True togetherness4 Nov 2020
The value of mission is that it keeps people together, even when separated physically.
In the past seven or so Covid-dominated months, especially in Victoria, we have seen and heard this little word ‘together’ with such constancy that its importance could easily be lost: ‘Staying apart will keep us together.’ The mantra is trying to convey the idea that social distancing during this period of the Corona virus will unify us as a stronger community. I wonder. Keeping physically apart from one another will certainly help to smother the virus, but will it contribute to more robust relationships across the board?
If readers could indulge me for a moment of self-promotion, I have just published a little book of prayers and reflections entitled, Springboards – a Deeper Ignatian Way.
In the ‘Afterword’ to the book I wrote: ‘From his threadbare office in Rome during the 1540s, St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, loved to look up in wonder each night at the star-studded sky and contemplate the grandeur of the Creator and his creation. More than that, he also delighted in identifying and naming the various stars after his Jesuit companions and friends spread out on mission across the globe.
In one of his poems, ‘Ignatius and the Stars’, Andrew Bullen beautifully captures this strong connection and love in the words:
‘My companions move in the universe;
the sky rings with their happiness;
their deeds are the interchange of light.
My companions are scattered
over all the world, where each can see the sky:
however apart, we are together.’
Glue of connection
This ‘togetherness’ is our glue of connection. Indeed, our Ignatian spirituality is the fuel that drives our mission and keeps us united, however physically apart we might be across the globe in our various ministries. This ‘together’ is a much stronger connecting thread than its counterpart in the Covid mantra above.
Togetherness in mission is beautifully exemplified in Homeboy Industries established in Los Angeles in 1998 by Jesuit Father Greg Boyle. Moved by the heartache of the people he served while pastor of Dolores Mission Church in LA, Fr Greg commenced Homeboy Industries to assist individuals and families affected by the cycle of poverty, drugs, gangs, and incarceration. Along with many Homeboys and Homegirls, he believes the healing process can only happen when we are in relationship with one another. The success of this Homeboys organisation offers ample evidence to support his belief.
Mother Teresa once diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ In the same vein, Pope Francis in his latest splendid encyclical letter on fraternity and social friendship, Fratelli Tutti, is concerned that ‘there are persons who are treated as “hidden exiles”, persons with disabilities who feel that they exist without belonging and without participating. They may be citizens with full rights, yet they are treated like foreigners in their own country.’ (para. 98)
Belong to one another
As Providence would have it, the Xavier Social Justice Network several years ago hosted as one of its speakers the very same Father Greg Boyle SJ, who spoke about his ministry of walking with and caring for the gangs in Los Angeles. What an inspiration! As with Mother Teresa and Pope Francis, he reminded us that our most significant problem in the world today is that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. With kinship as the goal, he claimed in Father Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation of 4 June this year ‘other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.’
In the same Meditation, Father Greg went on to challenge us to be ‘inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognise it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. . . . At Homeboy Industries, we seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them – and then we watch, from this privileged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again. No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it – it is just that huge.’
Pope Francis would be delighted with this concept of ‘kinship’ or togetherness proclaimed by Father Greg Boyle. In his much-publicised April 2017 TED talk, the Pope said: ‘Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.’
Solidarity (or togetherness) ‘should be “the default attitude” in political, economic, and scientific choices, as well as in relationships among individuals, peoples, and countries.’ The future, he concluded, is in ‘the hands of those people who recognise the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us”.’
To conclude, when a dear Jesuit friend of mine, Father John Ramsay, died in 1999, he left behind in his room a beautiful prayer that captures so well the theme of this article and magazine edition. It could well be our very own prayer for every day and every occasion.
help me to remember
that nothing is
going to happen
to me today
that you and I