Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

We Cannot Yet Be Satisfied – Michael J. Goggin

by | Nov 18, 2020

As members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), we have witnessed the justifiable outrage, especially in 2020, at the systemic racism that is still pervasive in our country and we express solidarity with those seeking lasting change.

IVC is a service corps of people ages 50 and above, and many of our members came of age during the civil rights clashes of the 1950s and 1960s and the desegregation struggles of the 1970s. Impressed by how far our nation has come in the past seven decades, we recognize that we cannot yet be satisfied in our on-going pursuit of justice and equality while people of color are harmed by the brutality of some in positions of authority.

We also recognize the privilege inherent in having the time, the means, and the health to mobilize one’s education, skills, and wisdom into service through IVC and we hope to use that privilege to mindfully bridge the racial and economic gaps that it typically exacerbates.

As a faith-based service corps animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his company that has come to be known as the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), we affirm the aspirations of the order’s 2019 Universal Apostolic Preferences as openings to grace, pointing the way forward to greater faith through further contemplation and action for all who consider themselves Ignatian followers. Among these preferences is a mission-oriented toward reconciliation and peace with people whose dignity has been violated. We see in the current struggle for racial equality in our country glimpses of the Kingdom of God itself, which Catholics affirm to be both “already” taking shape here on earth but “not yet” perfectly realized. We aim to give our members the opportunity not only to serve in meaningful ways but also to reflect on the meaning of the service work they do. Among the many ways they do that is through the regular prayerful reading of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often cited as an expression of complete equality in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[1] Reiterating this point to the Colossians, Paul concludes “Christ is all and in all.”[2] To Corinth, he states, “we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”[3]

Our Christian oneness obliges us to do the works of social justice that will help to actualize the kingdom. The rich 130-year-old tradition of Catholic social teaching compels us both to charity and to action. Our members commit to offering 600 or more hours of service each year with people who are marginalized through our expanding network of partnerships with non-profit agencies in more than twenty metropolitan areas across the United States. Many of the regions in which we serve are among the most racially segregated cities in our country. Many of the people with whom we serve and many of the non-profit professionals who supervise the work of our service corps members are people of color. Countless deep friendships between members of IVC and the clients and staff of our partner agencies have resulted from our presence in underserved neighborhoods.

Our members seek not only to serve but also to reflect on their service. The IVC experience introduces many individuals to Ignatian spirituality for the first time, while rekindling the memory of Jesuit prayer practices for others. Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality for everyday life. It is marked by the desire to find God in all things. It blends contemplative prayer with active engagement in the world. With respect to the problem of systemic racism in the United States in 2020, Ignatian spirituality prompts our white members to recognize their privilege and to commit to listening deeply to the life experiences and stories of people of color with whom we are already in relationship. Listening compels us to engage in an examination of conscience in which we will reflect on our own behaviors and actions as we consider ways to grow the diversity of our IVC core communities. We trust that the current moral awakening brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement will result in concrete change for our organization as it will for the entire country. The time has come to go beyond being women and men for others, a familiar mantra to those formed by Jesuit institutions of higher education. In kinship, we must be men and women with others, particularly those experiencing racial oppression and injustice. Our end-of-year evaluations will be revised to help assess how well we are achieving this goal.

As a Roman Catholic organization, we find inspiration in the words of the 2018 pastoral letter on racism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” racism is decried as “an ugly cancer.”[4] Our own Body of Christ has been ravaged by its effects over many years. Sadly, we know that some prominent Catholic institutions, even those affiliated with the Society of Jesus, profited from their own involvement in the American slave trade. In the civil rights era, some bishops and priests marched with Dr. King in Washington but more fifty years after King’s assassination, others continue to reject the inculturation efforts needed to make the Roman Catholic liturgy a more vibrant expression of African-American spirituality. IVC commits itself to being a prophetic voice for our Church against the systemic racism that Fordham University scholar Fr. Bryan Massingale calls “a soul sickness.”[5]

As we recall the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we remember first a man who experienced a profound conversion of heart and awakening to the love that God had for him. As men and women who have lived through times of great change in our nation, we recognize that many of us have experienced similar moments of metanoia. Sharing God’s abundant love for us, we stand in solidarity with those experiencing poverty and those on the margins of society. As we grow in wisdom, age and grace, we invite you to experience making a difference by standing with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in its pursuit of greater racial equity.

~ by Michael J. Goggin for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps

[1] Galatians 3:28
[2] Colossians 3:11
[3] I Corinthians 12:13
[4] “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love / A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018.
[5] The Jesuit Post, November 20, 2017.