One of the blessings of working at Jesuit is that we are part of a worldwide network devoted to the vision of St. Ignatius. As a work of the Society of Jesus, our mission is an audacious one: to carry on the work of Jesus Christ in a broken world.
Jesuit schools exist not only to educate engaged, informed, faith-filled leaders, but also, as Jesus explained in Luke 4:18, "to proclaim good news to the poor...and set the oppressed free."
To that end, on Tuesday, November 28, Dean of Students Khalid Maxie introduced Father Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder of Homeboy Industries, to our students and staff with this original prayer:
Good and gracious God: We pray for a better day. We pray that our hearts be open to those on the fringes. You have called us to be in relationship with people on the margins, not so we can make a difference for them, but so the folks on the margins will make us different.
We pray that we are able to answer Your call to seek out those who feel isolated, rejected, or excluded in our Jesuit community, and beyond.
We pray that You help us to understand that in Your eyes, no life holds more value than another.
We pray for the courage to be different, and to always do what is right and just.
Finally, we pray that everyone in this gym knows that who they are.... is enough in God's eyes. And that is pretty much it. In Your name we pray, Amen.
After Mr. Maxie's brief but powerful prayer, Fr. Boyle spent 40 minutes sharing stories of his life with the "homies," former gang members who work at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Fr. Boyle explained that Homeboy's mission is to create kinship. That is also Fr. Boyle term for Jesus's great commandment that we love one another as He loves us.
As Fr. Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart, "Mother Teresa diagnosed the world's ills this way: 'We've forgotten that we belong to each other.'"
Kinship, Fr. Boyle says, occurs when we remember that we are all members of the body of Christ, that we really do belong to one another, with no person more important than another.
But what does that mean, in practical terms, for those of us in the Jesuit community, especially for our precious and growing and at times stumbling students? What does it mean for a sophomore to be in kinship with her classmates?
This is an urgent question for all of the adults at Jesuit. It is one of the key measures of our success or failure as Ignatian educators. For if our students are not in kinship with one another, especially with those who feel on the margins of our community, we certainly are not ready to send our students to stand with those on the periphery—our school's mission. As Fr. Boyle said several times on Tuesday, "Jesuit High School is not a place you go to, it is a place you go from, to be in solidarity with those on the margins."
Most of the time, our students act with love and compassion and real kindness toward one another. The faculty is continually astonished by the incredible goodness of "our kids."
But not every student at every moment. Jesuit is a remarkable place, but we are still an American high school, not an ivory tower hermetically sealed off from sin. We have not yet arrived at the Kingdom of God, alas.
When we learn that students have used words or committed acts that disrespect the dignity of another student, we challenge that behavior. On a curricular and programmatic level, we address difficult social issues, including the root causes of discrimination based on race, gender, orientation, and socio-economic class.
Yes, sometimes Jesuit students use homophobic or sexist language. They do not usually intend to demean or objectify their classmates. When confronted, the usual excuse is "I was just joking." But such casual cruelty is not funny. The difference between the speaker's intent and the impact on the receiver is usually significant.
Then there is original sin of America: racism. Our students, especially upperclassmen, work actively to undermine and combat this evil. But sometimes younger students use words without understanding their historical contexts or how hurtful they may be, as we experienced recently. The offending student(s) are usually testing boundaries, seeking attention, or making a misguided attempt to be cool. Regardless, the result is pain. That is where peers, teachers, counselors, and especially parents and administrators have to step in.
In November, 25 Jesuit students and staff journeyed to Washington DC for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, while senior leaders Claire Devine, Anna Rask, Archita Harathi, Mandy Mitchell, and Josie Donlon led the first-ever JHS Teach-In. In DC, and via livestream in the Gedrose Center, they listened as Fr. Bryan Massingale, a professor of Catholic Social Teaching at Fordham University, offered a powerful and challenging address entitled "Racial justice and the magis in the US today."
As Fr. Massingale explains, whatever the issue of social justice—whether health care or poverty or mass incarceration or women's rights or economic justice or environmental degradation—it is too often entangled with racism, that insidious, artificial division that has pushed so many to the margins of our society and corroded the kinship we should all share as children of God.
Soon, students and faculty on our Diversity and Inclusion committee will be working to educate our school community about the historical and cultural context of racism in the US, starting with a discussion of the "n word."
But these conversations should really begin at home, where kinship begins. We know that Jesuit parents always reinforce the need to love one another as Christ loves us. Advent, the season of waiting for the birth of the Light of the World, is a good time to renew such discussions, as we work toward a day when we will all truly live in kinship as God's children.
Below, we offer five resources that parents and students will find helpful in entering into "courageous conversations" on race.
- A panel discussion on race with Ms. Mathes, Mr. Lum, and four remarkable Jesuit seniors—Paul Danowski, Amanda France, Sahana Jayaraman, and James Pecore.
- A TedXTalk by Father Boyle on Compassion and Kinship.
- This Op-Ed by Father Boyle was published in the Los Angeles Times on the same day, November 28, that Father Greg shared this story with our students.
- Father Massingale's Teach-in talk (55 minutes).
- A thought-provoking interview with author Ta Nehisi Coates on the use of the "n word" in America (about 5 minutes).
Paul J. Hogan