BY CHRIS KERR | November 2, 2011
I was blessed with the opportunity to spend three days last week at the California and Oregon Province Social Ministry Gathering at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, California. The program convened staff at Jesuit parishes, universities, high schools, social ministries, and related projects together for a collective discussion on the theme “Crossing the River: Spirituality and Healing in Social Ministries”. The group was not only diverse in the ways they minister but the people they work with, including those ministering to Native Americans, people in prison, individuals trying to escape gang life, and immigrants, to name a few.
The term “West of the Rockies” was emphasized by Mike Weiler, S.J., provincial of the California Province of the Jesuits, who shared a reflection on the continued integration of the work of the California and Oregon Provinces that will eventually be defined generally as the Jesuit works “west of the Rockies.” This vast geographical territory seems large, and it is, but for a few days the distances were minimized by the powerful reflections and opportunities for prayer and fellowship.
While there were many themes that developed over the course of the gathering, a phrase that resonated for many was a citation of the late Dean Brackley, S.J.:
“I invite you to discover your vocation in downward mobility. It’s a scary request…The world is obsessed with wealth and security and upward mobility and prestige. But let us teach solidarity, walking with the victims, serving and loving. I offer this for you to consider – downward mobility. And I would say in this enterprise there is a great deal of hope.
Have the courage to lose control.
Have the courage to feel useless.
Have the courage to listen.
Have the courage to receive.
Have the courage to let your heart be broken.
Have the courage to feel.
Have the courage to fall in love.
Have the courage to get ruined for life.
Have the courage to make a friend.”
Brackley’s words, challenging us to seek a deeper meaning in life that leads us beyond the materially-oriented societal vision of “success” caused many of us to consider how this is integrated into our own ministry and more broadly our lives. A couple examples from those who shared reflections during the gathering included:
- Mike Kennedy, S.J., Arturo Lopez & Mary Ellen Burton from the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative shared reflections on the struggles that youth, imprisoned at young ages, face as they consider years in prison. Even the approach that our country takes toward sentencing and prison terms, could be challenged by Brackley’s words, with a stronger emphasis on restorative justice that allows young people hope for a life with greater meaning as they grow and transform in prison.
- Pat Twohy, S.J., Jeanne Raymond, Beverly Peters, Darlene Peters, and Ray Williams, shared a glimpse of the realities faced by Native American communities in the northwest U.S. and British Colombia, Canada; but also the powerful role of faith and spirituality grounded in Native American and Catholic tradition that exists at Jesuit apostolates in this region. Brackley’s call to “listen” is especially poignant in considering the injustice and challenges that these communities have faced throughout their history.
You can learn more about Social Ministry and Native American partnerships in the California and Oregon Provinces at:
California Province Social Ministry – http://www.jesuitscalifornia.org/Page.aspx?pid=878
Oregon Province Native American Partnerships – http://www.nwjesuits.org/HowWeServe/Native.html
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.