I used to lead immersion programs at Loyola Marymount University. Usually, trips went smoothly, but from time to time there would be a participant that would test every ounce of my patience. Months after a trip with one such student, he emailed me out of the blue and asked to meet with me. I wish I could tell you I jumped at the chance, but I did not. I did everything possible to avoid meeting. It was finals week, life was busy, and the last thing I wanted to do was meet with a student who tested my patience so mightily months prior. But he persisted and at last, I relented.
When we met, he stumbled through some small talk until impatiently I asked him why he wanted to meet. What he said next floored me: “I was probably really difficult to deal with on that trip. I was unaware of how broken our immigration system was and the real human impact that has on people. I didn’t know how to respond, so I responded childishly. But that trip challenged me, really it changed me. I have talked to everyone about what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt. And I just felt you should know that.”
When he left, I was consumed with shame and guilt. I have a mantra to try to encounter every person with a spirit of Namaste, a recognition that there is a divine presence in me that longs to connect with the divine in others. I had failed to honor that spirit with this student. I confided my guilt and shame to a friend who reminded me that ours is a God of second chances.
In today’s first reading, we encounter Jonah bravely following God’s command. But in a prior chapter, Jonah ran away when God called him. Ours is a God of second chances, and so we find Jonah, perhaps reluctantly, responding to the second call of God, just as I reluctantly responded to God’s second chance to see the divine in my student.
And so today we cry out to the God of second chances.
Where have I stumbled in speaking out against injustice? Where have I struggled to respond to the word of God? How will I open myself to second chances to honor the divine I know dwells in every person I encounter?
Patrick Furlong is the associate director of the Center for Service and Action at Loyola Marymount University. Originally from New Mexico, he did postgrad service in Chile and Ecuador before returning to Los Angeles where he has worked in nonprofits, social enterprise, and higher education. He’s currently pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership for social justice. He’s married to Laura and has two young children—Matthew and Maya.