April 24, 2020 — Running from January to May 2020, the Faith Doing Justice Discernment Series (FDJDS) has been an opportunity for people at every level of Jesuits West apostolates to come together to act more powerfully in their work for justice and to practice faith-based community organizing through an Ignatian lens.
In 12 cities stretching from Phoenix to Fairbanks to Missoula to San Francisco, groups ranging in size from 10 to 52, ages 16 to 78, speaking in English and Spanish, are coming together once a month for relationship building, skills development and discernment. Their central task has been to consider how we respond to Father General Arturo Sosa’s call to walk with the marginalized on a path “that promotes social justice and the change of economic, political and social structures that generate injustice.”
Following is a reflection from Amanda Montez, a Spanish teacher and Parent Engagement Coordinator at Sacred Heart Nativity Schools in San Jose, California, which is comprised of two middle schools: Sacred Heart Nativity School for Boys and Our Lady of Grace Nativity School for Girls.
A Time for Radical Reimagination
By Amanda Montez
I began my journey as an Arrupe Delegate with skepticism and many more questions than I care to admit. If I’m being honest, I lacked the ability to see with my mind’s eye the collaboration that could come from the conversations within our communities if we only took the time to truly listen to their needs.
So often our institutions are reactionary. We are problem solvers, constantly adapting to meet the current needs of our students. We move to digital learning and rethink policies and shift our focus constantly while we simultaneously lead retreats and create spaces and tell students to slow down and discern their next step in life.
I worried that fruitful conversations across Jesuit institutions would stay just that — conversations. I worried too about the unique, creative and important projects that might not materialize because of a lack of resources. I was overwhelmed, but I had to let all that go because at the end of the day, it’s not about what I can do, it’s about what we as Jesuits West can do.
I began to understand this more while engaging in many one-on-one conversations with Arrupe Delegates like myself at our first get together in January at El Retiro Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, California. We all listened intently to comments offered by fellow attendees, and breaks between presentations were filled with meaningful time so we could get to know one another.
You could feel the energy building as people began to genuinely and empathetically care about others’ families or learned something new — why someone became a teacher, why someone else was pursuing a master’s, what made their Jesuit ministry special.
Getting to know people for who they are should not feel revolutionary, but it is. Because getting to know people and them getting to know me means that the needs of their community become important to me, and the needs of my community to them. What were once our individual needs are transformed into our collective needs — from undocumented students at Brophy College Prep in Arizona; to the homeless in Los Angeles; to the families where I teach in San Jose who are affected by the housing crisis.
The one-on-ones showed me our strength and displayed just how hungry our communities are to make big changes within our Province. Today, as I sit in on Zoom calls with 80 people, I forget my earlier apprehension and realize just how prepared we all are for any undertaking.
We have been given all the tools and role models we need. May we look to Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, a man who showed us how to take time to listen to the homies in his community and to hold kinship close to our hearts. May we look to Dorothy Day, who encourages us to radically reimagine the Gospels in our present-day context. May we look to St. Francis Xavier, SJ, who said yes to Ignatius when all his dreams of the Jesuits were just an idea. May we look to Fr. Dean Brackley, SJ, who bravely went to El Salvador following the murders of his Jesuit brothers to preach for the need for downward mobility, placing solidarity, serving and loving others over wealth and security.
May we take the time to genuinely listen and build community, even given the complexity of our present moment. I write this in a time when our world is especially chaotic and uncertain. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the needs, inequities and injustices that many people in our communities face daily. It is at this time that the Faith Doing Justice Discernment Series is all the more pertinent. We are forced to slow down and think critically about how to move forward and serve those around us. As we let go of questions — Is the right time? Do we have enough resources? Am I the right person to lead? — I hope this can be a moment for radical reimagination focused on a single question: How can we best support each other and our communities as we navigate new realities?