JUHAN (JesuitUniversitiesHumanitaria NBnAction Network)- UCA- Nicaragua 5 de Agostos de 2015
SUFFERING AND SOLIDARITY: A CHALLENGE FOR JESUIT UNIVERSITIES
Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., on 2000, stated in Santa Clara University, California: “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for the solidarity which opens the way to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.”
It is worth repeating how deeply the idea of “helping others” was built into the Jesuit concept of education from the very beginning. The early Jesuits knew from their own experience how profound a conversion of heart could occur when one personally meets pain and suffering, economic and social marginalization, human loneliness and isolation. Part of the Jesuits´ pastoral strategy of preaching and teaching the Gospel, therefore, was to place those who had heard the word into immediate contact with those who desperately needed the mercy demanded by the word of God: those abandoned to die in public hospitals, the imprisoned, prostitutes, and the homeless.
Jesuits brought these attitudes into their schools. To be educated (EYUKEIRED) was to be educated for a just society, to serve not only oneself or one´s family or class but the entire community.That is exactly what JUHAN is aimed (EIMAT) at: the overarching goal of the project is to use humanitarian action as a conduit to integrate civic and moral responsibility into the undergraduate curriculum… in an effort to equip students to effectively deal with some of the large clusters of “great questions” of meaning and value, and of moral responsibility.”
The experience of the first Jesuits and the words of Father Kolvenbach can explain why“a university without systematic and organized social involvement was not fully accomplishing the mission of the Society of Jesus.” This is the obvious corollary of the “faith that does justice” which our Ignatian family has professed for decades now. It’s also implied by our educational philosophy, “educating the whole person.” It also flows directly from the Jesuit philosophical and theological anthropology that sees human beings as creatures that don’t just(yost) amass knowledge but also love and celebrate beauty and choose and act, both as individuals and as communities.
When I prepared my talk, I found my heart and my mind focusing on the enormous privilege that God gave to the ignatian family.That is the reason why I feel happy to receive friends who share the same mission and to share with you this day of reflection: the unprecedented opportunity we, Jesuit universities around the world, have to chart new paths of solidarity through the suffering of our globalized world.
This globalized world, its postmodern fragmentation and the pace at which change is occurring nowadays requirea lot of flexibility and adaptation skills from Jesuit universities in order to achieve the great transformations that Ignatius of Loyola dreamed of. It also requires a willingness to collaborate with other areas of the Church, society, and people of good will.The Lord’s Spirit knows no boundaries or discrimination in the common struggle to humanize our societies.
Philosophers, theologians and social scientists have addressed human suffering and have attempted to conceptualize it, but they always fall short of their objective. In my opinion, it is the wisdom, knowledge, and daily experience of the suffering majorities who live at the margins of the spaces of power and privilege–it is them who actually touch the depths of our inner world. Moreover, because of their simplicity, the outcasts of the earth are best able to design a hopeful future, precisely because they have been forged in the midst of adversity and need. These people are the ones with the ability to share what they have.
Nevertheless, there are situations that we cannot control. There are moments in our lives in which we feel very safe and not needing anyone else, while we sail in the calm waters of our life. But in a second, a giant wave can drag us down and change our lives dramatically. The force of those waters of evil strikes the depths of our souls and drags us into violent waters that paralyze us and leave us in shock and deep confusion and impotence. We are never able to be the same again. However, as the psalm 119:25 goes: my soul is like dead, but you give it life as you promised me. This is the reward.
Amando López, one of the murdered Jesuits at UCA el Salvador, had been my professor of philosophy and spiritual director since I was a 14- year- old student at the Jesuit High School in Nicaragua. He taught me how to think from the perspective of the poor, to have a vision of the future to embrace solidarity.His unjust death wrote on the blackboard of my heart that the color of the blood of the honorable can never be forgotten. His death meant to me a painful experience that taught me to reconstruct myself internally in order to heal the deep wounds of the soul and not to get caught up in the logic of violence or resentment.
From the perspective of Ignatian spirituality, the first step is to resist adversity with dignity. We cannot allow the evil of the world to destroy the spirit of humble gratitude in us. One of the things Jesus really appreciated in the men and women he met was their ability to be grateful. A striking example is found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50). A woman cries next to Jesus feet. She kisses and anoints the feet of Jesus with perfume as a sign of her great appreciation for Jesus forgiveness of all her sins. The abundance of her tears was also a sign of how grateful shewasto Jesus and God. People like this woman appreciate the gratuity of everything in life. From the logic of gratuitousness, encounters with humble peoplebecome true blessings because “when the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change” (Father Kolvenbach).
The second step is to trust, it is an efficient tool for times of suffering and adversity. And I know I can trust in God.But my question is:how can I persevere and not get discouraged?I believe the answer is what St. Ignatius saysin the Spiritual Exercises: “Bring to memory”.A grateful memory does not forget all the good that has received throughout the years. But we must be realistic. Humans easily tend to forget the great days theyhave experienced in recent past. And in moments of pain those memoriesare cleared out even faster. It seems as if when humans need Godthe most, He hides behind the pain. Ignatian spirituality calls us to have a good memory and a grateful heart because that will enable us to trust, to persevere and endure in the midst of adversity.
A third point I want to make is that adversity and suffering are also privileged ways to gain self-knowledge. It allows us to see realistically what we really are for the good and for the bad. As the Argentinean singer Mercedes Sosa says: “I’m a lot of holy things mixed up with human ones. How can I explain? Worldly things”… And with that realistic acceptance we open to a humble and balanced way to embrace who we are. And this experience is not achieved proactively. It is achieved by assuming that we receive the love of God despite of our weaknesses and limitations. It is also achieved by understanding that it is the love of God that helps us turn suffering into a chance to mature and give thanks.
A fourth element from the Ignatian spirituality that helped me with the toughest times is the ability to interrogate, to ask ourselves questions in times of adversity. It has a lot to do with the daily examinationthat San Ignacio invites us to. The Ignatian spiritual journey is marked by many difficulties that force us to make questions, and afterwards make the changes and profound transformations that arise from thatquestioning. When Ignatius of Loyola was not allowed to stay in Jerusalem, his life project was destroyed. That failure raised many questions in him about what to do. The results of those questions wereIgnatius plans to study, serve the pope and founded the Society of Jesus.
I have no doubt of the benefits of the self-inquiry exercises in adversity. Difficult or uncomfortable questions can bring many benefits when answered slowly and deep. We must do the exercise of living with the question as long as we need it, until we feel that the answer comes from the depths of a grateful heart that silences our rationality. Learning to listen to our inner world allows us to understand the complicated and invisible delusions that our disordered affections and our emotional attachments generate. And that familiarity with our deepest self enables us to serveand to discard many unrealistic proposals that attract us by their appearances. Discernment is helpful for service and it makes sense when we approach it from the authentic and generous desire to build a more human world.
By following Jesus, we can understand our humanism and our anthropological solidarity. That’s the horizon that we address with our academic excellence and our university life. In our universities we want to count with people that are well-trained in the scientific and technical instruments, but at the same time we want them to be people who are ready to defend the life, dignity and peaceful coexistence of all creatures. The arrogant person will never experience what an interpersonal relationship is, because no one feels like a person before him. Our only hope is an attitude of respect and humility that is open to the contingencies of the mysterious human condition and that is willing to serve unconditionally. Only that qualifies as human presence in the full sense of the word.
I ask the Lord for all who are here present and I want to finish by inviting you to navigate these three great insights that Ignatian tradition offers to us: Self-knowledge (know your own talents, and the desires that shape the individual limitations); knowledge of the world (its complexity, diversity and hazards), and knowledge of God (his infinite compassion that is seen along the history of salvation). Ultimately, that is the challenge of our university and also our pastoral Challenges: support our young students that are going through moments of self-inquiry and provide them with the tools that will help them to discern. And with these tools in hand, have themtake the time to bear with the heart and mind a life in which they are good news for humanity.