Presented at the Eastern Regional Conference,
Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education
October 30, 1999
The title of my paper reflects my concern that the implementation of the Jesuit summons to a faith that does justice has, in higher education, unintentionally done an injustice to the more fundamental invitation to find God in all things. I have no quarrel with the prayerfully adopted Jesuit formulation linking faith and the practice of justice. Infusion of the faith that does justice into the personal and academic vocation of the university has been on balance salutary and transformative. I do argue, however, that a too narrow focus on the meaning and practice of that injunction has impaired both faith and justice. Somehow the mandate to profess a faith that does justice has meant assigning a primacy to activities of social service, social work, and community involvement over those of research, writing, learning, teaching, and preparing for a career in the full range of occupations and professions. This generates several specific unproductive consequences, mainly having to do with failing to guide students and faculty into the spiritual vocations of discovery and communication of knowledge, and staff into the vocations of administration and labor. Under the guise of good, I regret, the one-sided emphasis on certain types of service has inoculated those associated with the university from the full potency of the Ignatian prescriptions of religious indifference, finding God in all things, and discernment. The problem is not what the current implementation of the faith that does justice actually accomplishes. Rather, the problem is what it fails to accomplish, and inadvertently hinders by failing to assist all associated with the university in discovering the Divine Presence in the full array of the activities which de facto constitute the grist of their daily life as a spiritual exercise. In light of the great expectations we all share, I ask that we consider whether and in what ways we may have fallen into an overly restrictive notion of faith, what it means to do justice, and the relation between the two. For me, the faith that does justice is about how spiritual life is linked to the creation of rightly ordered relations in the material world, social institutions, personal interactions, and in the moral sentiments surrounding our souls. As such, writing this paper, taking student advisement seriously, carrying out technical analyses, directing dissertations, teaching nineteenth-century social theory, and writing journal articles are all spiritual endeavors that create rightly ordered relations. The faith that does justice is a seamless garment. It should be recognized equally under the rubrics of the faith that does research, the faith that does counseling, the faith that does homework, the faith that does administration, and, yes, the faith that does dishes. My thinking grows out of what I have learned, intellectually and emotionally, over the past 35 years of uninterrupted exposure to Jesuits, their spirituality, and their institutions. I attended a Jesuit high school, from which I directly entered the Society of Jesus as a novice. I was a member of the Jesuit community through all my college and graduate studies, and was educated directly under the tutelage of the Jesuit way at the University of Detroit, Bellarmine School of Theology associated with Loyola University in Chicago, and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. I also taught as an instructor in sociology for two years at John Carroll University during the period of training prior to beginning theological studies. While a Jesuit, I received an M.A. in Sociology at Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I was ordained in 1975 and ministered as a priest during my Ph.D. studies and during my first year at Boston College where I have worked since 1979. I provide this resume to indicate that for the best part of my life, one of the best parts of my life has been learning and being animated by Jesuit spirituality. Still, even this extended residency within the Jesuit biosphere does not endow with me any authority--other than what I have learned and can communicate--about the content, interpretation, and application of the Jesuit legacy. Despite what my friends say, I am no longer a member of the good Society and do not deign to speak as an insider. I recognize that my ideas may not accurately reflect the contemporary convictions of the Society of Jesus or, for that matter, what my Jesuit mentors, friends, and professors intended to teach me. It is, however, what I think I was taught. Finding God in All Things For this forum, there is no need to rehearse the central tenets of Jesuit spirituality. I will, however, offer the four guiding principles which undergird my doubts about the current approach to the faith that does justice and my appeal for a fresh course. I cite two emblematic anecdotes and a meditation from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. The first anecdote is simple enough. For two months during my novitiate, I was appointed by the Director of Novices to the vaunted position of verrator. In plain English, this meant I was the head janitor for a building the size of a large college dormitory. My job required that I assign various cleaning and maintenance duties to the other 50 novices and, in the Jesuit tradition, that I do some of the work myself. During one extended work period before a holiday, I had given myself the task to clean and shine all the aluminum banisters in the building. I recall even today that moment in the middle of the work when I experienced the presence of God in my doing the best job I could. As I went on, I remembered the admonition given to us young priests-to-be by Nicholas Predovich, S.J., our Director of Novices, that Brother Anton baking bread in the kitchen was serving God as much as Father Miller writing a book in the library. The second anecdote has to do with my decision to become a sociologist. Again, as part of our training, we were encouraged by the Province Director of Studies to think about the area of graduate studies we would like to pursue. My predilection was to find a profession in which "I could work with people," a phrase students still use to expresses their career aspirations. Not yet knowing the difference between social work and sociology, I read a booklet we were given in which various Jesuits described the kind of training and jobs associated with their academic disciplines. I recall being surprised to learn that sociology and social work were quite different pursuits. After more reading and discussion, I decided to study sociology, realizing that this would eventually involve me more in exploring the ways of the world than in directly changing them. This decision was authorized by my superiors who encouraged me to pursue graduate studies in the most accomplished programs that would have me.The meditation from the Spiritual Exercises that I want to discuss is the one "On the Three Classes of Persons." The meditation begins with a sketch of the scene. We learn, according to the translation by George E. Ganss, S.J., that each of three persons "has acquired ten thousand ducats, but not purely or properly for the love of God. Each desires to save his or her soul and to find God in peace . . . by discarding the burden and obstacle to this purpose which this attachment to the acquired money is found to be" (68). Retreatants are then instructed to "ask for the grace to choose that which is more to the glory of the Divine Majesty and the salvation of his or her soul." The points of the meditation ensue: The Person Typical of the First Class would like to get rid of this attachment to the acquired money, in order to find God in peace and be able to attain salvation. But this person does not take the means, even to the hour of death.
The Person Typical of the Second Class also desires to get rid of the attachment, but in such a way that she or he will keep the acquired money; and that thus God will come to where this person desires. No decision is made to dispose of the money in order to go to where God is, even though that would be the better state for this individual.
The Person Typical of the Third Class desires to get rid of the attachment, but in such a way that there remains no inclination either to keep the acquired money or to dispose of it. Instead such a one desires to keep it or reject it solely according to what God our Lord will move one's will to choose, and also according to what the person himself or herself will judge to be better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.
In the meantime this person endeavors to take an attitude by which as far as the affections are concerned, he or she is giving up everything. [In other words (Ganss)], one strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever (Ganss 68-9). I have garnered several spiritual principles from this meditation and the two preceding anecdotes. First, I take completely at face value the absolute availability of the face of God in any thought, emotion, or behavior--including sinful ones, which I have learned offer the face of first an intrusive and then a forgiving God. Indeed, emboldened by Teilhard's verdict that "nothing is profane for those who know how to see," I am willing to embrace the coarser maxim of "finding God in anything." For instance, the third class of souls, says Ignatius, is to have "no inclination either to keep the acquired money or to dispose of it." Baker or book writer, sociologist or social worker, hand-rail polisher or Greek student, wealth holder or wealth disposer--no path is higher or lower in and of itself, each is window onto God.
Second, although the Divine Presence is enmeshed in anything, for a particular individual, at a particular time, and in a particular place, it is to be found most profoundly and fruitfully through a process of discernment and subsequent election by which one becomes a bearer of God's presence through a biography of care. When it comes to finding and serving God, we are to eschew all presumptions. No one, not even the religious mentor can tell another person what it means "to go to where God is." As Howard Gray explained in a recent talk, the spiritual director helps the retreatant through the process of discernment, but at the point of the election the guide is to step back. The road to be taken, says Ignatius, is ascertained "according to what God our Lord will move one's will to choose, and also according to what the person himself or herself will judge to be better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty." Such was the care of my soul bestowed by my superiors. Rather than tell me my fate, they obliged me to freely search out and whole-heartedly pursue the academic vocation and disciplinary focus I now enjoy.
The third guiding principle I take away from my training is that "service of God" is the most desirable project of the soul. But what constitutes this service is not made known simply by following what others have found that service to be. Service of God is not achieved by aligning oneself to the lights of others--as noble as those lights may be. The call to a faith that does justice is only one way to frame the project of the soul, and perhaps a not too fortuitous one given the temptation to identify the doing of justice with certain economic analyses and partisan policy initiatives. In defining what the faith that does justice means for today's universities, there is less stepping back from telling others what to do than Howard Gray advocates. What I think I have been taught by Jesuit spirituality prompts me to ask, what growth in spiritual acumen would result from enunciating the Jesuit vocation as "the faith that does service," or "the faith that does care," rather than "the faith that does justice"?
The fourth guiding principle I have appropriated is that we are to be fixed on finding rather than bringing God. As we learn from the early Jesuit missions to China, India, Japan, and the New World, and to the Alpha Centauri system and the planet Rakhat in the year 2021 (as depicted in The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell) the Jesuit enterprise is preeminently to discover and even export, but not to import, the presence of God. To continue this tradition, requires a more agnostic disposition about what service of God means than we currently tend to enunciate at our Jesuit colleges and universities. A faith that does service flows inductively from an encounter with the holy. Once tasted, the numinous mystery imbues a desire to imbibe of it more fully. This desire inclines us to carry out those rightly ordered relations which make our souls, the souls of others, and our material world more hospitable to God's presence. As I learned early on, Jesuits have never, in theory or in practice, limited the realms where this alignment to God may occur. Mary Doria Russell understands the traditional eagerness of the Society of Jesus to explore the foreign terrain of a new world: The United Nations required years to come to a decision that the Society of Jesus reached in ten days. In New York, diplomats debated long and hard . . . why human resources should be expended in an attempt to contact the world that would become known as Rakhat when there were so many pressing needs on Earth. In Rome, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send. . . .
The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God's other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God (3).But today we have somehow come to define certain paths of service more worthy than others. We have unintentionally withheld the spiritual counsel that could guide every member of the university community to search out and be consoled by the munus suavissimum, that most congenial burden of finding God in the everyday round. Graham Greene's "whiskey priest" comes to define love as wanting to be around someone. Does the emphasis on the faith that does justice impede most of those working in higher education from exploring how they and God want to be around each other? Have we not been subtly distracted from befriending the "breadth and length and height and depth" of the "ever-receding horizon" (Rahner) of the Divine Presence as it emanates from the quotidian activities of studying, teaching, building, coaching, cooking, managing, and writing?
Daily Life as Spiritual Exercise
A Sufi aphorism recommends that before we can learn, we need to learn how to learn, and before we can learn how to learn we need to unlearn. As to unlearning, the main thing is to grow detached from the strangely seductive temptation to steer others to God's presence in one place rather than another. The grand irony is that in the university, where the heart of the matter is making known what is unknown, we have not widely promulgated the insight that God is found in pursuing insight. In this section I will describe several manifestations of this irony and indicate how, when unfettered, Jesuit spirituality offers a sense and sensibility able to nourish the university as a self-reflective domain of the sacred. I address four specific circumstances where the one-sided application of Jesuit spirituality has undercut a fuller flourishing of its generative power, and how a more indifferent approach would be more faithful to the Ignatian vocation.
Academic Majors and Career Choices A major accomplishment of Jesuit universities and colleges, at least since 1970, when the academic terrain became more universally technical and specialized, has been to make sure that they are in fact first quality colleges and universities. Just as I would want a Catholic hospital taking out my appendix to be first a very good hospital, I would want a Jesuit college concerned about spiritual formation first to be a very good educational institution. Thanks to the academic leadership of the past three decades, we can be proud that the Jesuit heritage has instilled a craft of scholarly excellence rather than a substitute for it. As such, Jesuit colleges and universities, even at the expense of some pious criticism, continue to mature as formidable intellectual centers where the full range of disciplinary majors, professions, and careers are supported, encouraged, and pursued.
Despite the elevation of the academic caliber of Jesuit colleges, a troublesome cultural specter has snuck up on the hallowed theory and practice of academic excellence. This cultural phantom implies that while all academic and professional pursuits are noble, some are more noble than others. Students enrolled in Arts and Sciences are regarded, not by society's dominant culture but often within the Jesuit university, as having chosen a more commendable educational track than those in business. More noble still (if not in theory, at least in regard) are those students leaving our colleges and going into volunteer work or service professions. A related specter haunts our decisions in regard to which students to target for ethics courses. It seems the more identified a course of studies is with potential financial security, the more we think its students should be preemptively rehabilitated by an ethics course. Certainly, "lead us not into temptation," and "deliver us from evil" are crucial to prudent education. But so is "hallowed be thy name" and "give us this day our daily bread." Since most of our graduates end up in some form of business career or career in a business, why are not all students required to take business ethics? Better yet, what generative sea change would ensue from offering courses in the spirituality of business life in addition to business ethics? For those who know how to see, there is no spiritual status hierarchy of majors or careers. Either we continue to see our business schools as alien to the Jesuit university or we reinvigorate our explicit pastoral practice. We must surely prefer the latter option, especially since this only means reacquainting ourselves with what, at a deeper level, we already know and have never really forgotten. It is not for us to say what is the more excellent way for others--except in one thing, inviting all our students to learn the spiritual secret that everything is more enriching, appealing, and motivating to the extent their studies and careers are imbued with the presence of God.
Let us make it our vocation to help them all find God in their prayers, works, joys, and sufferings. I am optimistic that inviting students to find and convey God in what they are up to academically will ultimately produce more care than besieging them with subtle scorn. The more sacred the seeds we plant today, the more abundant will be the harvest of care. For it will be encounter with God more than social ideology that years from now will motivate a business owner to support the education of inner-city kids in the hope they might enter the pipeline to matriculate at a Jesuit college.
Scholarship as Spiritual Exercise A second campus domain where Jesuit spirituality has lost some of its vitality is in advancing scholarship as a spiritual rendezvous with God. The connection between the vocation of study and the spiritual life--and the temptations to avoid it--were recounted by Ignatius Loyola as one of the prototypical experiences of discernment. In order to prepare for the priesthood, Ignatius found himself studying Latin alongside boys much his younger. He also found that in the midst of his studies he received consoling visions and insights into the Divine Presence. These so engrossed him that he lacked the energy to learn the language of the Church he desired to serve. Discerning that for the generally virtuous soul evil arrives under the guise of good, Ignatius concluded that at his time and place God was to be found in the Latin, not in the rapture. In this case it was God, not the devil, who was in the details.
It was no coincidence that a mosaic depicting Ignatius studying alongside his youthful fellow students stood at the crossroads of the library and classroom wing of Colombiere College, the Jesuit seminary outside of Detroit I attended. It too was no coincidence that four days before taking sacred vows as a Jesuit on August 22, two weeks before classes began at other colleges across the country, we were assigned a research paper by Thomas Porter, the Jesuit dean in charge of our junior and senior years. We were not told so explicitly, but we figured out that writing this research paper and enduring its anxiety was as much the path to God as the three-day pre-vow retreat we were undergoing at the same time. All of a sudden scholarship and the heretofore inspirational highlights of my religious life were on an emotional collision course. How dare Tom Porter sabotage our three-day sacred calm with a four-day tempest of mundane toil! By now, you know where I am going with this--and where Tom Porter and Ignatian spirituality were going. The vows were a commitment to a way of life that for the foreseeable future would revolve around scholarship. "Deal with it," was the message, as Camille Paglia is wont to say.
Today a new specialty in the spirituality of the vocation of research and writing is particularly important because those directing most Jesuit colleges have discerned those endeavors to be an increasingly prominent part of their school's vocation. Over the span of four days at the beginning of this semester, in public addresses or campus publications, President William Leahy, S.J., newly appointed Academic Vice President and former School of Management Dean, John Neuhauser, and newly appointed Dean of Arts and Sciences, Joseph Quinn stated with no bashfulness that research is a principal defining characteristic of how Boston College is to shoulder its trust. This is displeasing to some; but as far as I can see, this train has left the station. And appropriately. For increasingly, both we and our students will play out our stewardship in a world where ideas are the coin of the realm, and knowledge the wealth of nations. So in addition to assenting to a theology of the confluence of faith and knowledge, we need to be offered direction in learning more about actually living a spirituality of the intellectual life. The fact that many faculty repeatedly express genuine anxiety about how research interferes with the Jesuit university's calls for service, mentoring, teaching, and advising, should not be taken lightly. But neither should such fears be allowed to hold any more sway, say, than those of a major league baseball player who frets about being expected to run, hit, field, and throw. No spirituality of major league baseball ought to center on those who aren't playing at that level. There is certainly a spirituality of anxiety, disappointment, redirection, and even rejection--in both major league baseball and in major league universities. But now that Boston College and its sister institutions have mindfully elected the big leagues of research, we need to develop a pastoral specialty that uncovers and airs a spirituality of scholarship.
It is not that the vocations of teaching and advising are to be ranked low on the educational status hierarchy. It is only that at this specific time, and this specific place, our need is to explore, offer to others, and then pursue the spiritual terrain where research, teaching, and service are organically enmeshed. So it is with my colleague, John Havens, when he works late into the evening alongside our graduate and undergraduate research assistants on our Boston Area Diary Study on the patterns of giving and receiving care among 43 Boston area residents. When by personal example and explicit instruction John teaches the integrity, skill, and satisfactions of sophisticated social research, he is organically combining research, teaching, and service. In a word, he is living out what Max Weber called "science as a vocation." For my part, I find God by asking John and the students to describe the spiritual opportunities and obstacles they visit as they carry out the research.
The Infinite Countenances of God
A third fertile terrain for a refreshed Jesuit spirituality is in enlarging the range of activities that constitute the faith that does service. I have long embraced Karl Rahner's monotheistic interpretation of the Trinity as three faces of a single God rather than as a tritheistic community. This is congruent with Rahner's thoroughly orthodox notion of the sacramentum mundi, the symbolic manifestation of the Divine Presence in all worldly existence. While there are three privileged faces of God, there are also an infinite number of faces, each with an infinity of additional visages.
One such face we all encounter, sometimes discuss theologically, but seldom offer to each other as a campus spirituality appears in the quest for, discovery of, and communication of the rightly ordered relations we call insight. The problem is that we too often speak as if the principal spiritual countenance of physics, biology, and chemistry is to be found in their application, not in their doing. We have all been present at meetings where the discussion awkwardly turns to figuring out how to engage laboratory scientists in the faith that does justice. We scramble to identify topics for courses and presentations that deal either with the applications of science to public policy issues (such as the environment, pollution, and toxic waste) or with the ethics of applied science (such as cloning, the application of extraordinary medical treatments at the doorway to death, and research on human embryos).
Ever since becoming familiar with Jean Leclercq's, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (1961), I have understood that the Divine Presence resides not only in what science does, but in the doing of science; not only in the rightly ordered relations created by scientists, but in the rightly ordered relations discovered by scientists. This too is the central point of a recent essay about the faith that does physics by Timothy Toohig, S.J., an internationally recognized physicist who a few years ago was a visiting scholar at the Boston College Jesuit Institute. Upon nearly completing my essay, I was gratified and a bit troubled to have discovered Toohig, S.J.'s luminous essay, "Physics Research, a Search for God." I was gratified to learn how congruent his thesis is with mine; I was troubled to see how much better he says there what I am trying to say here. Toohig's thesis is that "the pursuit of physics is, at root, a spiritual endeavor . . . . an intuitive search for God" (1999: 1). This experience, he explains, is "an understanding of reality that is always beyond our current understanding." It corresponds to Rahner's notion of "transcendental experience," in which knowledge of the ultimate and knowledge of "every conceivable object" are "present together and in identity." (Toohig 1999: 21, quoting Rahner, Foundations, p. 20).
The transcendental experience Toohig describes in the realm of physics is the heart of what Jesuit spirituality has to offer to all fields of learning and communication listed in a campus directory: from finance and accounting, to nursing and secondary education, to art and science, to literature and language. That "openness to God's presence and the sense of mystery" which Toohig finds in the intellectual life, is a countenance of God that is to be explored and offered as constitutive of every dimension of a college spirituality. What I take away from his essay is that engagement with mysterium in the intellectual life is never solipsistic and should resist any attempt to say it is. For any one deep encounter with the face of God, spurs a search for other faces of God in all that surrounds us.
Students and The Land of Unlikeness Another symptom of a truncated campus spirituality is the tendency to align the service component of the faith that does justice with what turns out to be a partisan social analysis. Students in our flagship courses integrating theology, philosophy, and material life properly hear that what they are learning implies a "service component." After all, spirituality is a way of life--a way of thinking, of feeling, and of doing. But I am concerned that the range of what constitutes the content of that doing is often too narrowly defined. By too narrow, I do not mean that our consciousness and conscience have as their horizon those who are most in need. What I mean is that there is the temptation to too readily elevate one side or the other of identifiable partisan social policies and cultural logics to frame how our students and faculty are encouraged to be of service. Two of my most beloved and respected Jesuit friends have, only partially tongue-in-cheek, accused me of "becoming a Republican" when I spoke favorably of vouchers to boost the educational opportunities of inner-city children. Both, upon reflection, agreed that vouchers are indeed a legitimate strategy to move more schools toward doing exactly what they and their brothers have long made the hallmark of their service for the poor in our country for well over 150 years. It is this kind of reflection, borne of a deep spiritual radicalness and escaping prevailing ideologies, that we should provide for and teach to our students.
To prepare for a complex life that will see our students visit realms they have not yet imagined, our best counsel is to help educate their "eyes to see and ears to hear." "He is the Way. / Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness; / You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures," is one strophe of W. H. Auden's triple blessing at the end of "For the Time Being," a meditation on the dialectic of blessing and curse for those living the incarnation in ordinary time. For us, this means learning and teaching a sensitivity to the presence of God in far more varied and far more subtle ways than those defined by the seductively fashioned ideology of both so-called progressives and conservatives. Once again, our pastoral vocation means communicating a liberty for all within our orbit to find "what God our Lord will move one's will to choose, and . . . what the person himself or herself will judge to be better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty."
Spiritual Archeology I want to stress what I said at the outset of this essay. I am not calling for things to be dropped from the faith that does justice. My hope is for things to be added. I recognize that I may have not been effective in communicating my argument, and that many may disagree with me. Still I hope that we pause, at least for a while, to consider how the spirituality of finding God in all things--particularly in the discovery and communication of knowledge and all the daily activity surrounding and supporting those tasks--will deepen the vocations of both faith and justice at the university.
Perhaps the dominant assumption in all of this, is that there is a genetic unity to the Divine Presence. Discovering God in one realm is gracefully an opening to the experience of God in other realms. No matter where the enmeshment of God and us is first knit, we are led to other mutual engagements. Finding the countenance of God in all of the basic and applied arts and sciences, inclines us now and later to find God in "meeting the true needs of others," the phrase by which Jules Toner, S.J. defines "care" or "the implemental aspect of love."
Agere Quod Agis
Because it has partially eluded us over the past couple of decades, those of us affiliated with Jesuit higher education today have an historical purpose and project to reignite the vocation of finding God through the university's cardinal metier of discovering and communicating insight. For starters, this means a renewed emphasis on attending to the spirituality in what we are doing rather than what we are not doing. The Jesuit maxim, "agere quod agis," has moved uncomfortably close to "agere quod non agis." Often faculty and students receive more heartening counsel about finding God off campus than on it: to become involved in community partnerships rather assigning and poring over an additional paper; in reading to students in Brighton than in reading to oneself in the library.
Hearers of the Word
To help reinvigorate finding God in what we are doing, consider two potential changes in our own vocations. The first is dispositional. It is to approach our pastoral work of formation for faculty, students, and staff more as archeologists than architects. As archeologists our craft is to help excavate and then piece together the spiritual artifacts that comprise the city of God in which we, our colleagues, and our charges live and work. In carrying out this archeology, we need to be cautious to resist the temptation to move too quickly and too assuredly to a spiritual architecture for others. As archeologists, we need to be less agnostic about the fact that God is to be found in and around scholarship; but more agnostic about the specific activities and policies that constitute service, care, and justice.
The second change is pastoral. It is to undertake a methodology of exploratory conversations as a way to conduct the archeology of the Divine Presence. Just as our vocation is finding God and feeling found by God, so one pastoral exercise of our own vocation is to prompt those we care about to uncover how they are finding God. For every generation, the existential work of discovering how God is already found precedes the normative work of teaching how God might be more deeply discovered. I view such pastoral conversations as a way of excavating a spiritual resume. I realize it is often difficult for people to talk about their spiritual life. But I have found in my research that the methodologies of intensive interviews and conversational focus groups produce a remarkable depth of willingness, honesty, and insight among those invited to such formal or informal conversations. A methodology of asking questions that goes for the tears and not for the jugular, as Barbara Walters once characterized the transformation of her interviewing technique, itself generates a transcendental experience and, as such, is a generous form of service. The leading questions of such interchanges include, for example, what can we find out about what people are finding out about their spirituality?; what are the spiritual experiences, yearnings, and anxieties of students, administrators, and staff?; and what are the inner dialectics by which a spirituality once taken up, becomes evaluated, and gives way to a deeper one?
Neither Is It Far Off
According to Ignatian spirituality, explained Howard Gray in a presentation last April, "the great task is to discover how God is present in a situation," and "the greatest service" is to "help people find out how God has called them to a fullness of life." Such a service is a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. We should not be surprised when we find it's an uphill battle to prod students and colleagues into our version of the spiritual life. How much more pleasant it would be to abandon the fate of Sisyphus and invite our associates to taste and see. People are today, as they always have been, hungry for the bread of life. Much of what has made our task like the curse of Sisyphus is that through no fault, and often with great generosity, we simply do not offer nourishing enough bread. Is it that we fear God is far off from our own minds and hearts and so must be for others too? Is this why we sometimes feed others what nourishes us before exploring what nourishes them? Perhaps we make this all too hard. Recall how the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us that the commandment to abandon the curse and choose life "is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut: 30:11-14).
Bearers of the Word
Some of Karl Rahner's most compelling explorations of the coexistence of the supernatural and the existential are the essays in his book Hearers of the Word. Rahner, despite his Black Forest heritage, taught an optimistic theology in which the human soul is mystically attuned, like a sensitive radio telescope, to hear the faintest tidings of God. Living as such hearers of the Word, is the faith that does justice. As this faith seeps into our consciousness, it turns us into bearers of the Word. Having heard the voice of God, even as an inchoate or ineffable utterance, we become carriers of the Divine Presence. In every ordinary and extraordinary task, we face an opportunity to create the rightly ordered relations of care. Living as such bearers of the Word, is the faith that does justice. Faith is about finding God in all things; justice is about bearing God to all things.
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Greene, Graham. The Power and the Glory. New York: Viking, 1990.
Havens, John J. and Paul G. Schervish. "Our Daily Bread: Findings from the First Diary Study on Giving and Receiving Care." Research report. Boston Area Diary Study. Social Welfare Research Institute. Boston College. July 1997.
Leclercq, Jean. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. Trans. by Catherine Misrahi. New York: Fordham UP, 1961.
Rahner, Karl. Foundations of Christian Faith. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
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© 1999 Paul G. Schervish