Sustained, Even in Our Doubt
BY JOSIE SCHUMAN | August 9, 2021
In the Ignatian Prayer for Generosity, we ask the Lord to teach us how to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest. For me, these are earnest concerns because in the fight for social justice, I often doubt my ability to make change.
In yesterday’s first reading, we hear about Elijah who doubts his ability to live out the Lord’s mission to the point of praying for death. Elijah cries out, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
I have also felt inadequate in my attempt to live out God’s mission and work for social justice, and I have seen this sense of doubt plague many of my colleagues. As a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corps at Boston College, we take graduate school courses during the summer before working as teachers at urban Catholic schools. This program has a majority of white members who will be teaching in schools with a majority of students of color.
We have had many classroom discussions about our role in urban Catholic education as white educators and how we can best teach in service of our students’ equity. We have reflected on the lack of teachers of color in the education system and how we contribute to the striking 87% of white teachers in Catholic schools. We have questioned if teachers of color would be better fit for this job, as they can better understand the students’ lived experiences.
These are critical conversations to be had, and we must reflect on how whiteness dominates the education system. However, I have seen so many of my classmates be stopped dead in their tracks by doubt, and like Elijah, they question their ability to do the work they set out to do.
Jesus sustains us in these moments of weakness.
At one of Elijah’s weakest points, an angel came to him and said, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Strengthened by that food, Elijah walked 40 days and nights. In the gospel, Jesus invites us to do the same. He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
When we feel frozen by our inadequacies, we must rely on our faith, as Jesus provides us with the sustenance to keep going. Through prayer, He helps us to renew our commitment to social justice and grants us the humility and resilience to persevere through our doubts. The journey to a just world is a long one, much too long to go without food.
Josie Schuman is a former ISN intern and graduate of John Carroll University. She is currently a member of the Urban Catholic Teacher Corp at Boston College, pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction while teaching 5th grade English. Josie is passionate about faith-based antiracist education and hopes to inspire students of color to use reading and writing as tool for social change.
At times when I talk to my granddaughter who is seven, I feel inadequate. She comes downtown from the suburbs and often sees homeless people. She can’t believe I can’t help the people who are homeless. “Grandma, there are lots of empty rooms in the hotels, why can’t the homeless people stay there?” “They would have food from the hotel and could live a happy life”. My inadequacies shine through and I try to explain to her that we are working on it and even some of the hotel owners welcome the homeless for a scheduled time. “Grandma, that doesn’t make sense, they are not on vacation they need a place to be a person.” again, my inadequacies shine through. “The government is helping them find permanent places to live and take care of their health, we have to count on the government to do their job.” “But Grandma, that job needs to be done today” .”God needs to help the government do a better job!” “We will ask God to help as we take our responsibility to care for others.”
As I read today’s post, I was transported to August 1971, when I began my first year of teaching 4th grade in New Orleans, in an unairconditioned school with all black students. Integration prompted a white flight to mostly Catholic schools. I was one of 3 white teachers and my student teaching was under the tutelage of Sr. Ignacita at a an all white Catholic school next to the Loyola campus. I was totally unprepared, unenlightened, and surprised that the black teachers and principal were so unfriendly. I grew up in Massachusetts after all, where we were not racists! (Hah) It wasn’t until much later that I understood why they might feel that way- it wasn’t personal. Some warmed up later on.
I wish I could say that I inspired my 40 students to learn, but I can’t. I did keep trying, and hung in there, going home in tears most days. There were no supplies except for one ream of paper we received on day 1. I spent what little I could on supplies. I learned what it feels like to be in the minority!
I definitely felt like Elijah! There were small acts of kindness- angels that kept me going and I finished out the year vowing to never teach again! I am now a retired Florida teacher after 35 years, and have learned so much about inequality and racism. I pray for all of the teachers in the Urban Catholic Teacher Corps to have angels along the way to help them when they feel like Elijah!
How can one human fully grasp every ethnic group life experience? If an educator is teaching a course with a proven course curriculum, why should his ethnic background count? Is there documentation that says students learn better from an educator with the same ethnic background?
I love this article! As a white woman who has been in Catholic Education for 54 years, I have to say – if you are a loving, compassionate person, your students don’t see color! More often than not, they see the largeness of your heart!
I pray for more people of color to enter this amazing, tireless and sometimes thankless job… because it touches life and the rewards are endless!
Social analysis and social justice were the twin-pillars that offered courage and conviction to the late Stan Swamy in his struggle field. Bending low to uplift the downtrodden is a herculean undertaking.