Jesuit education remains vibrant in this moment of remote learning. Yet the campuses are empty, the sports fields are quiet, and the theaters are closed. Now, more than ever, we need a sense of community. Lacking the normal routines of physical proximity, how do we nourish our connection to others?
One resource from the Ignatian tradition that can transcend geographic distance is reflective and meaningful conversation. From the early discernments of the first companions in Venice to the letters exchanged between Ignatius and Xavier across vast distances, the Jesuit approach to conversation is not dependent on physical presence.
Inspired by our digital native campus minister, Christian Astran, we created a new series of “Digital Ignatian productions” that built on our existing programs, particularly our Ignatian Conversation speaker series and Speak Ignatian podcast hosted with English teacher and poet, Douglas Brown.
A delayed conversation on the concept of “For and With Others” morphed into a reflection on what it means to be For and With in a Time of Pandemic. As our student activities speaker, Mara Balthazar, points out “the whole point of quarantine is for and with others, you may not be at risk but you could put other people at risk… so many more people matter than just yourself.”
A previously scheduled program on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day led to new insights on the environmental impact of simple meals and backyard gardens. It is in the small actions that we can, as theology teacher Tom Cendejas suggests, “take off the burden and stress of being perfect and just try to be as present as we can knowing that even that is a challenge.” This discerning approach to all areas of life is echoed in additional conversations on poetry, philosophy, daydreams, and how to find God in virtual things.
Never before has the ability to reach across boundaries been greater. When we heard that the Jesuits in Chile had opened their retreat houses to the elderly infected by coronavirus, it took only a few emails to set up an interview. Fr. Augstin Moreria, SJ, the Chilean province treasurer, described how one Jesuit community vacated their home in two days to make it available to those in need. “We just wanted to help in a scenario that demands the best of all of us,” Moreria said.
The need for connection and action is more urgent than ever. There are no easy answers to how we are to act in these times, but shared conversations can help point the way. Together as an Ignatian community may we be supported by the example of each other in these difficult times.