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The Idea of Exemplarism

December 4, 2021

Dear friends,

First of all, thank you for the opportunity to both guest write for The Window and guest preach here at Trinity. For those that I have not had the opportunity to meet thus far, I am Chaplain (Major) Stephen Echols, an Active Duty Army Chaplain and Episcopal Priest on assignment at Boston College working on a Masters of Theology in Ethics so that I might teach Ethics at one of the Army’s schoolhouses. That’s a bit of a mouthful! That said, I’m blessed to have my amazing family (Emily, Gabriel, and Thomas) here in Massachusetts with me.

What I would like to share with the Trinity family in this edition of The Window is something that I have been pondering over, praying about, and studying in school, and that is the idea of exemplarism. Not to dive headlong into academia, but the late Jesuit Ethicist Yiu Sing Lucas Chan, SJ, identified exemplarism as one of the four dimensions of virtue ethics (along with character formation, practices and habits, and community identity). Not to bore y’all too much, but heart of virtue ethics seeks to answer three primary questions: (1) Who am I?, (2) Who ought I become?, and (3) How do I get there? Now clearly, as Christians, our ultimate goal is complete sanctification in and through God’s grace. As such, we are called to live more charitable lives (read “charity” as “love”) toward God, our neighbors, and ourselves, but that is still an ambiguous idea. So a clergyperson or fellow Christian tells you, “Hey, you should be more charitable. You should be more loving.” Okay…but what does that look like?

This is precisely why I am so drawn to exemplarism, that is, looking to and drawing on the holy lives of fellow Christians who are either on the journey with us, or who have completed their journey. Quite frankly, sometimes we draw a blank when it comes to how best to live the life of a Christian. Personally, I am drawn to the lives of the saints. Granted, I will not be moving to the deserts of Egypt to live the life of a hermit any time soon (which I’m sure my family and the Army appreciates), nor will I be burned a the stake for my beliefs, but there is something to be gleaned from each of these holy people we call saints. How they sought out those on the margins of their society, whether it was St. Nicholas of Myra taking care of children or St. Damien of Molokai dedicating himself to the care of lepers in Hawaii (a time of pandemic, mind you), we can learn something from these holy people. During this season of Advent I would encourage you to look to the holy lives of people of faith that have gone before you if you’re need a bit of Advent inspiration. God bless!

Grace and peace,

Chaplain (MAJ) Stephen Echols

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