because of the world of study Holy Cross opened up for me, the inspiration 20 centuries of Christian life and worship has bequeathed to our Church and our world. No, there is nothing ordinary about being a priest following those “many footprints on the road” in the family of Holy Cross and thus following the Lord in the ministry of the Church – wherever the apostolate call us.