Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Justice is to deepen love and freedom: Part 2 (VC)

 As a preface to my more spiritual account of last week -there's already a lot happening this week, so I have to get moving on so I can document that as well!- I'd like to give my readers a little context by sharing one characteristic of my own Jesuit vocation. I put the emphasis on the my, to remind all who read this page  that this is indeed my account of Jesuit vocation, and not what every Jesuit experiences. The struggles I will describe is something many of my brothers will relate to, but others ignore the struggles, or are able to  quickly resolve them or move on. The beauty of our vocation, as with anything in our human experience, is its diversity. We all share the same charism, but we all live it with our own brand of uniqueness.Some are ambitious guys that are convinced they can fix all of the world's problems by being involved with all kinds of projects,  and still have time for their community and their own personal spirituality. Others make themselves a priority once in a while and take it a bit more easy. I'm too much of a dreamer for the first lifestyle, so I try to find the middle ground.

 But part of being a dreamer is that I ask big questions for which I often don't have answers. One of those questions for me since I've entered the Society was, revolving around the Jesuit passion for justice and freedom for all. We use these words a lot in our language. It 'makes sense' but at the same time, it's sometimes hard to discern what it is that we can do to serve the justice of God in our world. Serving and making food in a soup kitchen? Working on 5 social justice committees? Being missionned to a 3rd world country? Joining the socially conscious young people in their outrage against the world's complacency?( A quick note here: I'm talking about the Occupy young people and the Indignatos of Spain, not the Quebec students. I don't think protesting for your right for cheap or free education makes you socially conscious.) To make matters worse, as I've expressed in the past, is that I feel that because of my studies, I am very distant from any justice related work that could help me find an answer to what this justice is supposed to be.

 Last week, I was finally able to 'taste' the beginnings of an answer. I mean metaphorically of course -unless my account was about eating an Arrepa or burrito made from the hands of a poor farmer whose family was starving which could have given me an all to poignant taste of what injustice is!!-. Being in Venezuela has been very helpful in that department. What's special about being here, is that the Jesuits don't just talk about justice, or injustice. They live it. Firstly,  some of the guys come from poor families, and so they understand the struggles of the poor all too well. Secondly, unlike most Jesuits in the north, they live right in the thick of poverty. I mean, granted, their house is gated, they have internet access, each guy has his own cell phone, and the community employs people to cook, clean and do certain tasks around the house. However,  like many Jesuit communities, they need this staff because they give every ounce of themselves to their studies and their ministry, to being close to the poor, understanding their needs, and working with great minds to help heal the injustices in their country. The biggest problem some of them have with Chavez, is that he talks socialism, but doesn't do much to back his big talk. He speaks about the workers, but the slums of Caracas as still unsanitary, people are still unemployed, families are still broken and the social condition of the poor is not improving.. I don't know enough about the situation to know what Chavez is or isn't doing(and furthermore, the country IS divided over him. Many Jesuits support him as well. So maybe it's not so black and white), but I can get the frustration they're expressing.

 Thankfully, the frustration is not all they're expressing. All week long, during mass, or in my talks with them,  I realized how strong their hope for justice was, how much they believed that the justice of God would find it's roots in Venezuela and grow. So much so, that it became something for me that was concrete. Not some abstract notion of right and wrong, or some distant fantasy of a world where all are equal, but a healthy, balanced discernment of the problems of our world, and a genuine desire to work to solve these problems, a desire rooted in love of the people and closeness to them.

 What I heard in their prayers during the Mass, I would see with my own eyes during the week  when we visited their apostolate. We saw 3 organizations: JRS -Jesuit Refugee Services-, Fe y Alegria (faith and joy. A Jesuit school for the poor that has some of the highest standards of education in the country) and el Centro Gumilla, a social analysis center that somewhat resembles the Justice and Faith center I worked with 2 years ago. In all 3 centers, we were given presentations by the directors or volunteers about what kind of work was done, and with all 3 groups, I felt so inspired. All of them work directly with the poor, the marginalized in ways that I can only dream of right now. Even the school inspired me. I say 'even' because I wasn't expecting that. My vocation is not to be a teacher, but an activist for the faith and for the poor. Still, as I heard about how they made education accessible to all the poor with dozens of schools around the world, and how they supported these students through thick and thin, until they found their calling,I remembered why it was I became a Jesuit. We're not just charity or social workers. we're not just well intentioned individuals. We get our hands dirty baby...and we don't shy away from going to the margins, where no one else -whether religious or not- dares to go.

 Maybe in the end, this is justice: To ensure that our love for God and God's people deepens everyday; to give our lives to help others discover that love, and the freedom it offers us; to be present to the broken, and  always be there to remind them that they are so loved, and that in the hands of God...they are so free.

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