What We Carry With Us: Part of the “As This Jesuit Sees It” Series

Written by Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies  at Georgetown University. This article originally appeared on April 11th, 2017, in the Hoya and can be found online here. “As This Jesuit Sees It” appears every other Tuesday in the Hoya.

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About four years ago, on a late April afternoon, I found myself racing through Dahlgren Quadrangle when I saw two students sitting on a bench. As I got closer, I recognized them as seniors who I had once taught and often saw around campus.

I approached them to say hello, until I noticed it looked like maybe they were crying. I awkwardly tried to look like I had not seen them, but it was too late. They meekly waved.

When I got to them, I nonchalantly tried to ask how they were doing. They looked at me and said — and now I saw there really were tears in their eyes — “This week we’re making a point of going to all of our places. Each day we’re going to a favorite place that made our Georgetown experience and spending a while remembering what happened there.” They mentioned a few: their freshmen rooms — they actually let you do that during Senior Week, a classroom where they had a seminar, each of their favorite spots in Lauinger Library, and now here they were in Dahlgren Quad.

They did not need to say anything more, as suddenly the tears in their eyes made sense — a kind of happy and sad, life-embracing and person-forming sense. And I could not help but feel a tear come to my eyes as well.

St. Ignatius, in one of his most famous prayers, suggests that our memory is sacred. The ability to remember is a gift from God, one that allows us to recall and relive the panoply of our experiences. It also allows us to see our own history afresh and to reinterpret and reappropriate it as not just a series of events, but as a narrative of who we are and who we are becoming. Memory helps us tell our story and see how the pieces fit together. And here these students were,  engaging their memory to tell their story to themselves and to each other.

As we come to the close of this year, what will be the story we will tell? Which memories will we carry with us, and which will we let fade? Let’s face it — we have seen and experienced so much, individually and as a community. What will we choose to carry with us, and how will it fit into our story?

We carry memories of concrete events — some daily and mundane, some historic — and the many feelings of highs and lows associated with them. We recall our accomplishments and failings and hurts. We feel the reality of our world in all its brokenness and all its needs and all its potential, made even sharper in this year of election and inauguration, marches and resistance, refugees and travel bans.

We carry the experience of our loves and longings, simmering in our hearts even if we do not always speak of them. For some, it may have been the thrill of someone noticing us, perhaps romantically … or in the Georgetown context, perhaps intellectually — I once had a student who spoke of “intellectual crushes”!.

Or maybe we found ourselves connecting on a profound level with others who shared our commitments and passions. With them, we poured ourselves into conversations and dates and adventures and projects and service and retreats. To our surprise and delight, with them we came out of ourselves and felt marvelously alive.

And, importantly, we carry in our memory the first signposts of the path ahead. We carry our hopes and our fears about jobs and summers and future friendships. Deep inside, our dreams for eventual marriages and families and vocations that will give meaning to our lives — even if seemingly beyond the horizon — are nurtured. Our memories help shape the narrative of the kinds of parents and servants and contributors we want to be; they inspire us in our continued growth and our ongoing journey.

Ultimately, as those two seniors knew, our memory — and the process of remembering — helps us discover the narrative of who we are and who we are becoming. Our experiences themselves do not define us; we are neither our best nor our worst accomplishments. Instead, we are people discerning a sacred narrative, one that emerges as we look backward and forward.

So, find a friend and a bench, and take some time in the coming days to remember. If an awkward tear or uneasy laugh or smile comes along, or if you feel your heart rising or beating a bit faster, you are probably doing it right.

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Revolutions of the Heart: Part of the “As This Jesuit Sees It” Series

28897966023_b4c8407d3a_oWritten by Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., the Roman Catholic Chaplain at Georgetown University. This article originally appeared on March 31st, 2017, in the Hoya and can be found online here. “As This Jesuit Sees It” appears every other Tuesday in the Hoya.

Artistic works rendering the process of conversion and transformation are often externally dramatic – be it Caravaggio’s Conversion of St. Paul or Flannery O’Connor’s Revelation.

While such depictions capture the power of human transformation, they also might sway one to believe that a conversion – in belief, attitude, way of thinking or acting – must necessarily entail an intense external rupture in one’s life.

Quite often, these moments are quieter, more subtle and sublime, but nonetheless equally life-changing. Sometimes it occurs by something so simple, so seemingly mundane, as ordering ice cream.

We had the great privilege to speak with Mike Wilson, a tribal member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, on this year’s MAGIS spring break immersion trip to the Arizona-Mexico border.

Mike has spent years putting out water across the Nation’s lands for migrants crossing the desert, as well as housing migrant families in his home with his wife. Yet Mike’s journey to becoming a social justice activist is a winding one.

In the 1980s, Mike served as an advisor for the U.S. Special Forces in El Salvador during the country’s civil war. How is it that a Green Beret with his own security detail makes the dramatic shift to becoming an active promoter of human rights? Such a journey, in Mike’s words, involves openness, humility and a revolution of the heart.

Mike had been in San Salvador for quite some time when he was invited to dinner by the woman who sold him pupusas every day on his way to work. Later that Friday afternoon, Mike decided to indulge himself by stopping off at the ice cream shop for a banana split. When it came time to pay, he realized that he was overcharged for the dessert. Though Mike said nothing, he seethed over this perceived injustice.

He arrived that evening at the humble family home of his hosts. His host informed him that her husband – a bus driver out in the rural areas far outside the city – was not yet home.

When he returned, long after dinner was over, he sat down with them at the dinner table.  His wife brought out his late dinner and a beer. As they sat, the husband counted his wages for his 14-hour day, placing the centavos into small stacks.

As Mike watched, he had a jarring realization – the husband’s wages for driving a bus for the past 14 hours did not amount to as much as Mike’s overpriced banana split. As Mike tells it, in that low-lit room around a dinner table in San Salvador, everything changed. He was, in his words, not merely humbled, but also humiliated – he recognized his entitlement, his privilege and prestige, and all that he took for granted.

As Mike tells it, it was in that moment that everything shifted for him on a heart level. He would return home to Arizona still as Mike Wilson, but a transformed Mike Wilson. His eyes were opened to the needs of immigrants without documentation crossing the desert of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

He would begin his mission of placing water throughout the desert. He embraced his own prophetic vocation to reach out to those on the painful and life-threatening margins. Such transformation allows Mike to continue to do so, even when his actions went against the wishes of his tribe and church. So it is with a revolution of the heart.

Ernest Hemingway wrote that “there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Such is the path to personal transformation and conversion.

This journey indeed consists in humility; a humility that necessarily entails a willingness to allow one’s attitudes and perceptions to be radically altered – altered by not simply concepts and theories, but by experiences and relationships.

A radical transformation demands radical openness — openness to the seemingly minute and seemingly inconsequential events of our day to day lives – events like ordering a banana split, or sitting quietly at a dinner table. Only then are the possibilities of an authentic revolution of the heart to be realized.

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Remembering Fr. Rick Curry, S.J.


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It was a typical Sunday evening in Dahlgren Chapel, the Chapel Choir was busy rehearsing for the 9:30pm Mass, and student coordinators were preparing for the liturgy. As I was directing the rehearsal of the anthem, I glanced to my left and saw Fr. Rick Curry, S.J. sitting in the front row of the side transept, vested and ready to go. Surprised at how early he was ready, I immediately thought he must need something…maybe there was a problem or question…he must want to talk to me. But no, Fr. Curry was fine and there were no questions. He just wanted to listen. He smiled and listened to the choir sing, loving the harmony of the student’s voices.

When Fr. Curry died in late December, his death was followed by a flood of tributes extolling the many accomplishments of an amazing Jesuit Brother and Priest who overcame many obstacles and achieved much. From the Funeral Mass, to the University Memorial, to the articles in the Washington Post and New York Times, Fr. Curry was remembered as a man for others, as one who constantly worked to build up the lives of others.

And yet, in the midst of recalling his tremendous work, we also remember Fr. Curry as a pastor and friend. Those who attended the 9:30pm Mass will remember his call to serve others with the admonition to “wash each other’s feet”. The Chapel Choir students will remember him as their “No. 1 Fan”. I will remember a friend, whose encouragement and support helped me grow in my understanding of who I am as a minister to our students.

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At Georgetown University we focus on how we live out our Jesuit values, from being women and men for others to being contemplatives in action. To me, Rick Curry lived out those values every day, but I will most remember him for his love – his love for the students, his love for the veterans and people in need, his love for those with whom he worked, and yes, his love for me. I remember sitting next to him at a faculty meeting when Rick had just returned to work following one of his health scares. I asked him if he would be teaching the next semester, and he said yes, that he could not imagine not being with his students. That is how I will remember Rick Curry.

As the Spring semester has gone on these past weeks, I still look over to my left from time to time, and I still expect to see Rick sitting there, vested in priestly garb, smiling at the beauty of the students voices. Sometimes it makes me sad, but mostly it makes me remember. And so after glancing to the side, I look back at the students in front of me, and try to show them the same love that Fr. Curry showed me.

Written by Dr. Jim Wickman, Director of Liturgy, Music, and Catholic Life at Georgetown University.

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When Things Come Up: Part of the “As This Jesuit Sees It” Series

Written by Rev. Matthew Carnes S.J., an associate professor of Government and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies. This article originally appeared on March 14th, 201, in the Hoya and can be found online here. “As This Jesuit Sees It” appears every other Tuesday in the Hoya.

Many of us have received that phone call, or that text or email: the one that comes unexpectedly and bears news that we did not want to hear.

The illness, or even the death, of a loved one. The loss of a job by a parent or sibling, or concerns about how shifting government policies will affect them. The end of a relationship in which we had invested our hearts.

The news goes straight to our core, and it leaves us feeling a combination of emptiness, confusion and sadness.

In recent years, I have received that call on more than one occasion. One time it was about a family member’s diagnosis. Another time, just in the last couple of weeks, it was from a former student and dear friend whose mother had just passed away.

Each time, it comes as a surprise, but is not, to be honest, unique. These things actually happen in the background of our lives all the time, and are happening to people around us every day. But often in our driven culture at a place like Georgetown, we overlook them — or try to — as we race on to our next test or class, and we hesitate to give them the space and respect they need.

I am not sure where we get the idea, but we often think that these things, when they come up, need to be kept secret, or they need to be suppressed so that we can stay focused on “important” things like classes and grades. We can see them as an intrusion on our professional and academic activities, and we create an artificial separation between “life” and our work. We often feel alone in facing them. We avoid telling professors, coaches, deans or even roommates, out of some kind of fear that they will think that we are weak or asking for special treatment.

Over my years as a Jesuit and a priest, I have slowly started to realize how sacred the moments are when “things come up.” They are raw times, times when we are vulnerable, but also times when we are most open to being touched at the center of who we are.

They are times we must be present and pay attention to the feelings that we find moving through us: sadness, memory, concern, loss, and surprisingly, even hope and gratitude. In these moments, it is important to recognize that feeling distracted is an integral part of the process, for it shows us just how meaningful our experience is.

It is appropriate, and even necessary, to lose some time in our emotions, lingering with our own sense of incompleteness. In those distractions, we may just find ourselves silently held and cared for by the love of God and the community.

Indeed, these moments are times when we do well to let others in, to share at least with a few friends and trusted people what we are going through. Their support and gentle care can sustain and support us. We do not ever need to be alone when things come up, especially on this campus, even if holing up alone is our first instinct.

In taking the risk to open up, we find an opportunity to be connected with others, and to find life and hope and encouragement in them. We often discover, much to our surprise, that they, too, are facing similar issues and challenges.

And what is true of losses, is also true of so many other things that “come up” in our lives: a sick roommate we had to take to the hospital, a bout of emotions and depression that make us feel paralyzed, an attachment or addiction that has a hold on us, the hurt we have suffered in a relationship or conversation. This is real life, and the time spent addressing it is anything but wasted.

For the true task of our time here at Georgetown is not the grades we achieve or the resumes we compile, but the human beings we become. That becoming happens often when “things come up,” unbidden and unchosen, and when we find ourselves at a loss for words or direction. We lean on one another, and we lean on our God, and together we are lifted up and strengthened. Cura personalis is not just something we extend to others; it is something we often need to receive ourselves.

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Finding Nachas at the Jewish Life Retreat

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Something we love talking about here at Georgetown is “cura personalis,” or care of the whole person. What exactly does this mean? For some, it refers to self-care: taking time to see friends, eating a well-balanced meal, writing in a journal. For others, it is caring about friends, family, colleagues in the emotional, physical, and spiritual realms. For me, cura personalis has taken on new meaning in my sophomore year. Freshman year, I did not embody cura personalis; I simply spent a lot of time obsessed with my grades and working alone towards that elusive 4.0. Now, my cura personalis is all about balance, working to fulfill myself emotionally and spiritually both alone and through interaction with friends, family, and staff.

One place I see cura personalis nurtured is on retreat. Georgetown’s retreat program is thriving, and I am grateful to be a part of it both as an ESCAPE leader and as a participant on our semi-annual Jewish retreat. There is something magical about being at the beautiful Calcagnini Contemplative Center (hats off to the architect, because it is photogenic as heck) surrounded on the outside by silence and stars and on the inside by a roaring fire and good conversation, that keeps people coming back.

We must be doing a good job because this spring because we had our biggest Jewish retreat yet; we had to add more spots because 40+ people wanted to go. This was proof that Jewish Life here is thriving.  As a GUish intern whose main goals are student engagement and community building, seeing a bus bursting at the seams filled me with nachas — a Yiddish word meaning pride or gratification.

However, a more cynical part of me wondered: Would such a large retreat change the dynamic? Bigger could mean more cliquish — definitely not the vibe we hope to give off. And so I waited.

If I take anything from that overnight, it is the memory of around 30 of us sitting in a giant circle in the McKenna dining room, slamming on tables and singing at the top of our lungs all of the Jewish songs we know. Shaked and Ronit were sitting next to each other discussing what to sing next, Ari joined in every time because he knows the entire repertoire, Rabbi tried to delegate different vocal parts to actual good singers, and the rest of us sat clapping away and singing when we could. The circle continued to grow as more and more people came in: an impromptu sing-a-long. The sea of smiles conjured up an oddly familiar feeling — oh right, nachas.

Sometimes, the great things are not planned and obsessed over. They happen naturally, organically.  It is up to us to seize these moments, to see them as cura personalis, and to realize how lucky we are to have the chance to stretch both our minds and our hearts everywhere we turn.

Written by Janine Karo, C’19.

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