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Jesuit Perspectives

Below are some articles by members of the Society of Jesus here at the University of San Francisco.

Peace Begins with People

A Reflection by John Lo Schiavo, S.J.

Since September 11, the need for mutual understanding and respect among cultures and religions has become clearer than ever before. Sometimes we experience such understanding and respect in our personal lives, and sometimes we experience something ever greater: namely, love. I was blessed by such an experience, oddly, when I suffered a heart attach a year ago. Perhaps it is at this level – person to person – that true peace and understanding begin.

Near midnight on Sept. 22, the rector of USF's Jesuit Community took me to St. Mary's Hospital because I was having chest pains. In the emergency room, doctors and medical technicians took X-rays and tested my heart and blood. Although none of the tests showed signs of a heart attack, the doctors decided to keep me overnight as a precaution.

I was moved to a room on the seventh floor where they could continue to monitor me. There I met the young nurse on duty. She was Chinese American, and very pregnant. She told me her name was Diana, that she was a Vanderbilt graduate (naturally I chided her for not attending USF), and a baptist.

It was very late when I finally got to sleep. All was well – until 4am when I began to have severe chest pains. I felt like an elephant had sat on my chest. Immediately I called Diana who came at once. She called a doctor and a lab technician. They poured morphine into me, put nitroglycerin under my tongue, and gave me several pills to swallow. Finally they left the room, but the pain continued.

Diana stayed behind and stood by my bed. I remember looking at her swollen belly and saying to myself, "Diana, you're a life giver, I hope you do something about this pain I am in." Diana told me later that she was impressed at how calm I was. Internally, however, I was anything but. I was hurting and scared. Diana watched me closely. At one point she reached down, grasped my hand, and squeezed it. I'm not a touchy-feely sort of guy. But it wasn't long after Diana squeezed my hand that the pain began to subside.

A few hours later, on Saturday morning, they took me to cardiac intensive care for more tests. Finally I was left alone to rest. I thought about the events of the preceding hours, and about Diana grasping my hand. I must admit I got teary. "How powerful a simple act of compassion and love can be," I thought to myself.

After four days in intensive care, I was transferred back to the seventh floor for continued monitoring. diana was off duty when I arrived. On the next night, the night before I was scheduled to leave the hospital, I asked a nurse to ask Diana to dropping, which she did at 6am just before going off duty.

This time it was I who held her hands. I thanked her for being such a wonderful nurse and we talked about the baby. As she was leaving, she turned and said to me, "You know, the morning you had your heart attack, I went home and prayed for you." I was touched. I thanked her again and asked her to please continue praying for me and for my recovery.

I was sent home that morning, exactly one week after the attack. At home, I sat down and listened to my voice-mail. A number of friends had called promising prayers and wishing me well. One message was from a member of the USF Board of Trustees, Judy Epstein. Judy said it was Rosh Hashanah and that she was on her way to Temple. "I will say lots of prayers for you there," she said. I also received a message from my former assistant, Eli Shahideh. Eli, a Muslim, assured me that she, her mother, and her sister were all praying for me.

I thought about all this. Our country is in the midst of a conflict that is about values and culture and religion. In order to achieve lasting peace, we must become a trusting community of nations and religions. To be sure, United Nations resolutions, international diplomacy, and discussions among learned theologians all must play a role in this process.

But I am convinced that peace also will depend to a great extent on respect, compassion, and love between individuals, such as I experienced from Judy and Eli and Diana, who squeezed my hand when I sorely needed it.

University of San Francisco Magazine (Fall 2002)

Good People Do Good

Reflections by Stephen Privett, S.J.

Last Friday evening, the university and the parish jointly hosted a panel presentation by the lawyers and two Salvadoran torture victims who recently and successfully secured a civil judgment against two former generals of the Salvadoran army currently living in Miami. As I listened to a Stanford professor relate how her research contributed to this landmark legal victory, and to the lawyers' explanation how a 1789 law was resurrected and utilized to see justice done. 20 years after the fact, I was struck yet again by how important it is that knowledge and skills are placed in the hands of persons with character, conviction, and compassion.

I don't imagine that I will ever fully understand, though they tried to explain, what it cost these Salvadoran torture victims to face the individuals directly responsible for the scars their bodies still bore from beatings, cigarette burns, rape, razor cuts, and acts of torture too gruesome to describe. These are simply persons of fortitude and faith beyond my grasp. One could not be in the room with these individuals and not be moved by their courageous determination to end such brutality and inhumanity. They spoke eloquently and from the heart for thousands who did not survive to tell their own grim stories.

Perhaps the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, has such individuals in mind when he wrote:
... each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
each moral thing does one thing and the same:
...myself it speaks and spells,
crying What I do is me, for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices...

Hopkins beautifully underscores a simple truth and the underlying conviction of Jesuit education: good people do good; just people "justice." We do who we are. Corporate fraud on the scale of Enron and WorldCom will not be eliminated by simply adding ethics courses to the curriculum. Ethics is only valuable for those who are concerned with doing what is good and just in the first place. In the absence of a sincere concern for truth and justice, ethics easily degenerates into a superficial exercise in logical thinking. Technical solutions do not address fundamental character flaws in human nature.

I think the core challenge for USF as a Jesuit Catholic university is to offer an education that develops both intellectual rigor and personal character, without collapsing the tension between the two by emphasizing one at the expense of the other. I continue to believe in the oft-quoted maxim, "Jesuit education is about developing persons with the brains to make a difference and the hearts to want to do so." Good thinking and good character are both equally important in a USF education – and they are dynamite when found in the same person. The education we offer must aim to supplement and complement knowledge of the good, the true, and the beautiful with the desire to do what is good and true and beautiful.

 As evidence of past success at educating minds and hearts, let me cite a recent letter from an alumnus, which though anecdotal is also illustrative of what I have heard many times over. "USF instilled in me a feeling of responsibility to deal with the world, and in particular the individuals in it, in an ethical manner. I have been struck many times by how easily so many people in the workplace act in an unethical manner and how blasè most people feel about it... I believe that my management style grew out of my time at USF where I was always treated with respect, even when as a Freshman I didn't know what I was doing... I was once given a negative performance review when I refused to lay off a single mother and instead cut back on travel for my department to save money... I hope that USF can help educate a new generation, prepared to deal with tougher times by relying on a solid foundation of values."

Who and how we choose to be in the world is, in some sense, conditioned by what we know. It is a truism that where we stand determines what we see, and whom we talk to determines what we hear. The squalid favelas on the hillside of Rio de Janeiro look very different to the sun worshippers on the beach at Ipanema than they do to the desperately poor slum dwellers who populate them. A USF student who took a course on the border in Tijuana wrote: "it is not until we spend part of the day talking with the mangers of a factory and the rest of the day talking with the women who work there that we truly get a taste for contradictions. This class has truly changed my perspective." Another student referred to her experience at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador as pushing her away from her comfort zone and daring to understand the world from the perspective of a poor peasant. Her world view has changed so dramatically that she labeled her experience, "mind blowing."

Again and again I have hear USF students – the cast from last year's production of The Fever, nurses reflecting on their clinical experiences, accounting majors fresh from working with single parents in the Tenderloin, students in a literature course – all talk about how their lives have changed. It happens on and off campus, in and out of the classroom or laboratory as students are pushed to engage new and challenging ideas, experiences, and perspectives.

Perspectives may change when we stand where we never stood before in order to listen to those whose experiences we have never shared before. When you stop and think about it, the basic rationale for an undergraduate core curriculum is to ensure exposure to a variety of disciplinary perspectives, as well as to the finest expressions of the human spirit. In the last Foghorn, Philosophy professor David Kim said, "Imagine a class of mostly straight students being taught by a gay man or lesbian. This can be a profound educational opportunity... Students want more than a brain behind the podium, they want someone they can relate to and share stories and hope with." If students are entitled to more than a brain behind the podium, so, too, are we committed to educating full human beings, to educating minds and hearts to change the world.

This summer, while in South Africa with USF faculty and students, Dean of Arts and Sciences Stanley Nel and I visited a Black African shanty town that sprang up on the side of a hill that sloped down into the refuse dump for East London. These desperately poor people, mostly women and children, literally lived in and on garbage. One resident led me by the hand to her mother's shack – 8 by 10 feet, cardboard sides, roof of plastic sheets, dirt floor, no electricity or water, a single wooden shelf that served as a table, bed, and work bench. Inside sat a 90-something-year-old woman with dark leathery skin staring vacantly into space – cataracts, her daughter told me. As I squinted in the burning sunlight, the woman angrily asked me how I could smile knowing that people were living in misery. I was not smiling, but that question still haunts me, as it ought to.

If USF students leave here with some variation of that question planted in their minds and hearts, we will have fulfilled our responsibility to educate leaders for a more humane and just world.

"Prologue": USF Faculty Convocation Address (2002)

Three Keys to Ignatius

A Reflection by Thomas Lucas, S.J.

The distinctive approach of St. Ignatius was once summed up by Geronimo Nadal, one of his closest colleagues, as spiritu, corde, practice – in the Spirit, from the heart, and with practicality. An approach to understanding reality visible and invisible, this is a spirituality that continues to animate Jesuit-founded works around the world, from AIDS clinics in central Africa, highbrow theological research journals in Zurich and Washington, D.C., neighborhood scripture study programs in Bolivia to the classrooms on the hilltop at USF.

Born in 1491 on the cusp between the Middle Ages and the modern world, between the stable realm of chivalry and the uncertainties of the age of exploration, Inigo Lopez de Loyola experienced a midlife conversion when his world was shattered, literally, by a cannon ball that broke his leg in battle. during his painful convalescence, the soldier-courtier Inigo became Inigo the questioner. He began to track down the sources of pain and bliss, or as he called them "desolation and consolation." He resolved to take his own experience seriously, listening to what his mind and his heart were telling him about the purpose of suffering, death, and life.

Conventional Christian dogmas now struck him with a new personal vitality: what does it mean to be a human being, a perishable creature charged with a spark of the divine? How can mortal begins reach a loving relationship with the mystery that is Being itself? What does Christ ask of me? Noting down these experiences, Ignatius wanted his discoveries to guide other pilgrims too, their own spiritual quest. He hoped that these "exercises," prayerful explorations of memory, understanding, and will would train other to find an inner freedom that overflows into active service. "Love," Ignatius says simply at the end of the Spiritual Exercises, "is shown more in deeds than in words."

In other words, his quest had led Ignatius back to the very center of the Christian tradition in which he had been raised, to the person of Jesus, with whom, simply, he now fell in love. As a layman he determined to become a missionary. From the earliest days of his conversion and enlightenment he was sure of one thing: that the gifts he received, the graces of insight and ardor were not for him alone. He resolved to respond in loving generosity, helping others find their way to the heart of the matter, which is Christ.

The Ignatian legacy, then, consists of spiritual experiments in questioning and a heartfelt conversion experience. Spiritu, corde – Nadal's words to characterize this approach, but culminating in the flexible steel of practicality. This third feature had notably rich implications for later Jesuit history.

Soon after his conversion Ignatius' dream of service came up against harsh realities. As the Catholic Church was experiencing the first storm clouds of the Reformation, uncredentialed spiritual gurus were looked on as suspicious characters. Rather than give up his plan of service, the 30-year-old hidalgo went back to grammar school to learn his Latin ABC's, the indispensable tool for contemporary scholars and churchmen. When he finished grammar school in Barcelona, he attended two of Spain's best universities, Alcala and Salamanca, where his lack of clerical status and university degrees drew suspicion and even brief imprisonment by the Inquisition.

As doors closed in Spain, he moved to the more open climate of the University of Paris where he studied philosophy and theology for several years. There the soldier-courtier Inigo disappeared, to be replaced by Master – and soon Father – Ignatius of Loyola. There too, a small group of bright and passionate men gathered around him, sharing his dream of service "for the glory of God and the good of souls." Multilingual, international from the beginning, this group evolved into the Society of Jesus.

What made Ignatius and his early companions unique was their readiness to talk to anybody – princes and prostitutes, the literati and unlettered – and the ability to shape their outreach to each person in ways not dictated by tradition. They swept through Rome in the late 1530s, preaching in the piazza and teaching in the papal university, working in plague hospitals and advising the Roman Curia. With papal approval in 1540, they formed a new model of apostolic religious life that was characterized by imaginative flexibility, ready to go anywhere and try anything to get God's message across. They counseled both Catholic reformers and the daughters of popes, gave learned lectures and taught catechism to street kids.

When benefactors and friends asked the first Jesuits to train their sons as they were training their own recruits, Ignatius and his companions responded almost immediately. They founded a breathtaking array of schools, colleges, and universities that served not only as educational institutions but as downtown cultural and spiritual centers across the globe. At the same time, they sent some of their finest minds and most talented recruits to work in dialogue with cultures beyond Europe and with the poor and powerless. And their founder continued to innovate, restlessly exploring, probing, adapting until the day he died.

Today at usfca.edu in dot.com San Francisco, all three features of this Ignatian charism are still relevant, especially its practical flexibility. True, the core values that undergird an institution like USF derive from Jesus Christ and the explicit moral and social teaching of the Catholic tradition. But Ignatius in particular inspires each of us to take our individual human experience seriously, always examining it carefully and critically against whatever religious and cultural horizons of meaning we have accepted.

Ignatius' basic spiritual insight was in inclusive one, at home in the world of the university. He taught that the ultimate reality of the Sacred can be found in all things. He experienced a world that flowed from God as a fundamentally good yet imperfect place, and he saw our human existence as positive yet incomplete. This deeply assimilated insight led him to believe profoundly in the revelatory, sacramental power of the world and of our experience. If we are open to them, they can be, and are, places where the ongoing self-communication of the Other continues to take place – signs that signify more than they literally say.

For this reason Ignatius was able to embrace the humanistic learning of his age, the study of pagan classics, engage the danger of the arts, the adventures of the speculative sciences, the duties of good citizenship as appropriate, even essential elements for understanding the meaning of this complicated world and our complicated experience. He said, simply, that we can find God in all things, in the laboratory and library and studio and classroom as well as, and perhaps sometime eve better than, in church.

Such discovery calls for a response not of calculation but generosity, not of avarice but altruism. It's not enough for a place like USF to train brains but shape hearts as well. One of the most encouraging indicators of this holistic response is the flowering of service-learning programs in our curricula. In every department and college, students are reaching out to learn from the experience of underserved communities in the City and Bay Area. In such programs, training of mind, spirit, and heart are combined in a particularly practical, Ignatian way.

Finally, Ignatius' institutions have been strong precisely because they were flexible. Tempered in the fire of experience, success and failure, his educational and pastoral institutions never stopped growing, adapting, exploring, questioning. USF's strength derives from that same tempering. The practical factor needs constantly to be understood in its relationship to the theoretical, the spiritual in its relationship to the great, beguiling and sometimes threatening world of matter.

University of San Francisco Magazine (Winter 2000)

Accounting, Jesuit Style

A Reflection by John Koeplin, S.J.

What in the world is a Jesuit doing teaching in a business school? It's a fair question. As a professor of accounting at the USF School of Business and Management since 1998, I have heard that question often. I feel confident in saying that St. Ignatius himself would respond to this question with, "Why not?"

Ignatian spirituality teaches us that there are countless ways to bring the Gospel into our lives. Nothing is outside the purview of God's grace – even the business world. St. Ignatius was concerned with educating the leaders of society. In many ways, it is the business managers who have come forth as the most influential leaders in our country and our world. It is our responsibility as a business school and as a Jesuit university to train these future leaders to be successful in their professional endeavors while at the same time being conscious of their roles as potential leaders in society.

The reality is that most college students of business, as well as other chosen disciplines, will become economically privileged. With this privilege comes responsibility of working to bring equity and opportunity to others. Working for equity and justice requires USF to teach not only the technical aspects of business, but also to give students the tools and experience they need to respond to circumstances of life that go beyond the mere technical aspects. Our goal must be to have our students see the larger social picture and understand what impact their decisions have on others. There is need for an education of hearts.

How does such a training play out in the life of a business professional? Leaders with educated hearts make business decisions based not only on profit margins and their own private interest but also on the needs of society and of all their employees.

As a business professor I try to instill in my students a deep longing for justice and for becoming involved in making this world a better place. I may do this, for example, by asking students to consider all of the people that would be affected by a manager's decision in a particular situation. Will students respond simply from the perspective of the company's top management, or will they take into consideration other that are affected by the decision? As an accounting professional I am deeply disturbed by the actions of executives involved in the Enron scandal. Would a USF graduate have responded differently?

Another example is offered in the widespread layoffs that many Bay Area companies have been faced with during this economic slump. Such layoffs may be an effective way to cut costs, but they deeply affect the lives of those losing their jobs, as well as their families. I'm not saying that managers may not lay off workers, but perhaps they can assist the laid-off employees with job training, career assistance, and reasonable severance packages.

All people have a vocation in their lives. That vocation is to be leaven to a world by changing that world in one's relationships, in constantly pursuing an informed conscience, in making choices that may not always be popular or profitable. Our business graduates make the world different in their day-to-day living by making choices for life and making choices for others. A vocation this serious is not always easy in the world of capitalism.

There are very few Jesuits teaching in business-related fields at U.S. universities. The total number of Jesuit business teachers at the 28 Jesuit universities is just 11. With more and more students pursuing degrees in business – 20 percent of the student body at USF – my hope is that other business school faculty see the Jesuit vision and mission, and assist them to integrate that vision into their approach to teaching.

Fr. Greg Konz, a Jesuit teaching in the business school at John Caroll University, said that if we are to take St. Ignatius' "Contemplation to Attain Divine Love" from the Spiritual Exercises seriously, then we as business educators must help students connect the reality of God with what they consider of most practical everyday importance. If it is their business courses that students find really important, it must be in these business courses – even accounting – that students learn to recognize God at work in their lives.

University of San Francisco Magazine (Spring 2003)

The Moment of Empathy

A Reflection by Vernon Ruland, S.J.

Over a decade ago on a research trip to Nepal, I stopped for three weeks to visit friends in Sabah, East Malaysia. Recent USF alumni, they had already carved out a range of high profile careers in their society – city manager, environmental planner, accountant, police inspector, sales analyst. Here I was invited to stay at the home of a cordial Muslim couple, both former students of my class in world religions.

Both husband and wife proved eager, as expected, to set up a meeting with the Mufti leader of their community. Moments after our introduction, this impetuous elder was asking me through translators why I thought so many local Christians were converting to Islam. Without waiting for an answer, he next wondered how soon I intended to become a Muslim myself. In response, my words dropped like weighty aphorisms in translation, phrase by phrase. I suggested we both pray that he become a better Muslim and I a better Christian. A polite ecumenical cliche, I know. Through smiling agreement, the Mufti admitted it had seldom been his custom to pray that way.

This lively Christian-Muslim encounter points up a few of my attitudes toward communicating across religious borders. As a Jesuit priest, I'm often asked why my teaching and writing focus less on proclaiming the Christian Gospel than exploring the world's differing religions – and even more modern secularity itself as an implied spiritual alternative. Here are a few of my reasons.

First, I trust that whatever truth I discover in other religions will not threaten but enrich my own religious life. People commonly reach a more seasoned grasp of their own language by learning a foreign language. Similarly I've long been reclaiming neglected dimensions of my Catholic Christian heritage in the very process of experiencing what it means to live and wonder and pray from within a religious tradition other than my own.

Second, religions do not meet one another but people do. An abstraction called Judaism or Buddhism does not confront global Christianity, but one Jew or Buddhist at a time befriends one Christian. Meditating, studying, or working alongside each other, two people can often form a bond of mutual respect and affection. Mere theological debate, on the contrary, often tends to dredge up and reinforce the old congealed historical misunderstandings.

Third, I've spent years as a teacher and counselor trying to help individuals uncover and give voice to the unique spiritual factor in their experience – that center of meaning, often unnamed or misnamed, without which the rest of life would be otherwise incoherent. Though eager to be Christ's ambassador to others, I hope first of all to hear out and reaffirm within other people whatever Christ, God, or humanity is already present there. To love and respect a person maturely, I'm convinced, means to accept that individual, not just as my own potential clone, a crypto-Christian, but as an unique other. My aim is not so much to convert others but to convert myself, a tough lifelong task.

Most important, reaching across religious borders helps nourish the crucial habit of disciplined empathy, which means literally the capacity to feel into, or enter into, the lives of others. The most plausible basis for opening oneself to the faith of another individual is affection first for the person and then readiness to hear out and respect the most cherished convictions of this person. In my own research, for instance, I have often stalled before some apparent fallacy or incoherence, say, in the Buddhist or Muslim worldview. But then a practical litmus test comes to mind: How would devout, informed friends like Linlee or Zahid have lived out this paradox and made sense of it?

Perhaps the absence of empathy can be illustrated more easily than its presence. While teaching a course in Asian religious traditions, I once met a born-again Christian, a forty-year-old Vietnam War veteran. An enthusiastic student at first, he disappeared one day and only showed up months later to explain his reasons for dropping the course. Triggered by class discussions and films, some painful war memories had emerged from his past. For years the man had excelled in combat, killing again and again, solaced by an image of Christ fighting at his side against a godless enemy. Yet his faceless victims were now beginning to demand he acknowledge their concrete religious identity – Buddhist, Taoists, and even convince agnostics and atheists, or worse, Asian fellow Christians, all perhaps no less religious than he. He was not ready to face up to his self-deception.

True empathy toward the spiritual stranger, I think, means that your lens must focus, not on group abstractions – such as everyone poor, feminine, old, Hindu, or victimized, all to be loved or hated in global hazy prejudgment – but on one distinct person at a time. Then someday beneath the rigid ayatollah, the bouncing saffron-clad neophyte, the passionate secular rights activist, you're likely to uncover a saga of human dreams and misery not unlike your own.

Absorbed in befriending someone from a differing religious tradition, you'll at times catch yourself trying-on and trying-out the perspectives and values of this individual. Suddenly it should strike you how much your own spiritual identity seems to depend on happenstance or providence. Stir the mix of chromosomes or skin pigment and you might have ended up a different person. Born elsewhere, within some other family and culture, you might have been shaped by a different church, ashram, mosque, or no identifiable religious group at all.

For me, this phase of expanding imagination or self-transcendence is the vital teaching moment, the instant of grace. Though beliefs and values in each religious tradition, of course, must submit to an eventual test of coherence, veracity, and practicality, I yearn as a teacher and theologian to prolong this more basic exploratory moment, both in myself and others.

University of San Francisco Magazine (Summer 1999)