It was the great Flemish Dominican Edward Schillebeeckx who once wrote: ‘People are the words with which God tells his story’. The original inspiration for this collection came from an invitation by Xavier College Rector, Father Chris Middleton S.J., to write a book of prayers that teachers and students might use in class. This is what I have endeavoured to do, hoping in the process that it might have a much wider impact in the Xavier school community and beyond. After all, if there is anything in this tome to touch the hearts of readers and listeners, they will tell God’s story with greater clarity and conviction. Through the eyes of Mother Teresa, people are “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”
I owe this title of ‘Springboards’ to that wonderful Irish Jesuit writer and speaker, Michael Paul Gallagher, who visited Australia and Xavier on several occasions during the 1980s and 1990s. Like many of his countrymen, he was a master storyteller and held all sorts of audiences spellbound with his capacity to fire the imagination. Sadly, he died from cancer in late 2015, but not before completing another book – Into Extra Time – Living Through the Final Stages of Cancer and Jottings Along the Way. It was here that I found the idea of “Springboards”.
Springboards might be described as launching pads – words or sayings that challenge us to look further, to leave behind the shallow and superficial in our lives and go deeper. Sister Joan Chittister has written that “there is that within us that shouts always ‘more’. As far as I am concerned, this is our single greatest proof of the existence of God.” (Called to Question – A Spiritual Memoir, Sheed and Ward, 2004, p.226)
One often hears people referring to Ignatian spirituality as “obsessively reflective”. I am not sure about the accuracy of the term “obsessively”, but our spirituality is certainly reflective. We want all who share in our mission to be reflective people and to grow in this quality during their adult life.
More than this, we would hope that our students, as Father Joseph McShane, the President of Fordham Jesuit University in New York once claimed, learn to be “bothered by the realisation that they don’t know everything and bothered by injustice.” Why bother? There is an old Arab saying: “If you want to tell the truth, have one foot in the stirrup.” Whenever we are challenged to think seriously about social justice issues in our society, and more importantly to do something constructive about them in response, we can feel a tad awkward. That’s the rub of social justice, the pebble in the shoe or the burr under the saddle. That awkwardness, that sense of guilt and shame which we experience from time to time, should be a springboard for action. But what action?
There is a lovely Irish proverb which says that “we live in the shelter of each other.” Our capacity to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God is rooted in this sense of connection we have to other people of all persuasions.
So we need to bother and be bothered. We also need our botherers don’t we? After all, the gospel is not meant to be tamed or domesticated. It is a tiger. Several years ago, the Xavier Social Justice Network hosted as one of its speakers American Jesuit Father Greg Boyle S.J., who has been bothered enough by the plight of the gangs in Los Angeles, to give decades of his life to caring for them. What an inspiration! He reminded us that our most significant problem in the world today is that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. We have forgotten how to bother.
So these prayers and reflections for the beginning of class or meetings or private time are not merely a pious ritual. They are meant to be springboards for reflection and action, which inspire our staff, students, and parents to be bothered enough to make a difference for good in their world.