The time is now – to discern, reflect, comprehend and act

Author:  Rida Mansoor

 

Unlocking Communities’ founder and CEO, Josh Goralski graduated from Loyola Chicago’s Masters in Social Justice Program with a specialization in Social Entrepreneurship in May 2019.  While pursuing his degree, he wrote the business plan for Unlocking Communities, a global social enterprise founded on Catholic social teaching that provides communities with access to essential products such as water filtration systems and clean burning stoves.

 What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your time at Loyola?

The most important or valuable lesson I’ve learned is how to put faith into action, and what it means to be a man and woman for and with others. How do we go out and integrate the Jesuit teachings into our everyday learnings and things like community organizing? Things that we talked about in our class translated into the everyday work that we do.

 Why did you choose Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies?

I chose Loyola because it was one of the only schools in the area that had a Master’s in Social Justice, and I had already done an undergrad in Nonprofit Management, but really wanted to deepen my theological learnings in the area of social justice. I had heard wonderful things from the graduates of the program.

My time at IPS was was foundational to my current success. The time spent in class to discern, reflect and understand how to build a social enterprise like ours, provided the bedrock for Unlocking Communities. We are a Catholic-informed organization, but not a Catholic organization. We don’t draw lines that separate people in communities based on religion. We are and continue to be a uniting and not a diving force.

 What has been the most memorable part of your Loyola experience?

The most memorable part of my Loyola experience was getting a chance to sit around a table with the professor and fellow students and engage in conversation. It was an intimate class setting, and we would brainstorm around the conference table on what it means to organize communities. Felt very real and applicable to me.

 What does Loyola’s Jesuit mission mean to you? How has it influenced your experience as an entrepreneur?

For me, the Jesuit mission means to men and women for and with others. I truly believe that this generation can see transformative change; I see movement towards issues like ending extreme poverty and want to motivate others by leading with example.

 How did you come up with the noble idea of Unlocking Communities

I came up with Unlocking Communities through a faith journey when I met a priest from Haiti. I’ve been involved in non-profit activities in Haiti since I was 8 years old. Hearing about his successes and lessons learned along the way was an enlightening path for me. Throughout graduate school,  I had an opportunity to look at what is truly social justice and how social justice base models really put that computing power in the hands of communities.

 What are your organization’s long and short-term goals?

Our short-term goals are to build a factory in Haiti that will reach provide clean water to over one and a half million people in the next five years. Our long-term goal is a focus on fundraising, allowing us to continue our mission-driven work in more countries.

Unlocking Communities’  core mission is to equip entrepreneurs with the education and tools to sell sustainable products that unlock economic, social, and environmental transformation. We are focused on improving health outcomes and environmental change by selling water filtration systems and clean burning stoves as our products.


Meet Julie

The IPS community would like to extend a warm welcome to Julie Garcia, our newest department staff member.  She will be serving as the IPS Coordinator of Student Services.  Prior to joining IPS, Julie was the College Placement Director at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago, where she developed and led the College Transfer and Alumni Support Department.  Julie has a background in clinical psychology and has worked as a Professional School Counselor and a counselor in the corporate outplacement industry.   Julie holds an MA in Clinical Psychology  and is an adjunct professor at National Louis University.  She is a dedicated runner and an ALS “find a cure” champion, as well as a former high school soccer coach.  She enjoys spending time with her husband and three sons, running, reading and watching soccer. We are thrilled to have Julie join us and are looking forward to her contributions to student success.  Welcome Julie!


“As long as you make trouble, it’s okay.” Pope Francis

Last October, we were part of a team of Loyola University Chicago faculty (four of us in all) brainstorming ways that we could connect the university community to the Synod 2021-2023 process now underway. Pope Francis launched this unprecedented global project more than a year ago with an invitation to Christians everywhere to offer their perspective and voice. His goal is for everyone to participate in a process of shared discernment (a “synodal” process) on the way the Catholic Church must evolve to embody its mission today. Our ideas for University events evolved in unpredictable ways and led to Building Bridges North-South: a Zoom meeting of 16 students with Pope Francis himself! Those students were selected as representatives by their peers in regional groups from across North, Central, and South America. In all, we accompanied in those regional groups 128 students attending 59 different universities in 22 different countries.

It went well.

So well, in fact, that Pope Francis invited us to meet with him at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. That meeting took place on May 13, 2022 and it represents a transformative moment for us personally and an inflection point for our work with students in the Building Bridges North-South initiative.

What did we talk about with Pope Francis?! We entered the meeting with talking points but also wanted to leave more than enough room for the Holy Father to lead the conversation. We described our desire to support the participation of university students in the Synod process and to link students across borders to share, listen, and learn from each other in diverse ways and concerning a variety of issues. Pope Francis offered to support our work: “I will collaborate in whatever ways you tell me!” Yes, he said exactly that.

The Holy Father has a special place in his heart for young people. It’s clear to me that he finds joy in this! He described his approach carefully:

  • Young people must be able to share their experiences freely
  • Too often, the adults around them “anesthetize” them by dismissing them, constraining them, distracting them, leading them somewhere else, etc.
  • We must accept them as protagonists of history
  • We must not lead them where we think they should go but let them discern their way
  • They should create trouble and stir up conflict
  • We can accompany them and should help them turn that conflict into crisis and that crisis into constructive transformation, but knowing that they are the agents.

Working with Dr. Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, we also met last week with leaders (lay and ordained) both inside and outside the Vatican, including the heads of the Synod itself, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and several others.

What will come next?

Well, we are discerning that together as we proceed… together. This is the way of synodality: meet, listen for understanding, discern a shared vision of the present, and walk forward together toward a common future. Right now, concretely, we’re continuing to accompany students who participated in the spring event as they pursue some of the projects they proposed to Pope Francis. Also, we are advising university leaders in Europe, Asia, and Africa as they pursue events analogous to our Feb. 24 event with Pope Francis (“synodal encounters of students across borders”) on their continents. Also, we’re building out undergraduate and graduate courses that will take place simultaneously in universities across North, Central, and South America (the first in Spring 2023), linking together all the students in new ways and thereby integrating diverse voices and visions into their course experiences. Finally, using the support and network we’ve created, we are connecting Pope Francis and other leaders in the Vatican to the incredible work already being done according to his vision and which may benefit from his engagement.

What a transformative experience! We sought to serve our University community by engaging the Synod process. This evolved away from a discussion about synodality to become an act of synodality that centered relationships among students from across the Western hemisphere. When presented with our activity, Pope Francis saw his own desires coming to life in them and agreed to participate by meeting with the students. What an honor for him to pop in on one of our meetings and get to know a few of the students! He stayed up late, listened, took notes, and called the students by name as he responded to them. This is his example of the type of leadership he expects from church leaders, lay and ordained and at every level of the ecclesial community. Not long after this, he invited us to do more and to meet with him. Now, new possibilities we hadn’t dared to imagine just six months ago are on the horizon.

The Spirit is at work. God is good!

* The four LUC faculty who organized the Building Bridges event and met with Pope Francis: Felipe Legarreta, Miguel Diaz, Michael Murphy, and Peter Jones.


Meet Storm

Albert-André Nast, “In Lieu of Stethoscope” 1953 France 

A baker, philosopher, teacher, writer, and giver of unvarnished answers; we are delighted to welcome Storm Obuchowski to the Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Storm joins the IPS team as the Coordinator of Student Services.  His professional experiences make him well-suited to the position and his laid-back demeanor makes him a natural fit into the IPS community.

Storm graduated with a BA in Philosophy (2013) from Loyola University Chicago.  He went on to obtain an MTS degree from Boston College.  Born and raised in Chicago, joining IPS has been a welcome opportunity to come back to his roots.  I asked him about the discerning process that led him back home to Chicago and to IPS.  He philosophically reflected on how life passes in seasons and that he came to a season of rest in his life.  He was able to ‘work from anywhere’ due to the pandemic and he chose to come home to Chicago to rest and reflect.

I asked Storm how he sees his new role at IPS currently and what he’s hopeful for in the future.  He said he feels very welcomed at IPS and defines his role as a nexus for the many moving pieces in the department.  He’s hopeful to have the opportunity to streamline some processes in the future; with an eye towards efficiency and proactively meeting student needs.    He is also a potential contributor to the IPS blog, so please stay-tuned for posts from Storm.

Every good introductory interview has a fun fact and as a fellow owner of an unusual name, I was curious about the origin story of Storm’s first name.  He said that his parents are musicians and that while composing a song during her pregnancy, his parents landed on the name Storm, and it stuck.  His last name, is also a good story, involving the evolution of a battle axe into a walking stick during medieval times and we made the executive decision to save that story for another post.  Storm works in the IPS office in Lewis Towers, during regular business hours.  He looks forward to serving the students of IPS, please stop by and say hello.


Listening to the People of God

By Jessamyn Anderson Magri

In conversation about the upcoming event, Building Bridges North-South: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students, Dr. Felipe Legarreta emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is at work.  He cites the fact that this encounter, and the series of events associated with it, have transcended all expectations; shows evidence of the Holy Spirit challenging us to listen to its voice in the cry of the poor and in the cry of our Common Home, cf. Romans 8:15.  This opportunity to listen came about while working with colleagues, Dr. Emilce Cuda, Dr. Peter Jones, Dr. Michael Murphy, and Dr. Miguel Diaz, through a playful suggestion to invite Pope Francis to a synodal dialogue with university students.  That suggestion quickly turned into a happy reality.  Upon reflection, Dr. Legarreta said the potential for this historic event has been percolating in the background for some time and he feels the Holy Spirit is saying; Listen up!  This is the time.

 

Legaretta cites the groundwork for this event as the publication of the document, Ecclesia in America.  This document was published in 1992 under Pope John II, during an assembly of bishops that gathered around the theme, “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America.”  Building on that theme of solidarity established during that assembly, the CELAM (Conference of Latin American Bishops), invited Pope Francis to come to their assembly to discuss these ideas.  Pope Francis gently declined; asking the bishops to go back and “listen to the People of God”.  Instructing them to find the people on the peripheries, the margins, and listen to their stories, needs and concerns.

This brings us to now and Pope Francis’s second redirect to a leadership team to “listen to the people of God’ and to listen to the people on the margins.  Dr. Legarretta explained that the original idea was to invite Francis to dialogue with faculty, staff, and students at Loyola University Chicago.  Francis said, yes, I will come, but I want to talk to only students and students from all across the Americas, not faculty.  Thus, we land here with the anticipated historic event of university students in direct communication with the Holy See.

In thinking about such a monumental occasion, I asked if the dialogue would be structured or moderated in anyway.  Dr. Legarretta said that the only guidepost for students was the topics of migration and economic justice.  He, and the team putting the initiative together, want to give students true freedom in asking the questions that are on their hearts.  The only limiting factor in the conversation will be time.  Each student representing a different region of the Americas will be given about three minutes to ask the questions they have, and then Pope Francis will respond for about five minutes.  Again, Dr. Legarretta referenced the Holy Spirit and how this event was so far beyond anyone on the team’s wildest dreams, that the only explanation is the Holy Spirit is at work and we should step out of the way to let that work happen.  He framed the dialogue in terms of dialects.  The dialect of youth – passion, urgency, and hope, conversing with the dialect of wisdom, as found in the ancient wisdom of the church.  There are plans to continue this dialectic dialogue throughout the synodal process with events that give students a platform to raise their voices and be heard.

“To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students.

 

 


Listening to the signs of our times

By: Michael M. Canaris

As the two-year global synod process begins, this special time in the Catholic Church demands that we pay attention and read the signs of our times, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has asked the entire church, even across denominational “borders,” to help him navigate a path forward in passing Christ’s message on to the next and every generation. This requires work and collaboration on the part of the whole (and holy) community.

We learn in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 11 that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch, in the Roman province of Syria. However, this took some time to spread along with the nascent religion across the ancient world, and so the first generations of believers called themselves followers of “The Way.” Thus, the synodal roots to our Church run deep, as the word synod literally means “traveling together on the way” in Greek (syn + hodos). We often see the pope use a related Spanish phrase: “caminando juntos.”

Saint John Chrysostom – a preacher so rhetorically effective that his nickname that comes down to us in history literally means “golden-tongued” – once even went so far as to say that church and synod can in fact be used interchangeably.

If one wants to learn more about Pope Francis’ vision of this process and how it colors his entire ecclesiology, some important resources may help:

The first is his programmatic homily given Oct. 17, 2015, at the ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the modern synod of bishops created by Pope Paul VI. Many theologians see that speech, along with “Evangelii Gaudium,” as a roadmap for understanding the goals of the Francis agenda from its earliest formulations.

In that homily, Pope Francis expresses his desire for what he calls an “inverted pyramid” ecclesiology. He says that in the church founded by Christ, with special reference to the washing of the feet found in John’s Gospel, “the top is located beneath the base.” Thus, he upends the familiar power structures with the pope at the top, the clergy serving to carry out his mission as dutiful foot soldiers or franchise managers, and the vastly most numerous segment of the Church – the believing laity – left mainly to “pay, pray and obey.”

Instead he says the bishops, cardinals and pope are themselves “ministers,” which comes from “minus” the Latin word for “less.” Interestingly enough, its polar opposite leads to the word magisterium, from “magis” meaning “more,” albeit through a circuitous etymological route. Christians cannot bifurcate these two realities, pitting one against the other. Yet, the institutionalism that would put the clergy somehow “above” the people of God is critiqued constantly by Pope Francis’ condemnation of clericalism and triumphalism.

The second indispensable reflection on the topic was given to the faithful of the diocese of Rome on Sept. 18, 2021. This rather lengthy exhortation calls the Body of Christ across differences in charism and state in life to recognize ever more fully the “infallible sensus fidei in credendo.” This means emphasizing that each of the baptized have a “sense of the faith,” and that anyone in a shepherding role is called to walk “in front, in between, and behind” the flock.  Only in this way can the sensus fidei give “everyone a share in the dignity of the prophetic office of Christ, so that they can discern the paths of the Gospel in the present time.”

It is in this text that we get Francis’ rejection of a parliamentarian approach to collective discernment, where one side must either absorb or obliterate the other. Instead, the question and response that must interrogate our lives is as follows: “If I am a Christian, if I believe in Christ, how do I give that gift to others? God’s universal saving will is offered to history, to all humanity, through the incarnation of his Son, so that all men and women can become his children, brothers and sisters among themselves, thanks to the mediation of the Church. This is how reconciliation is accomplished between God and humanity, that unity of the whole human family, of which the Church is a sign and instrument.”

The last reference shedding light on Pope Francis’ vision for the synod was given on Oct. 9, 2021, mere hours before the 59th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, from which this whole process and event cannot be dissociated. It’s here that he quotes the French conciliar theologian Yves Congar in saying “there is no need to create another Church, but rather to create a different Church.” Pope Francis traces three potential risks for the synod and the renewed church he hopes to develop through its processes of candid discussion and collective discernment: formalism, intellectualism and complacency. All three would result in an undercutting and distorting of the culture of encounter and theology of proximity that should result from active listening and honest storytelling (in that order) as we journey the road of ecclesial belonging together.

He prays for and with all of us at the conclusion: “Come, Holy Spirit! You inspire new tongues and place words of life on our lips: keep us from becoming a ‘museum Church,’ beautiful but mute, with much past and little future. Come among us, so that in this synodal experience we will not lose our enthusiasm, dilute the power of prophecy, or descend into useless and unproductive discussions. Come, Spirit of love, open our hearts to hear your voice! Come, Spirit of holiness, renew the holy People of God! Come, Creator Spirit, renew the face of the earth!”

Our events at Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America are geared toward contributing to this collective spiritual renewal.  We are immensely grateful that so many students in our network are going to be able to speak to their experiences frankly and openly to one another and to others in positions of influential service in the church, even including the Servant of the Servants of God himself, Pope Francis.

*This piece is adapted from one that ran in the Catholic Star Herald Newspaper, Oct. 21, 2021.

To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope francis and University Students.

Michael Canaris, PhD is an Associate Professor with the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.  Further bio and publication information can be found here.


A conversation with Lolan P. Adan: IPS Alum ‘20

Lolan is a light in this world.  He brings heart, pizazz and polish to every conversation.  I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Lolan about his recent start at the Center for Personal Development in Chicago.  We explored how his time at IPS informed and prepared him for his new career.  His reflections focused on the broad reach of an IPS Pastoral Counseling Degree.  He noted that the transition between a faith-based experience, such as his residency at the Claret Center, and a human-centered practice, which is how he would characterize his current position, was seamless.  He attributed the ease of transitioning between these different spaces to common language and the universal values of intention, grace and hope.  He said that, “IPS has given me the language and confidence to engage people in any community around meaning – making for people.”

He reflected on some apprehension he had around a “Pastoral Care” degree in a human-centered organization.  This apprehension evaporated in his first staff meeting.  Drawing on those universal meaning-making values, his colleagues accepted his degree as it were any other counseling degree, completely respecting spirituality as a facet of meaning-making in the counseling room.  He also reflected on acknowledging that faith-based institutions have been a source of hope for many, but also a source of harm, and how his time at IPS gave him the ability to navigate the tensions represented in that institutional history.

Lastly, we talked about what wisdom he could share with those of us still in the journey.  He said, ‘Everything counts.’  All the professional and personal experiences one has had up until entering IPS and thereafter, all count towards realizing the vocation to which one is called.  He encouraged future graduates to reach out to alum who are out in the world making their way.  Ask questions, find out about how they got there and allow those conversations to build your confidence in the path you’re currently on. As a current IPS graduate student, I was encouraged to hear him say this: 

“IPS is a bridge that allows your past and present to talk – embrace reintegrate and reconstitute your life journey.”

Further bio and contact info for Lolan can be found at: https://chicagotherapist.com/about/lolan-adan-lpc/

 

By: Jessamyn Anderson Magri, MDiv ’24


My Experience at IPS

By: Krysten McOsker


My experience at IPS was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
By the time I arrived at Loyola, I chased nearly every worldly desire, but my heart and soul were still restless. I had everything the world told me I should have, yet I kept feeling a nudge, a yearning for something more but I was afraid to let go of my worldly values.
I was also afraid of some religious people that I thought I would be waiting to shame me. I was certain I would not fit in because God school was such a far leap from where I was at in life so all I could say was that I would explore IPS. I would start Loyola by exploring. All I could commit to was attending the first day of school, the first class, and go from there.
When I arrived for my first class at IPS I felt content for the first time in my life. I felt alive. I felt energized. I felt passionate. I found a place with people who wrestle with their faith like I do. I met people who call bull&*$@ when they see it. I met people who are not afraid to be bold. Who are not afraid to speak truth. Who are not afraid to get uncomfortable. To wrestle, learn and question. To keep questioning. I met people who questioned like me. Who wrestled like me. Professors and classmates encouraged me to keep questioning and keep wrestling.
I met a God I had never encountered elsewhere. A God who is revolutionary. A God who flips the Empire & power structure on its head. I fell in love with a God who liberates and heals. A God who disturbs the status quo. A God who disturbs the comfortable. A God whose call is so great, that I can’t not go out into the streets to care for our friends who live on the street. I am so in love with this God of revolutionary love that everything, everything in my life has changed. Through IPS, I have been uprooted from worldly values and have been rooted in the values and love of Christ.
IPS was the most transformative experience of my life. It was a gift far greater than I could have ever imagined.


“After 130 Years….”

Professors Canaris, Watson, and Schmidt with IPS students praying in the Basilica of Sts. Giovanni and Paolo in Rome.

There has rightly been a lot of attention given recently to the centenary of the birth of Pope John Paul II, who was born in 1920, and changed the face of global Catholicism over the course of his long and consequential pontificate.  One of my favorite of his writings is Centesimus Annus (“The 100th Year”) which like Quadragesimo Anno (40 years), Mater et Magister (70 years), Octogesima Adveniens (80 years), and Laborem Exercens (90 years), all marked anniversaries of Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum.  Official Vatican texts often draw their titles from creative readings of their opening words– e.g. Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), Ex Corde Ecclesiae (“From the Heart of the Church”), Spe Salvi (“In Hope We Were Saved”).  So the allusion in many of these “anniversary” texts is explicit.

Rerum Novarum, whose opening words are tellingly either translated as “Of New Things” or “Of Revolutionary Change,” explores the church’s commitment to justice in a world experiencing the aftereffects of the industrial revolution and contemporary urbanization, and is widely considered the foundational text of the modern Catholic Social Teaching movement.

            In my current summer course (which was originally supposed to have been taught in Rome but has been moved online), I recently provided a list of optional themes for one of the assignments and told my graduate students to select one. One read:

“Serve as an unofficial ghostwriter and draft the first five pages for Pope Francis of a new social encyclical which could be titled Post Centum Triginta (“After 130 Years”) marking next year’s anniversary of Rerum Novarum.  It should deal with one or multiple pressing issues of our day and how the mission of Christian witness and commitment to justice should inform our response in a globalized world.”

I have no idea whether the Holy Father is in fact planning to promulgate such a document.  But if he is, he should without question reach out to my lay graduate students studying for degrees in pastoral theology, spirituality, counseling for ministry, and social justice.  Because, as usual, their diagnoses and prescriptions for the church, academy, and world in our times taught me more than I present in my sometimes rambling lectures to them.

Concerns about racism, human trafficking, and immigration issues appeared often, as did the ecological crisis and economic systems of commodification.    Secularism and partisan division in politics and church life are seen as metastasizing throughout our contemporary world.  For many, wintry seasons where evangelization, ecumenism, and dialogue have suffered from chilling effects after the springtime of new hopes in the 1960’s and 1970’s marked our era, as did a general lament for the lack of bold witness to the wider culture on things like child protection, wealth inequality, and honest historical appraisals of the church’s many missteps.  The need for interdisciplinary conversations especially around the natural and social sciences, healthcare advances, and theological ethics was mentioned repeatedly.  And of course, the consequences of COVID and social distancing were probably more at the front of students’ minds than they will (hopefully) be if I revisit this assignment in future semesters.   

            One reality that was proffered consistently was the ongoing thirst for solidarity and subsidiarity, as people are parched to connect with one another and to have their voices heard – whether in an increasingly divided society or a still-too-clerical church.  Of course, some exclusion is necessary in life, there are evils that the church can never endorse and still claim to be authentic to itself and its Lord, though even these need to be studied assiduously.  But the realities of our day continue to call for a more inclusive and dialogical church, demanded precisely through the voices of mostly lay men and women who are studying these disciplines with me and so many others like me, often at a significant sacrifice of time outside of other responsibilities, limited precious energy that could easily be spent elsewhere, and – undoubtedly – serious personal financial cost.  I can only wish that Pope Francis could be personally as inspired by these students as I unfailingly am.  If he and future church leaders were to listen to their insights, as I am blessed to do day in and day out, I am convinced that the next 130 years of Christian life would undoubtedly be better than the previous ones have been.


A Holy Rage

By Dr. Peter Jones, IPS Interim Dean, Clinical Associate Professor

On Pentecost Sunday, protests throughout the country and around the world continued. The murder of George Floyd, captured on video and seen around the world, devastates the conscience. His public lynching has catalyzed the release of frustration and anger, the result of centuries abuse, oppression, and all manner of injustices. A collective voice is crying out for justice and yet our institutions of justice continue to fail. Any talk of peace and resolution is premature because we are still unable to hear the truth. Without truth there can be no justice, no peace, no reconciliation, and certainly no growth in love.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:1-4.

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In the 9th century BCE, the Assyrians were in power across the region (in what are now portions of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran) and they were barbarically cruel. When Assyrian rulers perished and leadership transitioned, revolutions came and went and some areas secured a measure of control and relative peace in their lands, but not for long. The Assyrian’s seemed always to return and establish control.

In the first half of the 8th century BCE, having gained control over portions of Israel, the people there experienced new levels peace and prosperity, levels not known since King Solomon some 200 years earlier. While it appears to have lasted only a few decades that renewed power in local hands led to new corruptions, injustices, and oppressions, as seems too often the case. Amos saw this and God called him prophesy, to call out this injustice and warn the people that these oppressions violate the will of God. Amos offered strong words, chastising those where were once struggling for their independence from Assyrian tyranny as they now embody their own tyranny, becoming the oppressors. Amos speaks to directly to these, bringing truth to the new powers-that-be, who were his own people.

There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground. […] There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. […] There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice […] Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says: “There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord. […] “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

                                                         Amos 5:7, 10, 16-17, 24 (NIV)

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“For I will pass through your midst…”

God’s righteous anger “passes through.” Amos doesn’t bother with the question that so bothers many moderns, “Can God get angry?” Amos knows God’s anger and warns that it will bring turmoil and violence to the oppressors and upset their enabling institutions. The only way to prevent it is to hear and accept the truth and pursue justice openly. For this, Amos cried out.

He was not heard. His warnings were not heeded. Will we listen, today, to the voices crying out for justice? Are we willing to hear and accept the truths those voices bear? Or will our defensiveness get the better of us, yet again? As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote while incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama, reflecting on the profound challenge presented to the civil rights struggle by white moderates, will we again seek law and “order” instead of true reconciliation, accept “the absence of tension” rather than the pursue “the presence of justice,” and “paternalistically” believe that we know better how “they” ought to protest and to set the timetable for “their” freedom?

There is a Holy Rage passing through our midst. The Spirit has descended again like tongues of fire and empowers voices of truth, enlivens movements for justice, and demands that we accept the prophet’s challenge to let go of our desires to pursue God’s desire.

Justice is an expression of love. Individually, we act justly when we view and treat each other according to what we are: beloved children of God. Collectively, our groups and our society are socially just when the institutions we set up and control function to treat us all according to what we are: beloved children of God. And this extends beyond ourselves: we and the institutions we create must function to treat all of God’s creation accordingly. Every tree, animal, and ecosystem is a beloved creation of God and must be treated as such. “God saw all that God had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31).

In the face of this divine intervention, these tongues of fire, this passing through of Holy Rage … what shall we each do? What shall the Institute of Pastoral Studies do? What shall Loyola University Chicago do?

I recommit myself to the personal task of pursuing the truth: to study, to understand, to meet, to listen, and to meditate. This requires an intentional battle against my own racist unconscious, the fears deep within me, infused in me by the society and culture in which my self-understanding has emerged and developed. This requires humility and an openness that is not simple or easy to maintain. How many of us regularly win the battle against our ego’s own defenses? However difficult this work may be, we cannot do otherwise. Pray for fortitude and courage.

I’m sure I’ll fail in many respects but I won’t stop. Even further, our failures cannot prevent us from participating in the collective soul-searching required of our community. If you wait to “get it right” for yourself before you join in then you’ll never join in and our advancing struggle will be paralyzed. We can instead choose compassion and offer each other grace as we come together to work on our shared lives. The Institute of Pastoral Studies is not mine. It does not belong to the faculty, staff, or students. It is ours. It is as it is because of us. Let us take renewed ownership at each level, assess its policies and its functioning, assess our contributions and ways of proceeding, and consider the ways we interact through it.

How can we, the Institute of Pastoral Studies, come to terms with the fact that we are an HWI, a Historically White Institution? What do we do with that fact and with what we will undoubtedly learn about the IPS? How will we integrate the voices and the truths emanating from those of us whose skin color remains the focus of hatred and violence? What values and priorities will we seek to embody and upon which we will call to help us make decisions when things are not clear?

These questions are not easy to ask and even harder to answer honestly. Will you participate with us? Will you commit yourself to the personal, interior work necessary to be anti-racist? Will you participate with us in a collective process of reflection and action?

Opportunities for this are under development, beginning with a moment of prayer. A group of IPS students, staff, and faculty will offer that moment to the entire Loyola University Community this Thursday, June 4, 2020 at noon. This will be an opportunity to center ourselves, to gather our resolve, and begin our work together.

Will this moment also be the beginning of your journey … or the end? It is up to each of us.