Thursday, March 3, 2011
How I do I find Jesus...
Rev. John W. Swope, S.J.
How do I find Jesus in my apostolic work today?
A backpack full of life experience …
If Ignatius of Loyola were with us today, he would probably agree that the quality of a Jesuit life depends in part on reverently looking into my "rear view mirror." By engaging in this spiritual exercise on a regular basis, I sense that I am able to examine my life and draw wisdom from it. I am not so much talking about looking back in order to reconstruct a "one-thing-after-the-other" chronicle, but rather to discover the mystery of the presence of Jesus in the "history" of my apostolic life. If Socrates' assertion that "the unexamined life is not worth living" is true, Ignatius turned that life wisdom into a spiritual art to help men and women actually lead an "examined life." At my best moments during the day (I wish there were more of these!), I have this sense that God's spirit empowers me to bring together whatever wisdom my life offers, and let it lead me in every single encounter with others. But more importantly, when I sense this more contemplative attitude, the many faces of Jesus Christ that I have met throughout my Jesuit life form a kind of emotional and spiritual "scaffolding" for me as I attempt to be attentive to the person or task before me.
In my mission as the founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore, my life now revolves around finding Christ in our city, one of the most violent cities in the United States. I see the daily crime summaries in the newspaper and the stories on local TV news that attest to the crisis in the neighborhoods of beloved Baltimore. In our city, hearts break and tears flow and men and women bend beneath heavy burdens. At the same time, I see business leaders, politicians, community organizers, faith-based social service providers and individuals standing up to be catalysts of hope in those same neighborhoods. As in other times in my life, I experience suffering with Jesus who was crucified, and moments of great joy and hope with Jesus who was raised from the dead.
In August 2006, with a staff of four holed up in cramped rented offices in Baltimore's Mount Vernon section, and with a committed small group of trustees, we trusted and followed the instruction that Jesus gave to Paul after his conversion, "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). I have had a deep sense that where following Christ requires risk, that effort will bring forth great fruit and attract others to join. Highly qualified teachers have joined the Cristo Rey Jesuit mission to serve the young men and women of Baltimore. They repudiate the quality of the schools in our city, reject the voices that place the blame for low academic achievement on our young people, and pour themselves out for the Cristo Rey Jesuit mission.
Cristo Rey Jesuit received its first 9th grade class in September 2007 in the midst of the deep social pathologies of our city, and at a time when quality college-prep educational alternatives for the overwhelming majority of the city's young people were simply out of reach. Most of our young men and women come from the most distressed neighborhoods in Baltimore. And yet, in the midst of that chaos, our students aspire to a life of greatness. Here we are, four years later, on the threshold of our first graduation in June 2011. The Class of 2011 has worked for justice and peace in our neighborhoods, succeeded academically, cried and laughed together, been the first in their families to be accepted into college and are dreaming of creating a far better world. "Jesus of the Cross" as I look out over our City … "Jesus of the Resurrection" as I see our committed staff and our young people go forth to realize their dreams.
I think that the authenticity of my Jesuit apostolic life here in Baltimore depends on my encounters with these two faces of Jesus.