A few months ago, I went on pilgrimage to Ireland and Scotland, to visit sites important to Celtic Christianity. I had been on pilgrimage before but had never been to this part of the world. I was with a group of Episcopalians from my sister-in-law’s church in Florida. So, in addition to absorbing the pilgrimage, I was making a number of new friends. How does a person “do” pilgrimage? For someone like me, from the [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
by Helen Foster.
Moodle 3.4 is scheduled to be released in four weeks time, and so once again we’re running a Quality Assurance (QA) testing cycle. The list of over 570 tests includes tests covering new features and improvements in Moodle 3.4, such as the new Analytics functionality and the Calendar improvements.
If you can spare any time and would like to volunteer to help, please see the discussion Help needed with Moodle 3.4 QA testing for details of how you can be involved.
Thanks in advance for your help with our next version of Moodle!
It need not require any advanced meditation to recognize the dysfunctional and downright calamitous reality of our present national discourse. Contemporary political debate is organized less around competing preferences and political principles and more around the competition between various in-groups and out-groups. Shared antipathy provides the grist for an ever more overheated political mill. Thus, the controversies of the moment are used not to advance the legitimate redress of grievances (of which there truly are legion) but to power the battle engines of our competing political tribes and to line the pockets of an ever-growing train of grifters, hacks, and opportunists.
That this does not serve the mutual seeking of the common good through the process of political debate, organization, and legislation is not terribly surprising. However, the effects are worse than that: rather than encouraging us to draw out the potential best in us, such as our compassion, empathy, patience, wisdom, and understanding, it encourages us to indulge in the worst aspects of our personalities, which is the feeding of our personal hatreds, fears, and desires to dominate. Not only do we fail to produce meaningful solutions but our souls are harmed in the process of seeking out and aiming to destroy perceived enemies of our group. Unsurprisingly, people’s polled positions are drifting further and further apart.
In the midst of this eye-brow singeing heat of political news and current events, we might be tempted to step back and seek ways to mind our own business. That temptation, strong as it is, we ought to act against. The challenge is how. The answer begins with how we treat each other, and specifically, how the most marginalized are both treated and regarded in American society.
In short, the defining organizational principle of our present moment is intense, mutual hatred. It seems that each half of the country exists for the other half to comfortably detest. How can the basic civic relationships, so inflamed at the moment, move towards the healing necessary for a more humane and less vindictive politics?
Loving the Poor
To regenerate our politics and move away from hate and divisiveness towards a genuine seeking of the common good, we have to begin somewhere. After admitting we have a problem (see above), the next part of any path of recovery is to take concrete steps in the right direction.
Let’s begin by loving the poor.
Do not take me to be glib. Do not take me to be endorsing anyone’s particular program. I’m not talking about policy; those sort of things that can be done ought to be done. I’m speaking more of a fundamental shift of disposition than happens before any particular policy shift can happen. To clear the rot from American politics we must learn (perhaps again, perhaps for the first time) how to choose love of neighbor, especially those neighbors most excluded from the comfortable couches of American life.
We must remember that it is not a crime to be poor, though we seem to make that mistake. Researchers have noted that many of our policies regard the homeless in particular at the local and state level are motivated by feelings of disgust and a desire to be as far as possible from the poor. In this way, poverty becomes an error to be corrected, not actual people to be embraced and cherished. Instead, we must notice how when we separate ourselves from the poor, when we create an us and them, we develop a habit of dividing the world into “others” whom we can discard with ease.
This matters greatly because what we do to the poor we increasingly do to each other. The “othering” we have done to the poor has been the unconscious playbook for mapping out our political divisions. The tendency to criminalize, pathologize, or simply regard as lesser those with whom we differ politically has already played out in how society views the poor. If we hope to undo the toxic relationships at the heart of our political conflict, we can begin by healing yet another toxic relationship, that of the poor and the not-poor, by embracing true love of the neighbor we tend to not acknowledge.
We should be careful not to instrumentalize the poor in service for a cheap political end. But if we are to move away from a vindictive politics towards a revolution of tenderness based upon the Gospel, can we begin anyway better than committing ourselves to love more deeply the poor?
Image courtesy FlickrCC user michael_swan.
This week’s readings speak of the great generosity of God. How do we respond to this generosity? Check out this week’s powerful, yet brief reflection based on the Sunday Mass readings for October 15, 2017.
By Marina McCoy
When significant relationships come to an end, whether due to geographic distance, drifting apart, or brokenness through conflict, we have the task of integrating that relationship into our memories and identities. As Christians, we are formed to be people who exist in loving community, always reconciling mercifully with one another, but at times human limits prevent this from being possible. As we seek to make sense of where God is in broken relationships, an Examen [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
Blade Runner 2049 begins like the original: a silent black screen, upon which the stage is set via text. In both movies, the text’s quiet appearance tells a brief, nearly identical backstory: Humanity’s expansion to other worlds built upon the slave labor of bioengineered, “replicant” humans. Some models of these replicants have rebelled, leading not only to the prohibition of these replicants but of a special type of police officer: a blade runner. The blade runners seek out rogue replicants to “retire”—which we soon realize is a violent act, often involving a gun.
Unlike some mysteries, what lies central to the Blade Runners is not simply the search for a suspect or criminal but deeper questions of ethics such as:
Is it killing to destroy a machine?
Is there a difference between replicant and human?
What does it mean to be human?
Why does it matter?
This unfolds concretely as Deckard, Harrison Ford—the detective in the first movie, is asked at one point: “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” He answers “no,” but he visibly agonizes after killing replicants.
Every time ‘humanity’ appears defined, the films problematize it. A special test appears in the first movie in which a replicant’s pupils are measured during questioning—yet, already, this testing of emotional response fails. The more advanced replicants are implanted with memories which offer them emotional intelligence and depth. In Blade Runner 2049 this appears even further problematized, as the only characters who shed tears are the replicants. In fact, while the replicants of the new movie demonstrate remorse and sadness and love, most humans in the new film receive a cold, calculated, and mechanical portrayal.
If emotions don’t offer a clear indication of humanity, a second option might be love, but this possible qualification of humanity also fails quickly. Two replicants who are villains in the first movie are deeply in love with one another; it’s their desire to preserve the life of their loved one that sparks their mission. And, we find a familial love deep enough to motivate the entire plot of the second movie.
Blade Runner 2049 problematizes the idea love as a possible definition even further with the appearance of a holographic character. Ryan Gosling, a replicant, loves this hologram and she loves him in return.
The holographic woman’s last words—said as she tries to save Ryan Gosling’s character—are that she loves him. Even without a body, she can love… which leaves us questioning.
We have no solid, immutable definition of humanity. Through ambiguity, omission, or contrary example—the movies problematize any clear answer to the questions. We spend half of the recent movie wondering whether Gosling is “born” or manufactured. And, we still never learn for certain whether Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a replicant or a human. In many ways, we cannot even be clear on the villains or heroes—replicants and humans alike seem capable of both love and of terrible cruelty.
Those unanswered questions ruminate, offering two insights into the nature of humanity and life itself. They remind us that humanity is multifaceted and complicated—a mystery more akin to a miracle than to scientific criteria. Life, the miracle by which humans and the world are made, is something more than a list of checked boxes: it’s more than the presence of the biological, more than emotions or love, perhaps even more than we can explain.
At the start of Blade Runner 2049, one replicant accuses Gosling’s blade runner, “You’ve never seen a miracle.” Unlike Gosling, the replicant has witnessed a birth and is left in unadulterated awe. Replicants and humans alike search for this mysterious child who was born demonstrating a shared commonality between them: a search for the meaning of life and our very human nature.
Their search for a miracle motivates their action and sacrifice—it gives their lives meaning, yet it is never resolved or answered. Despite humanity and life never receiving a neat definition, something firm appears within the words of the replicant: “a miracle.” Perhaps, that is the key to understanding life and humanity within the Blade Runners: life itself is a mystery, a miracle to be held in awe.
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Ron Frazier of the Flickr Creative Commons.
by Mary Cooch.
I'm pleased to announce that Moodle HQ is running another Learn Moodle Basics MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), starting on 8 January 2018
Learn Moodle 3.4 Basics is for anybody who wants to use the Moodle learning platform for teaching, whether it be in a school, a university, a company or just personal interest. In this 4-week MOOC, learners will explore many of the features in Moodle and have the chance to create a practice course of their own.If you're interested, please sign up here: learn.moodle.net. You'll receive an email reminder before the course begins.
Finally, many thanks to everyone who participated in our previous MOOC. Please see Learn Moodle 3.3: Feedback and actions for details of how we are using your feedback to improve the course for future participants.
Over the last two years, I’ve taught a high school class called “Christian Discipleship.” The course description states: “This course is intended to help student reflect on the meaning and implications of justice in their faith lives.” Accordingly, we spend a great deal of time unpacking the different injustices in our world. Classes include discussion on arrest rates by race, communities affected by environmental degradation, and the language we use to describe sex and sexuality. We tackle each of these from personal, cultural, community, and structural lenses in light of the Gospels and Catholic Social Doctrine.
For many of the students, this is their first foray into examining social sin. It is the first time they have lengthy discussions about privilege, wealth, fragility, and oppression. When I propose that we are responsible for challenging these historic structures, I get a similar response: “I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for…” These responses match the comments I’ve seen across various blogs, including comments on The Jesuit Post.
I’m left wondering: why shouldn’t we feel guilty?
In our fourth unit on human dignity, we spend several classes tracing the history of legalized racism and discrimination – from slavery, to Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Most of my white students contend that official racism ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When I propose that structural racism continues today, they begin getting agitated. I state that while they may not try to actively oppress anyone, those historical acts have ramifications today. Moreover, modern legislation enforces that structural racism. To my white students, I tell them clearly that they benefit from white privilege based on this history. They reply that it’s not their fault, that they’re not responsible.
Here are some examples of the most common responses:
I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for what my great-grandparents did. I’m not the one who did those things – it’s not my fault.
Just because America used to be racist doesn’t mean they should take away my rights.
My family worked hard for where they got, I shouldn’t have to throw that away because somebody else used to be oppressed.
It might have been that way back then, but today it’s because their communities are broken.
Our discussions of structural racism and white privilege provoke these defensive responses and a resistance to feelings of guilt. But I wonder: why do we always treat guilt like a bad thing? Doesn’t guilt imply a tug on our conscience? Can’t guilt say that we want to care, but we are afraid? The Catechism states, “Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults…” When our guilt leads to resentment, it might be the shortcoming of our education. But guilt doesn’t have to function that way.
The guilt associated with social sins like racism and poverty threatens the privilege that I enjoy. I personally have found it very difficult at times to forgo that privilege, and sometimes fail to do so either out of ignorance or self-righteousness. The American Dream is built upon notions of hard work and self-sufficiency, that we deserve every luxury and privilege that we have worked to earn. But what if that dream is not the reality we believed?
It can be frightening to suddenly discover that the lives we built are not totally the results of our own hard work. It would be imprudent to say they are not at least partially a result of that effort, but to say my success is completely my own work would be equally imprudent. The guilt that accompanies a broken self-image can lead to resentment, anger, and mistrust. For many, this is where the guilt of social sin stops. But guilt doesn’t have to lead to resentment; it doesn’t have to stop there.
Guilt can go a step further and call us back into a just, righteous relationship. I have found great healing in admitting that I do benefit from social sin. Guilt moves from fear and resentment to reconciliation and collaborating for justice. Guilt does not have to be about negating the value of hard work. Rather, we can work hard together to break down oppression and ensure mutual freedom.
Perhaps the reason that guilt can so often lead to resentment and selfishness stems from complacency. We can easily become accustomed to privilege. When someone reminds us of the problems with the status quo, we can become defensive and frustrated. One might even reply, “I shouldn’t have to feel guilty!”
The feeling of guilt is not the fault of another: it is the response of our own conscience. It will continue to nag and agitate us unless we act. Complacency prevents change, and resentment will push us further into antagonism. The cure for guilt is not to shove it away and stagnate in our own indignation. The best way to fight guilt is to embrace it, explore its roots, and seek reconciliation. Through this process of learning, reflecting, and taking action, guilt recedes and opens to true healing and builds healthier communities.
Photo courtesy FlickrCC user durera_toujours.
by Helen Foster.
We're pleased to announce the dates and venue for MoodleMoot India 2017 - 18 and 19 December 2017 in Mumbai at the Sahara Star Hotel.
To register your spot and submit a presentation proposal, go to the website MoodleMoot India 2017. Early Bird registration will close on the 27 October 2017; all Early Bird registrations receive a complimentary MoodleMoot T-shirt.
For the latest news and updates about the Moot, please follow MoodleMootIndia on Twitter.
The other day at Mass we sang a song that brings me back to my youth, a World Youth Day theme song called, “We Are One Body.” The song stuck in my head for hours afterward, leading me to consider more deeply what the song is really about, particularly in the context of my life right now. The song is about community. When we sing it, we remember that we are in community with those [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
Autumn in South Dakota is beautiful because it is precarious: summer is beastly hot and winter is brutally cold. Just between is a thin ledge that we and this year’s weather walk. I heard that three years ago, summer ended with a blizzard that killed whole herds of cattle; frosted, frozen and toppled green-leaved trees.
Not this year, we hoped; we headed to the hills.
Fly rods, reels, climbing shoes on carabiners and hammock-ready books tossed out into the gravel parking lot, we ate lunch out of the back of the car: cold chili, saltines and last weekend’s potatoes. Breezes rustled the sunlit, yellow-gold leaves; the colors of the tall white birch popped among the evergreens. I couldn’t imagine what could possibly ruin such a day. Leftovers never tasted so good until they were gone and we went three ways to climb rocks, catch trout and read books.
And we did all three, but I mostly fell off rocks.
No cares, no service, no rally point and no meeting time, we somehow found one another again with fish stories, blisters and chapters to show for it. Halfway through it, we’d already agreed: this was the perfect day. Sore, wet, smelly or well-read, we all shared happy in common, the special kind you get from an afternoon with no internet, good people, and fresh air. Nothing could stop us now.
But because of blissfully poor planning, we were running late for Oktoberfest the next town up, so we drove north.
Lederhosen, down vests, and knit caps tossed out into the packed parking lot, we ate dinner out of the back of the car – more cold chili, crackers and a smashed PB&J we forgot about. The sun dove behind one of the mountain town’s two framing cliffs as we pulled into town, so we tore the car apart for our warm clothes. The city was a far cry from the forest’s open lots, so we tore the car apart to somehow pay for parking, still ending up two minutes short. While John put on his lederhosen, I put on my city clothes, tremendous delight in pulling on a crisp clean white v-neck tee, a sweater and knit cap over my re-tied mess of hair, my watch, wallet and ring back on over throbbing fingers, one by one, next the… wait-
I lost it. Where is it?
I tore open every bag I brought, emptying and re-emptying, pausing and re-re-emptying. I lost it. Where is it? My gut dropped. I felt the cold. I felt the fatigue, the raw blisters hurting and dirtcakes drying between my toes and on my neck. I lost it. Where is it?
“Garrett – Garrett? What’s up?”
Just a couple of minutes… I lost it. Where is it?
The perfect day tottered all of a sudden on make-or-break until some silly idea broke into my cluttered head, from some sane and simple and graceful place: It’s not that big of a deal. But then, I lost it. Where is it? Then again, It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not that big of a deal. Some dozens of mantras later, I realized that maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal, but some mental magnetism sure as steel still thought it was. Caught between a voice of sabotage and a voice of sanity, I needed an out, any out, grasping for anything, for the first thing I heard, desperately reemerging from my submerged searching state-
“…no, the thing is that you have to eat all six saltines in one minute, no water, it’s way harder than you’d think…”
“No way, it can’t be that hard – hey, get that phone, time me…”
“Well if you’re going to do it, I’m going to do it, too…”
“Okay, then get six and then gimme six…”
Me, too! and I got in just in time, finishing all six as the timer hit 0:46:23 and autumn clicked back into place, silhouettes of mountains above brick buildings, dry-mouthed friends laughing out crumbs of remaining saltines, accusing me of cheating while cold stars popped through a black sky, Oktoberfest to be had and October to be welcomed, hopefully for a few more weeks of fall. Hopefully, but at least we had today. We slept very well that night, one Oktoberfest later.
And yes, I did lose it. But I found it the next weekend back at the same place. And between, I just made another.
I’d like to think that the perfect days are immune even to my left-field anxieties, my petty attachments and perpetual distractedness, but I guess not. I’d also like to think that when these take over, a moment of prayer can become a moment of clarity and save the day, but I guess not. Sometimes just a distraction from a distraction will have to do… especially when the perfect day is on the line … especially when it’s with friends and very especially when I win big – after all, the last time I tried the saltine challenge, I lost so bad I got sick.
Maybe there was grace in it, after all: someone packed too many saltines.
Two different stories this past week told the same narrative: men abusing their power to use women.
The first: Harvey Weinstein, a famous Hollywood mogul brought down by accusations of decades of sexual harassment.
The second: Tim Murphy, a Republican pro-life congressman who seems to have urged his mistress to have an abortion.
The Weinstein story will hopefully sound the alarm for Hollywood’s terrible culture of sexual harassment. But what lesson should we draw from Murphy’s fate?
To state the obvious: Murphy should have applied his “pro-life” record to his own life, supporting in every way he could the upbringing of his new child. Instead, he chose his political career over the good of both his lover and their child. In other words, he chose his pro-life credentials over the good of the very people that pro-life people are supposed to be fighting for.
Now clearly Murphy’s disregard for the life of the child is a huge part of this story. Perhaps his pro-life politics were strategic postures to garner votes, not meaningful expressions of his convictions.
I fear, however, that the situation is far worse: Tim Murphy never really knew what it meant to be pro-life, and thus just how deeply he was betraying pro-life principles. Being pro-life is not just about the cultural and political struggle to protect children, after all. Being pro-life is also about respecting women.
And yet somehow the woman who Murphy was texting has almost disappeared from this story.
In so many aspects of life, men manipulate women for male pleasure. Abortion is often no different. When Murphy tried to persuade his mistress to procure an abortion, he was putting his needs ahead of hers. He wanted sex from her without any consequences, even if that meant that she had to bear those consequences. Did he not recognize that this abortion was ultimately about reducing her to a sex object? But why would he? Men treating women like sex objects is hardly out of the ordinary.
And so here’s the second, subtle lesson from the Murphy affair. Abortion has frequently been presented as a form of women’s liberation. But how often is it just another form of male control over women? If misogyny and sexual violence against women are common, then how can situations like this not also be common?
Episodes like this remind us that feminists and pro-life activists need to be in deeper conversation. Feminists need to be reminded that they can and should be pro-life on the issue of abortion: just like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Many in the pro-life would I hope welcome the reminder that they cannot be pro-life if they do not struggle for the sanctity of all lives, including those of women.
And so I wonder: when people excoriate Murphy for his hypocrisy, do they see just how deep that hypocrisy runs?
by Juan Leyva.
I'm pleased to announce the release of Moodle Mobile 3.3.2 for Android and iOS. The app is available now on Google Play and the App store - see Moodle downloads: Moodle Mobile.
Moodle Desktop 3.3.2 is also available for Windows, macOS and Linux via Moodle downloads: Moodle Desktop.
Moodle 3.3.2 includes a number of improvements and bug fixes, such as improved scrolling in questions with media, correctly enforced assignment submission file-type restrictions and correctly displayed feedback completion status.Please see the Moodle Mobile 3.3.2 release notes for the full list of features, improvements and fixes in this release.
God’s mercy, as Julian of Norwich put it, is “all love in love.” Mercy goes much further and deeper than taking pity on someone in need or reconciling with someone who has asked forgiveness. Mercy is a way of looking at life, a way of approaching our everyday experiences and relationships. There are many signs of a merciful spirit; let’s tackle a mere four of them today. You expect good (behavior, attitude, intention) from others [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
A few nights ago, a young man was arrested in Chicago for defacing a statue. No, it wasn’t the statue of a Confederate general, or some 19th century Imperialist; it was an Italian sailor.
So, it must be Columbus Day, or depending on your state of residence, Indigenous Peoples Day. A day when thousands of Americans will either be protesting the inhumane and fundamentally racist treatment of indigenous peoples at the hands of European settlers, or celebrating the intrepid explorer who established the first European settlement in the Americas, and whose name has been lent to such institutions as Columbia University, and such places as our nation’s Capital.
Of course, even this holiday has become divorced from its original symbolism. The extent to which we are consciously celebrating a 15th-century Genoese navigator who ran into a series of islands 800 miles south of Florida, some 300 years prior to the founding of the United States, and some 500 years after the first Europeans set foot in North America, seems unclear. The extent to which we are concretely honoring ‘indigenous peoples’ on this day is even less clear.
Rather, like many symbols, this holiday has been increasingly co-opted as a political litmus test for our deepest convictions concerning race, power, and privilege.
Recent protests calling for the removal of statues deemed inappropriate from town squares and college campuses have become flashpoints for deep seated ideological divisions. And while the tragic effects of Charlottesville are still being processed by many who were shocked to see scenes reminiscent of 1963 Birmingham, I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t ask ourselves whether statues are worth it.
To rephrase the question: In what way, concretely, does the removal of a statue aid those who suffer the consequences of systemic racism? Are we, perhaps, in danger of turning these statues into ideological sideshows which have a powerful symbolic effect, but result in little or no change in the daily lives of the people for whom these statues are offensive?
As a boy, the civil rights movements of the 1960’s were presented as an over-and-done accomplishment. Images like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. composing letters from jail were powerful symbolic images suggesting a battle between good and evil which culminated in the passage of civil rights legislation, and the end of our nation’s racist past. Although events like Charlottesville should be more than enough to disabuse us of this naïve narrative, it is easy to see how battles over symbolism can obscure concrete change, forcing the question: If the Civil Rights Act didn’t solve systemic racism, what will the removal of some statues accomplish?
But symbols are powerful. They focus our deepest convictions in the form of something concrete. Statues, in fact, serve this purpose exclusively; they have no other use. We erect statues to demonstrate values like courage, intellectual achievement, and faith. In short, things we value. This being the case, it seems reasonable to remove public symbols which no longer represent our collective values, such as Civil War soldiers who, whatever their personal beliefs, fought against emancipation.
But it is the very importance and flashiness of a symbol which can obscure or distract from what it actually stands for. It is a form of idolatry to see the symbol as the whole issue. For example: That a few bankers became symbolic of the 2008 housing collapse and subsequent recession completely obscured the fact that these men were merely part of a much larger and dysfunctional system. The bankers were jailed, the system remains.
My weariness over the power of symbolism ultimately accounts for my reticence over focusing our desire for change on statues. Collective community organizing focused on mass incarceration, the redlining of financial services, and labor exploitation are movements which seek an immediate effect on people’s lives. The removal of Christopher Columbus from a park, at least to me, seems a less obvious solution to any problem.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user David Berkowitz.
Why work for and with God? This week’s (extremely) brief One-Minute Reflection explores the many ways we are called to collaborate in cultivating the Kingdom of God. Based on the Sunday Mass Readings for October 8, 2017.
By Denise Gorss
Autumn brings with it changes in weather, sending many of us indoors more regularly. We experience bright, sunny days that are quickly followed by torrential rains, cooler temperatures, and even the first flakes of snow. As we move to the interiors of homes and workplaces for refuge from these weather events, it’s a good time to consider the interior of our hearts. God is present with us at all times, of course, but autumn invites [...]
IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.
The life of a theatre major. Late nights. Long rehearsals. One evening, I hung around the theatre to walk the stage and run through lines, review my character, read my notes – the practices of a student actor. Eventually, I headed back to my dorm room. As I approached I saw something on my door. A mean slur in large handwriting. A pejorative about my sexual orientation, in red marker, with an exclamation mark. Who ever came up with the phrase “sticks and stones” had probably never been violently scorned.
This was the first time I had seen this word, live and in real time. Sure, in documentaries and movies about the past, but never in real life. It’s the spring of 2001, and I’m 22.
Apart from the word itself, I was made aware in that moment that I was hated. An uncomfortable knowledge, walking around campus, conscious that someone or some people, quite literally, despised me. My friends were great though. One friend published an article in the school newspaper condemning the hate crime. Another sat with me as I made a police report. Even my parents, whom I had just come out to, wrote a letter to the president expressing their anger.
But that word. That one word – it really did a number on me. Sure, I tried to save face by putting up a front, but it hurt. It hurt because that word attempted to sum me up. It dismissed me. It packaged me into a box and sent me on my way as that one thing. And I believed it.
Recently, the Theological College of the National Seminary at the Catholic University of America withdrew an invitation for James Martin, S.J., to speak at a symposium during their Alumni Days. According to their statement, the Theological College had been receiving negative feedback about their invitation from social media sites. To avoid distraction and controversy, they decided that retracting the invite was the best course of action.
My frustration about this decision stems from the vitriolic, hateful comments made to the Theological College in light of Martin’s book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Those comments – just words – backed the institution into a corner. Never mind the fact that Martin’s symposium topic was encountering Jesus, and not his recent publication.
I know how hard some decisions are to make, and I wish the decision would have been different. Even John Garvey, the president of Catholic University of America, openly disagreed with the Theological College’s decision. With that said, I respect people who, with love and good intentions, seek to understand Church teachings in concert with contemporary thought. I welcome the dialogue. It is, however, another thing altogether to continue giving weight to voices which seek only to tear down, to shame, and to reject the truth of Gospel love.
Disparaging voices force invitations of understanding and compassion off the table. Those voices say ‘no’ to the possibility of love. ‘No’ has the power to prevent a good and kind voice from being heard. Any response that begins with a ‘no’ robs us of an opportunity for dialogue. We will never have productive conversations about how to love LGBT+ persons if we don’t begin with ‘yes’ – a ‘yes’ rooted in our common call to love. Without caveats, without conjunctions – only love.
And this love is not same-sex love. It is God’s love – the first love there ever was. And, it’s about our capacity to respond to that love by simply loving each other. Person to person.
This love is the true topic of Martin’s book. On the inside jacket of Building a Bridge, he invites “Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock…characterized by compassion and openness.” Going further, the book is filled with meditations, reflections, and tools to build a bridge.
Meeting, encounter and inclusion are one set of tools he offers. These are the foundation of community-building, which Martin reminds us was so integral to Jesus’s ministry. In my reading, I began to imagine what those bridges might look like with other communities – immigrants, divorced persons, people of color. Regardless of the community, bridge construction requires respect, compassion, sensitivity, mutuality, and invitations.
Not too long ago I received an email. And it began with this:
“Why does it seem that you Jesuits just love to reject church teaching on all things sexual…promoting homosexuality when the Bible and catechism are extremely clear in condemning what you are promoting….Do you honestly think St. Ignatius would promote homosexual actions which are condemned in God’s infallible Word?”
When words like these are directed toward me, it feels like I’m back in college, facing the vitriol scrawled out in red on my door. I read the email as an aggression and it makes me defensive. Maybe even a little scared. Perhaps I should’ve ignored the email. But I responded. I thought I could offer insight to what I felt were judgements. I’m sure similar ideas motivated the writer to reach out to me in the first place.
The thing about Gospel love is that it must go both ways. Much like the bridge Martin is promoting in his book. It requires both sides to begin with love. Then we can build and cross the bridge to meet each other as human persons. It is hard to lead with love. I replied to the email from a place of pain and hurt, carrying that broken twenty-something with a damaged heart like cumbersome luggage.
A difficulty of bridge building is the healing that must occur simultaneously. When it comes to the LGBT+ community and the Catholic church, I have wounds, raw and unbandaged. And sometimes it takes a moment for me to enter into a space of dialogue when there is a history of hateful and hurtful speech.
So, when I read about Martin and his revoked invitation, my blood boiled. Despite the level of support he was given by the Society of Jesus and Cardinal Blase Cupich, it seemed like hate was winning. I allowed upsetting voices to instigate feelings of resentment. And I became blind to God’s love.
Christ is my example. Even though I know Good Friday points to the Resurrection, when emails and letters and verbal dissonance are so loud, I still have to take a minute to remind myself that Christ is there too.
And then, I remember love. The love James Martin writes about, the love I share with my friends and brothers, and the love of God forever written on my heart.
I met my maternal grandfather for the first time when I was 10 years old. He was recently widowed and had come from Mexico to spend some time with my family. I wasn’t sure what to make of this quiet old man at first, and I think my father must have sensed this when he pulled me aside and told me, “He’s your grandfather. You must look at him with respect and gratitude because without him, you wouldn’t have your mother.” This was a novel thought for me because, until this moment, I had grown up without any of my grandparents in my life. I still remember my dad’s words of powerful simplicity: look to those who you came from with gratitude and with respect. But if I’m honest, I must confess this didn’t always come so easily. Growing up undocumented in this country tainted the view I had of myself and those who I came from.
My family came to the United States just before I turned two years old. Since then, this country has been home, for it is where I made my earliest memories, the happy moments of my childhood.
From early on, my undocumented status was something which I was both aware of and unfazed by. My parents were good at keeping from me any major fears and anxieties they might have had. In fact, my greatest concern in elementary school regarding the matter was that I was unable to go to SeaWorld in San Diego because of the immigration checkpoints on the way back to LA.
This sense of limitation grew, however, as I got older. Seeing the airplanes that fly so low over my hometown of Inglewood filled me with a longing to visit the country of my birth to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the smells, and imagine what my life might have been like had we stayed. As high school approached, I began to think about the things that any American teenager thinks about at that age: a driver’s license, a part-time job, and college, knowing that my undocumented status presented an obstacle and that these things might not be a reality for me.
I was incredibly fortunate to have received my legal permanent residence in high school, just before any of that became a problem. A few years later, I would become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Though I now enjoyed the full rights of any American, there are some things a piece of paper can’t change. Through the years I had experienced the attitudes of hostility and discrimination that exist toward migrants, and the stigma of coming from an undocumented family still haunted me when I heard words like “illegals,” “criminals,” or “law-breakers,” used to refer to us.
Even well-intentioned comments could pose a problem. In the recent debates over DACA, many who favor the policy have argued that those who would benefit from it came to this country through no fault of their own, implying that those at fault are, in fact, our parents. When something as sacred as family is labeled as guilty or blameworthy, it leaves one feeling conflicted, ashamed, and voiceless.
Several years ago, I came across something that radically countered the negative messages that abound regarding immigration. I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw an immigration poster that read: “I am here because my parents are responsible, courageous, and hardworking individuals.” The message spoke to a truth within my heart that was often drowned out by the harmful sound of criticism and judgment. Never had I seen a positive message stated so plainly and directly. There’s honestly not enough of that out there.
While an instance like this offered a glimmer of hope, it has been my faith which has helped me to break the bonds of fear and shame that often shackle me. Before entering the Jesuits, I went on an eight-day silent retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is to this day the best time of my life. In the sacred silence, I got to know myself and God’s love for me in a way I never thought possible. Simply put, it was a very real, very deep, and very personal encounter with the Risen Christ. I remember coming to Jesus with all my anxieties and fears of rejection, and in the Resurrection meditation, hearing him say to me, in my native Spanish, no less, “Se acabó el miedo.” “Your fears are over.”
I understood then, that my sense of worth was not dependent on the approval of others, but rather on the human dignity that Christ unconditionally restored through his Resurrection. Much in the same way that Christ affirmed the goodness from which we came, I have learned to affirm the goodness from which I come, to look upon my parents with respect, gratitude, and love, just like my father asked.
In spite of having such a powerful experience, it’s not as if my struggles have forever disappeared. Christ’s words are something I have to remind myself of every day. The Christian life is a relationship that merely begins with encountering the Risen one, but is ultimately fulfilled in following Christ daily on his mission of healing us and reconciling us to the Father and to one another.
I am grateful to the Church, which has consistently affirmed the inherent human goodness and dignity of the migrant, the same Church, which, like a loving mother, has embraced my family in this country and nurtured my vocation to the Society of Jesus.
Most recently, Pope Francis launched a global campaign on migration called “Share the Journey,” aimed at promoting a culture of encounter between migrants and non-migrants. As part of this movement, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is kicking off its Week of Prayer and Action on October 7th, inviting us to get to know one another and thus grow in community and solidarity. We each have fears, we each have wounds, we each need a Savior. Why not share the journey together?
The strictest teacher I ever had is also the one I recall as the gentlest. For most of the time she taught us mathematics, and she tolerated no nonsense, no lapses of concentration, and no bungled homework. She looked the part: severe, almost to the point of ferocity, with her silver hair impeccably pinned back. But she had another side. Her second passion was the garden. Occasionally she would walk into class with shining eyes [...]
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