This is the toughest aspect of Jesuit life. One year is just enough time to get settled, develop a new routine, get to know people, make friends, gain a feeling of confidence and something roughly resembling competence…and then leave.
When I was preparing to move from Chicago to New York in 2016, I was talking with my spiritual director about the difficulty of leaving people and a place I had come to love. He said, “At times of departure, there are, at most, two things to say: ‘Thank you’ and, if appropriate, ‘I’m sorry.’” As always, he was correct.
I’ll begin with the latter by quoting George Washington’s farewell address: “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration [“pastoral year” in my case], I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.” Whether it was forgetting your name despite having already been introduced, a moment of distraction and not engaging you in more meaningful conversation, a line in a homily that didn’t sit well, or anything else, for any and all of my shortcomings this year, I do apologize.
The “thank you” portion of my leave-taking, if done properly, would fill many bulletins. Over the course of my life, I have found God to be bafflingly, comically, abundantly, inexplicably generous and gentle with me. He has continued this undeserved trend this year through you, the wonderful people of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. When I arrived in August I had celebrated perhaps a dozen Masses, heard a handful of confessions, and presided at one wedding and zero funerals. Your generosity in getting to know me, responding to my homilies, welcoming me to baptize your children and bury your loved ones, sharing your human weaknesses and deep, profoundly holy desires in the confessional, and dedication to this parish community are God’s grace made real to me. This parish has been a welcoming, supportive, joyful place in which I’ve been able to stretch and grow into priesthood. As I’ve told several of you this year, the reason newly ordained priests keep getting sent here is that you take good care of us.
Thanking particular people or groups runs the risk of unintentionally overlooking others, but I’d be remiss to not express my gratitude in some specificity. To the whole parish staff, thank you for your tireless work, your generous spirit of collaboration, and the many laughs we’ve shared. To the facilities and sacristy team, without whom nothing would get done, mil gracias por todo su ayuda y diligencia. To the Friends of the Border, our trip was a fortuitous surprise and one of the highlights of the year for me. To IVC, youth group, IYA, ISJ, and the other groups with whom I’ve spent time, thank you for the energy you bring to this community. To all of the musicians, your talent adds so much to the life and prayer of this parish. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have processed out of a single Mass until your final notes had finished echoing in the farthest corners of the church. To my brother priests, your support and encouragement of me and your genuine care for the people of this parish have been deeply edifying and are among the key lessons I take away from my time here.
I depart for my doctoral studies at Boston College as a better priest, a better Jesuit, a better Christian, and a better human being because of my time here and the blessings all of you have been to me.
This is not goodbye, but see you later. Until then, thank you.
— Rev. Daniel N. Gustafson, S.J., Pastoral Year PriestJune 19, 2022 Essay: From the Pastor’s Desk
As we enter the lazy days of summer, I want to provide an update on our parish planning process. This process began in early 2019 when I invited a group of parishioners and parish staff members to work with me to develop our parish’s statement of mission. This working group included Teresa Cariño, Holly Curp, Rose DiMartino, Natalie Fiedler, Grace Gorman, Mary Larkin, John O’Brien, Dr. Ray Pastore, Brian Pinter, Mary Rutherfurd, Fr. Vincent Sullivan, S.J., and Eric Van Nostrand. These individuals represented a wide cross-section of parishioners and parish ministries. By the end of 2019 the final version of the parish’s mission statement was published. It reads as follows:
The love of Christ impels us to welcome all,
to worship joyfully and pray fervently,
to walk together with those in need,
and to reverence God in the wonder of Creation.
Our mission statement, like all other mission statements, is a snapshot of how we perceive ourselves in the moment and who we aspire to be. It is a lens through which we look at ourselves and plan our future.
It was my hope to initiate a strategic planning process early in 2020 whose purpose would have been the development of concrete action plans that would animate in new ways our statement of mission. Then COVID 19 reared its ugly head, and everything was put on hold as the world sheltered in place. It was during this time that I recognized the need for us to re-imagine ourselves “as church” and confidently enter a post-pandemic world. We would still use our mission statement as the lens through which we would do our planning, but our context needed a wider worldview so that we could be responsive to the glaring needs that manifested themselves through the early onslaught of the pandemic. To fail to do this would, in my opinion, diminish the relevance of the Church (big “C”) in a post-pandemic world. Or, in the words of St. Paul, as referenced in our mission statement, “the love of Christ impels us” to do nothing less.
In September 2020 I wrote an essay that was published in the parish’s e-newsletter and reflected on the need for a new paradigm of Church in a post-pandemic world. I wrote about the need to bring hope and healing to the wounds inflicted through the pandemic – the wounds of indifference, intolerance, and abject injustice. I wrote, “I believe we are at a defining moment of what it means to be Church as well as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. To return to the routine of the past would mean that we failed to learn from our tortured experiences of the pandemic.” I further wrote that we should look at our mission statement as “both a mirror and a compass,” helping us to envision this new reality of church.
Early in 2021 the next phase of the parish planning process was initiated. As with the mission statement group, the planning committee represented a cross-section of parishioners and parish staff members. Those who generously accepted my invitation to this working group were Ivan Briggiler, Rosario Conde Johanek, Holly Curp, Adele Gallo, Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Patti Hogan, Kathy Murnion, co-chair, Brian Pinter, Jean Santopatre, Jacques Torchon, Eric Van Nostrand, co-chair, and Scott Warren. Early in their deliberations, this working group acknowledged the need for input from parishioners. To that end, The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) designed a survey instrument that was distributed to all registered members of the parish. CARA collated, evaluated, and summarized the 790 survey forms that were submitted and delivered its report in November 2021 to the planning committee. You can review that report at ignatius.nyc/surveyresults. The CARA Report supplemented the input members of the planning committee received in the course of their conversations and interviews with parishioners. Then in December 2021, the planning committee delivered to me a Vision Statement that was distributed to parishioners in February of this year. You may view it online at ignatius.nyc/vision-statement.
In March of this year, parishioners were invited to “listening sessions” in the church on the weekend of March 19-20 and a virtual town hall meeting on the evening of March 30 to share their comments about the Vision Statement and their views on what they would like to see accomplished in the course of the parish’s planning process. 143 parishioners attended the listening sessions and 28 parishioners participated in the virtual town hall meeting.
What both the CARA Report and the remarks that were made at the listening sessions and the virtual town hall meeting corroborated was a general contentment with the parish as it now is as well as an openness to what was articulated in the Vision Statement. I am also obliged to report that there was a not unexpected sentiment expressed by several who participated in these meetings that we should not tinker with the status quo. In my opinion that approach would lead us to a path of irrelevance in a post-pandemic world that hungers for hope and healing.
Now is the time to initiate the next, and final, phase of our parish planning process. The Vision Statement provides us a blueprint for the future. What is now needed are its building blocks, or, as I will refer to them, action plans that will implement what was articulated in outline form in the Vision Statement.
In the Fall of this year I will invite you to participate in one of the implementation working groups that will be charged with the responsibility of drafting action plans for each of the four categories identified in the Vision Statement: 1. We Welcome All. 2. We Worship With Joy. 3. We Walk Together With Those In Need. 4. We Reverence God In The Wonder Of Creation. For the moment, I ask that you pray for the continued success of our parish planning process and to consider participating in one of these working groups so that your voice will be heard as we plan our shared future as disciples of Jesus Christ and parishioners of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.
May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us through this planning process so that all that we do now and in the future may redound to the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Sincerely in the Lord,
The journey from being welcomed by the parish to feeling a real sense of belonging requires a spiritual and emotional openness to communion, participation, and mission.
Each year at the beginning of June we see rainbow flags unfurling around restaurants, retail outlets, college campuses, and a host of public buildings. The flags represent “Pride Month,” which seeks to draw attention to, and support for, the LGBT Community and its citizens. We see many churches of all denominations expressing “welcome” to the LGBT Community and proclaiming inclusiveness for all. For many of us, the “welcome” is encouraging and signals the beginning of a journey of adventure and coming home, of truly belonging.
This journey for me and my husband Michael began during a trip in the summer of 2017 to Italy, at the Cathedral of Amalfi. It was there that we both reflected on our past, having grown up Catholic. We experienced a deep sense of separation from the Church we once knew, once belonged to and once loved. We had both left the Church many years beforehand and aside from a flirtation with Unitarian Universalism, we had no religious connection with any tradition. As we traveled on to the cathedrals of Assisi, Orvieto, Florence, Venice, and, of course, St. Peter’s in Rome, our yearning for a connection to the Church grew stronger, but it remained buried under the sorrows of the past.
While in Italy I was posting daily pictures on Facebook, and on the last day there, I noticed a post from a member of the parish of St. Francis Xavier, thanking Father Martin for his talk on his book Building a Bridge. I read the post and was shocked to learn the Church of my birth was actually engaged in a process to welcome me back, and that’s how we found St. Ignatius. The day after we returned from our trip, we attended the Sunday morning Solemn Mass. Aside from the grandeur of the architecture, the beauty of the music, and the inspiring homily, we were struck by the hospitality minister who walked down the aisle welcoming the faithful to Communion, each time motioning with a wave and a word: “come.” We smiled at her and each other, so moved by that simple action. It was that summer when Father Yesalonia wrote to the parishioners of our church advising them that a new LGBT ministry was going to be established, so we joined.
Reading the book Building a Bridge I became fascinated by the idea of Ignatian Spirituality and enrolled in an Ignatian Spiritual Retreat. The retreat introduced me to the Church’s liturgical calendar in an amazing way, focusing on the daily scripture readings, reflecting on them, and meditating in an experiential manner. The high point each week was the time spent with my new spiritual director, Father Hilbert, who taught me to pray for the first time in a personal way.
So when did I really feel that I BELONGED? Father Yesalonia met with our “LGBT Catholics and Friends” Ministry early on, and made it clear we were to “be an integral part of the parish community.” It was a terrific bit of advice and I truly believe it was that spirit that lead me to feel that I belonged.
The acknowledgment that LGBT members of the parish were encouraged to create a ministry was the beginning of the “welcome” for us. But the true sense of BELONGING came after I saw so many church parishioners attending our events, lectures, and activities. The sense of communion was strong because I felt I was seen as a gay man and as an integral part of the community. This led to greater participation in the life of the parish. Finally, I believed in and supported the mission of creating a spiritual home for all.
Living one’s life authentically here at St. Ignatius is a blessing. It brings to mind the words of Thomas Merton: “The way we would begin in prayer is that we belong to God…all prayer starts and unfolds out of that knowing.”
– Lou Csabay, Parishioner & Member of the LGBT Catholics & Friends MinistryApril 30, 2022 Essay: A Family Reunion – A Festival Mass
Family reunions take many different forms. Some occur to celebrate milestone moments in our lives, like birthdays and weddings. Others are sources of consolation at times of loss. And the really special ones are those whose sole purpose is to enjoy the company of relatives or those who are dear to us — to catch up on the latest news of one another, to reminisce, and to share the affection and good cheer that binds us together as family and friends. Family reunions invariably lift our spirits and nurture our souls, both in the moment and in the afterglow of our memories.
My experience has been that any reunion, no matter what variety, takes lots of planning. For some people, the very anticipation of coming together is itself a source of delight. It whets the appetite for experiencing everyone enjoying themselves. Planning every detail of the reunion becomes a labor of love that is appreciated by all as a gift itself. Yes, there are some who cringe at the prospect of a family reunion. With foreboding, they envision scenarios of skeletons of the past coming to life, yet they will show up lest they be considered party-poopers and curmudgeons. The paradoxical thing about this group is that they will eventually enjoy the get-together immensely and will be among the first to suggest that planning for the next reunion should begin as soon as possible!
I am sure that all of us have memories of family reunions of long ago or more recent ones. I think of such things as the kids raucously playing, the elders sitting on lawn chairs and going in and out of several conversations at the same time, of the menfolk at the grill and the women folk shuttling back and forth from the house to the yard with enough food and drink to feed the neighborhood. Then a moment would come when the banter would pause and a meal of food and love would be served like a royal banquet on the finest china, even though it was actually paper plates and plastic cups. Then dessert was served, and the sugar-high revved up the kids once again as the wizened elders looked askance at parents who allowed such frivolity to intrude upon their need for tranquility. There is a nostalgic glow to my memories, tied together with the thread of gratitude I experienced during those celebrations, but lost sight of with the passage of time, that is, until we once again gathered as a family.
I believe it is time for us, here at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, to have a family reunion — of sorts. On Sunday, May 8th, Mother’s Day, those in our parish community who ordinarily attend the 11:00 AM Solemn Mass and those who ordinarily attend the 11:00 AM Wallace Hall Family Mass will celebrate in common Our Parish, Our Home Festival Mass at 11:00 AM in the church. We will come together to experience anew our stated mission as a parish: to welcome all and to worship joyfully.
Planning for this Mass has been in the works for several weeks. The hospitality, liturgical, and music ministries will be combined for this celebration. Like a family reunion, we will reacquaint ourselves with one another. We will be nourished from the same table of faith, friendship, and love. We will call to mind and celebrate what has been meaningful to us as parishioners of this vibrant parish on the Upper East Side of New York City that we recognize and cherish as our parish, our home.
And to our “distant cousins” who may regularly attend one of the other weekend Masses, you are also gladly welcomed to join the other members of the family on May 8th at 11:00 AM.
No RSVP is required! The doors of the church will be wide open to welcome all of you.
— Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., PastorApril 23, 2022 Essay: God’s Better Beauty
At the end of Mark Helprin’s long and troubling book called “A Soldier of the Great War,” there is a discussion among the main characters about the meaning of sacrifice in the face of the insanity they had experienced during the First World War. Reacting to feeble attempts to make sense of beauty that appears even in the midst of terrible loss, this is what the protagonist says:
“Really everything they said seemed to be in contradiction to the truth of what I’d seen. And if you ask me what it was, I can’t tell you. I can only tell you it overwhelmed me, that all the hard and wonderful things of the world are nothing more than a frame for the spirit, like fire and light, that is the endless roiling of love and grace.
I can tell you only that beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea, that it moves by its own law, that it is God’s way of comforting his broken children….”
“Beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea; it moves by its own laws.”
These are the laws of hope and courage, which are, finally, the law of the spirit.
The ancients understood this: The Beautiful is one of the three so-called “transcendentals,” with her complicated sisters, The Good and The True. Beauty is the imaging forth of the divine, the trace in matter of the God who must share his beauty, who images forth his likeness in us and through us in our creations.
We see it in the beauty of creation, in the splendor and terror of nature, mysterium fascinans et tremendum; we see it most clearly in the dawn of the First Day of the Week.
We saw it in the face of him who sat on the cold stone, waiting for his cross. We saw it in the radiance of Magdalene’s smile when she recognizes the Gardener as her risen lord. We see it in the light that poured through the wounded hands of Jesus and healed Thomas’s doubts.
“All the hard and wonderful things of the world are nothing more than a frame for the spirit, like fire and light, that is the endless roiling of love and grace.”
That, after all, is what St. Ignatius told us to pray for at the end of the Spiritual Exercises: “only your love and your grace.” That’s what Ignatius saw as he wept beneath the stars, as he gazed at the terrible beauty of the cross, and when he saw grace descend like light from the sun, like water from the spring. He saw hope, hope that God’s will can be done, hope that God’s love and grace really are enough, hope in God’s better beauty, grace. And that too is why he encouraged his brothers and their companions to build beautiful churches, and use the arts and human craft to be tools of persuasion and hope.
The poignant beauty of the dying and rising of Jesus that we contemplate on these Easter days draws us deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s design for us and for our world.
Such beauty encourages us, literally in-courages us to live lives of compassion and mercy. It turned Peter from his timidity to compassion and mercy, turned Ignatius and his friends to lives of service and praise.
“It is God’s way of comforting his broken children….”
Let all of us, broken children, poor banished children of Eve, open our hearts to that beauty, ever ancient, ever new.
– Fr. Thomas Lucas, S.J., Pastor, Saint Ignatius Loyola Parish, SacramentoApril 16, 2022 Essay: The Celebration of Eastertide
Have you ever noticed how we sanctify and ritualize our activities in preparation for the celebration of holidays and significant events in our lives? We dare not deviate from the traditions that have been passed down for generations in our families, or, at least, the ones we learned from our parents that have the aura and power of ancestral origins. What I am referring to are the everyday things that take on great importance because of their association with the time-honored, venerable ways we mark an occasion of importance.
We feast on the obligatory hot dogs and hamburgers at our cookouts on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. We lay out a groaning board of food on Thanksgiving Day and make certain there is a selection of pies that will appeal to everyone’s palate. Hold the mincemeat! We wrap birthday, wedding, and Christmas gifts as though we were chiseling the marble of the Pietà. We make certain there are balloons aplenty as we mark the years of our loved ones and include among the birthday candles one that simply refuses to be extinguished. Our little rituals, even the anticipation of them, bring smiles to our faces and warm our hearts as we remember past celebrations where these familiar things had the greatest impact and have now become the requisite essential elements of how to mark occasions when families and friends gather to celebrate.
As I thought about what to write in this essay for Easter Sunday, I reveled in memories of my childhood as my family prepared for Easter. I thought about our cherished rituals. A new dress for my sister and a new suit for me were a given. Heaven knows we needed to wear our Sunday best, as though going to Mass on Easter Sunday in old clothes would be a blasphemous sign of disrespect! Then there was the coloring of eggs that never came out the way I had planned, but they were bright and multi-hued, nonetheless. And oh! those Easter baskets brought to us by the Easter Bunny while we slept, chock full of chocolate bunnies and eggs, jellybeans, and sugary sweets that I jealously guarded when our cousins came to join us for a sumptuous Easter dinner that itself took days of loving preparation. These are the earthly rituals I remember, moments of sheer delight that, for me, became sanctified signs of the grace of Easter.
We take comfort in rituals. They give us a sense of calm certainty. They are a bridge to our individual and collective past and a springboard to the future. We pass them down from generation to generation as treasured family heirlooms. The liturgies of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through the Easter Vigil, are compelling examples of the force of rituals in our lives. They are filled with meaning. More than mundane, they are ethereal. They unite us in faith, renew our spirits, and bring joy to our souls.
The celebrations of Holy Week and Easter Sunday delight all our senses. It is through the sounds, sights, and fragrances of centuries-old rituals that we experience the wonder of God’s love for us through the suffering, death, and resurrection of God’s Son. On Easter Sunday we savor the realization that our preparations for this day have not been in vain. Our Savior lives! He lives so that we might walk confidently with hope proclaiming the Kingdom of God by the manner in which we live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. We celebrate his Resurrection by being fully alive to who we are, created out of love for the glory of God.
Unlike other observances and celebrations in our lives, Easter is not a one-day event, not another instance of “one and done.” How could such a celebration of faith and expression of joy be contained in 24 hours? In fact, Eastertide, the Season of Easter, lasts fifty days, from Easter Sunday through the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is a time to allow the memories of God’s presence in our lives to wash over us, nurture us, and fuel the fire of our love for God and all that God has created. To go to that place of renewal, we often travel into the undiscovered realms of our daily lives where the commonplace meets the transcendent. In those moments, we encounter Jesus at his Resurrection and experience the joy of Easter. Our Savior lives when we walk courageously into the future and truly live what we believe.
May your celebration of Eastertide be filled with an abundance of experiences that bring with them a profound awareness of God’s love for you!
Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., PastorApril 9, 2022 Essay: Peace I Leave With You
My cousin Billy died at the age of 82 in October 2019. Though his death was sudden, he had made some careful plans and chosen thoughtful words for that inevitable moment. These included instructions that a note he had written be displayed next to his casket at the wake service before his funeral Mass—“Enjoy and be happy; life is for the living. So move on and relish what you still have. I love you all. Bill/Grandpa/Uncle Bill.” Though I was sad that Billy was gone, I left the church feeling grateful and comforted. My dear cousin’s gesture was caring and compassionate; a final gift to those he loved and left behind.
The Gospel stories that we encounter during Holy Week invite us to ask a spiritual question that Bill, in his own way, had tended – “How might I give my death away as my final gift to my loved ones and the world?” My cousin made choices that created the opportunity for his death to be a source of blessing and consolation. I have also witnessed—as I am sure you have—the heartbreaking reality that a death can unleash a spirit of bitterness, frustration, and resentment because there is much-unfinished business.
Henri Nouwen, near the end of his life, wrote about the spiritual task of making the way we encounter our deaths a gift. He said, “When we are near death what we say to those who are close to us, whether in spoken or in written words, is very important.” Jesus role models how in word and deed we can make our dying a gift of peace, forgiveness, and love. Recall his soulful, beautiful words and actions from those fateful, final days—“Peace I leave with you.” “Do this in memory of me.” “I call you friends.” “Do not weep for me.” “Father forgive them.” “Into your hands I commend my spirit”.
We cannot choose the circumstances of our deaths. God willing, the moment will be peaceful, and we will be surrounded by loving friends and family. But this might not be the case. We might be caught by surprise. Death sometimes arrives with violence. Like Jesus, we might first be led through intense, humiliating suffering. No matter how we meet our end, we can make choices now about the way we live that will determine whether or not our death brings light and peace, or sucks the air out of the room. And like my cousin, we can make plans about what we want to happen after we’re gone that can ease the burden and bring consolation to our loved ones.
A few weeks before Billy died, I was privileged to spend some time with him at a family wedding. We reminisced and shared some happy memories of people we loved who are long gone. It was a pure gift to have shared this moment together. As I left him that evening, I gave Bill a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so happy we could talk, Billy,” I said as we parted. I recognize now that life gave me an opportunity to walk a few steps with my cousin at the end of his journey.
This week we will walk with Jesus to Calvary. As we accompany him to and through his death, let us be gently attentive to his words, choices, and gestures. He is teaching us in these moments how to die well. We can learn from him how the time of our ultimate parting can be made abundantly fruitful.
— Brian Pinter
In a time of war and heightened international tensions, we must give careful thought to what will provide our nation with true security.
The Biden administration is proposing more than $770 billion for the defense budget in fiscal year 2023. For the current fiscal year, Congress passed a $768 billion defense budget that was $25 billion more than the administration requested. Pope Francis has called the collective commitment of Western nations to increase their defense spending in light of the war in Ukraine “madness.” In that strong reaction, Pope Francis is simply reminding us that more defense spending does not necessarily equate to greater national security, especially when it comes at the expense of human needs.
Our system of military procurement has grown sclerotic and largely serves the interests of the top five defense contractors in the United States. Virtually every major weapons system currently under development, or now being deployed, has been over budget and failed to meet the performance standards set when the contracts were issued. The United States Navy has an entire class of ships, Littoral Combat Ships, that have never found performed as intended, nor found an appropriate mission. Indeed, they are known within the Navy as “Little Crappy Ships.” The United States has not even been able to field a hypersonic weapon even though both China and Russia already have such weapons. Unless there is meaningful reform of Pentagon procurement practices, and meaningful oversight of defense contractors, increasing the budget of the Pentagon each year will not guarantee our nation’s security.
We must also recognize that our national security cannot be equated to the size of our military. It depends, instead, on the strength of our society which requires that the legitimate needs of our citizens are met. Our society will not be secure so long as we have the depth of poverty that we now have, the number of persons without access to adequate housing, lacking sufficient food that is nutritionally sound, unable to obtain the health care that they require, the number of working parents who are impeded in their efforts to work by the lack of child care, the number of workers who are denied a minimum of forty hours in one occupation, and the inability of young people to obtain the advanced education they need without assuming crippling debt.
We know how to address each of these problems and to do so effectively. We have the resources, current and potential, to address them. What we lack is the political will to act. There is ample room for significant savings in defense expenditures if Congress was willing to confront entrenched interests, overcome parochial concerns, and effect the changes needed so that we can spend less and achieve more with regard to national defense. Congress must also revise our nation’s federal tax policies. As our U.S. bishops have said: “…The tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation.” Finally, all of our policy decisions must be examined through the lens of their impact on the poor. Quoting our bishops: “The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its justice or injustice.”
Each of us can pray and act so that our national leaders will work to give us genuine security – a nation in which there truly is liberty and justice for all.
– Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate PastorMarch 26, 2022 Essay: Walking with the Excluded
From 1992 to 1994, my ministry in Kenya was with the Jesuit Refugee Service, helping refugees from all over East Africa who had settled in the slums of Nairobi start small businesses. I learned a great deal from the refugees about persistence, hope, faith, hard work, and humor.
But perhaps the most vivid experience came on one of my first days, and in a sense, it was a sort of reification or maybe even culmination of the lesson that you should never assume that you know someone’s life, and certainly never just dump them into a category or stereotype.
At the beginning of my time there, I worked at a UN intake center in Nairobi, staffed by JRS, which admittedly was a strange arrangement. And I was asked to interview refugees, to help “process” them.
The first person I saw was a Somali man. He looked like many East African refugees: tired, disheveled, dressed in old clothes. And I think even then I thought: “Oh a refugee,” not “Oh, he’s a human being with a background.” I thought well, he’s probably used to this kind of life: on the go, a nomad, maybe some sort of cattle farmer, so he’s probably not unused to migrating and living from the land, and so on.
So I said, in my poor Swahili, “What language would you like to speak in?”
And he said in perfect English. “Well, English is fine.” Then he paused. “So is Swahili, Italian, French, and Latin.” He was a philosophy professor at the University of Mogadishu.
For me, that just summed up so much that I had learned since I entered the novitiate. We don’t know people’s lives. We need to treat them with dignity. And we cannot see them just as categories.
All this means listening. And this is what I’ve tried to do in my ministry with LGBTQ people lately, especially LGBTQ Catholics. All these ministries that I did as a Jesuit in formation have helped me to understand my ministry with LGBTQ Catholics. Yes, their lives are different from East African refugees, from street-gang members, from homeless people, from the sick and dying in Jamaica, and people with serious illnesses, though there are LGBTQ people among all those groups. But the lessons of my formation: treat them not as categories but as individuals, don’t assume you know what they need, don’t assume that you know their lives, treat them like kings and queens, no pun intended by the way, and, most of all, of loving them as they are not as how we would want them to be, are all operative.
But this is not just about “Walking with the Excluded” as a “Universal Apostolic Preference,” this is about something deeper: following Jesus Christ.
We see these patterns that time and time again in Jesus’s own public ministry. Whenever he meets someone who is “excluded,” whether it is a Roman centurion, a person suffering from leprosy, a Samaritan woman looking for water, a hated tax collector, a demon-possessed man, or anyone who has been ignored, rejected, or excluded, we see him listening to them, encountering them, and treating them as individuals, not as categories or stereotypes, with their own hopes and dreams.
So what are we called to do? In the words of the Society of Jesus, to “walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice.” In Jesus’s words, “love them.” Soon we realize that those on the “margins” or the “peripheries” are really where we should be, and that becomes our new center, where we find community. Walking with the excluded in the end eventually becomes building a community of love, and helping to usher in the reign of God.
– Fr. James Martin, S.J.
Excerpted from Fr. Martin’s talk “Walking with the Excluded,” to be presented on Monday, March 28th at 7 PM. To register, click here.March 19, 2022 Essay: The Struggle with Evil
What we hear at the beginning of each Lent is a story about evil. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record the temptations Jesus had with the devil during his forty days and nights in the Judean desert. These struggles were real; they were not some kind of empty charade he was going through. Jesus was fully human, and we are reminded in the Letter to the Hebrews that the reason Jesus is capable of feeling our weaknesses is because “he was tested in every way that we are, though he was without sin”. Throughout his brief public ministry, he confronts evil in every form. There was sickness, ignorance, and fear. There was lack of faith, and finally death itself, which St. Paul calls “the last of the enemies Christ has overcome”.
If we are to be, in any sense, like Christ, we have to confront the many forms of evil that assail us now. There are evils from without. We have been battered by the evil of a COVID pandemic for the past two years, and now by the evil of war and destruction in Ukraine. Then, too, there are the demons within us: lack of faith or purpose to life, sinful tendencies, false gods. It is a struggle to overcome these evils, and we are called to do this daily.
Often we feel helpless. This is a sign that we need each other and the grace of God. We need an awareness of God’s presence—a real presence that will sustain us, no matter what. There is the final evil of death that we absolutely cannot overcome without this presence. When the Hebrew writer wrote the most beloved of all psalms, Psalm 23, he wrote: “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” For Christians that presence has a name. It is Jesus.
In Jesus’ earthly life, God’s love had a face. Jesus was totally charismatic and drew large crowds to himself. Now he is invisible to us. But he becomes visible through people. It happens through their selflessness and compassion, through the witness of their lives.
Here is a simple example. A child cries out in the darkness of night. The mother or father goes immediately to the child’s side and speaks those famous words, “It’s all right. Don’t be afraid”. The child is eventually comforted and goes back to sleep. But what’s all right? All the terrible things that can and do happen in the world are still there, death among them, waiting for another time. What’s all right? What is the secret of the child’s peace?
The secret of the child’s peace is a loving presence: the parent. For that moment of consolation and peace by the bedside, God is given a voice, embodied in a person, just as truly as God spoke and was embodied in Jesus. A loving presence has enabled that child to overcome its fears.
We can be certain evil is not going to disappear from our world. It is woven into the very fabric of existence. And we would be helpless before its power if God’s love were not more powerful still. We overcome evil every day by our acts of goodness, just as we dispel the darkness in a room by turning on the light.
Jesus warned that the world will challenge us, but we are not to be afraid. In five words that we should brand on our memories, he said, “I have overcome the world”. In John’s gospel, “world” is a symbol of all the dark powers that are not God. God overcomes them only through us, his graced servants, who strive to live something of a divine life and embody Christ to each other.
– Fr. William J. Bergen, S.J., Senior Priest