The below reflection first appeared on the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality’s website and Fairfield University Email Newsletter.
Dear Members of the Fairfield University Community,
“We are brokenhearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
These are the opening words of the statement of May 29, from the Chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national protests.
Repeated now so many times by civic and religious leaders from all over the globe, these and similar reactions to the senseless and brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, fill us with grief, with shame, with horror. How has it come to this? How has it been permitted —and permitted still — that black lives should be treated with such callous indifference and be subjected to such cruelty and violence? How is it that our black sisters and brothers continue daily to be subjected to humiliation, discrimination in every area of their lives? How is it that our flesh and blood — our sisters and brothers — are degraded and denied equal opportunity and dignity before the law because of the color of their skin?
We are receiving this wake-up call, this summons to individual and communal conversion at just the right time.
“Right time” in the sense that we dare not wait a moment longer; no more temporizing out of prudence or caution. We dare not continue to cast a blind eye to the atrocity of racism in our communities, our criminal justice system, our churches, our businesses, our schools and universities. In our personal relationships, in our hearts. “Right time” in the sense that these sins of racism, by omission and commission, have shed too much blood, caused too much misery, excused too much injustice.
“Right time,” in the sense that we find ourselves at the point in the liturgical year when Christians celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles as they gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost. (Protestant and Catholics celebrated Pentecost last Sunday; Orthodox and Oriental Christian Churches will celebrate it this coming Sunday.)
To place what we are experiencing in a liturgical context is not to “spiritualize” —to abstract or distance ourselves from the painful realities of this moment. No, the more God’s Spirit fills our hearts and minds, the more vulnerable and honest we are, and the more attentive and responsive we are to those troublesome questions of truth and meaning, of right and wrong, of good and evil. Of life and death.
With the gift of God’s own Spirit, we more and more look at the world from God’s point of view. We are taken up more and more into God’s passion that all God’s children be free, be whole, and flourish. The more God’s Spirit takes hold of us, the more our hearts ache with the pain of those who suffer, and the more our voices rise in witness to the truth of human dignity and in protest at its violation. The more God’s Spirit lives in us, the more we are able to resist hatred and violence and embrace the long, hard struggle for justice that leads to the building of Dr. King’s “Beloved Community.”
The more the Spirit moves in us and changes our hearts, the more we find ourselves people of the magis, to use that familiar Ignatian term. As my colleague from Fordham’s Theology Department, Fr. Bryan Massingale, STD, explains, “the magis is:
… that inner longing, that restlessness for that which is always out of our reach, but that which beckons us and allures us, and entices us to reach beyond where we are now. It’s that inner dynamism of spirit that leaves us dissatisfied with the way things are and always calls us forward into the deep. Into the beyond.… It is probably the most subversive concept in the Jesuit lexicon because you can never fully put your arms around it because it is always going to take you someplace new. Someplace different. Because it is going to demand that your heart becomes broken so that you’re open to that which is beyond you, especially when we are looking at issues of racial justice or ecological justice.”
In this time of national lament and grief, of division and doubt, in this Pentecost season, may God send God’s own Spirit into our hearts, making of us, wherever we are, whoever we are, women and men of the magis, lured on in hope, fortified with courage, inspired by love to labor with all women and men of goodwill for that day, when, in the words of the Book of Revelation, we will be able to say:
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned as a bride for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with women and men. God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s people, and God will be with them. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be morning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21.1-4)
Rev. Gerry Blaszczak, S.J, Vice President for Mission and Identity at Fairfield University