by Thomas F. Clark, S.J.
The 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit governance body) in 2016 issued a decree entitled, Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice. In this decree, the Congregation identified reconciliation as a primary ministry for Jesuits and a particular way in which they experience the call of the Eternal King:
All our ministries should seek to build bridges, to foster peace. To do this, we must enter into a deeper understanding of the mystery of evil in the world and the transforming power of the merciful gaze of God who labors to create of humanity one reconciled, peaceful family.1
As an American Jesuit, I experience this call to reconciliation as an urgent appeal to focus on this country’s racial divide. As a white pastor of an historically black Catholic parish in Baton Rouge, I am led to enter into an "examen," that distinctly Ignatian review of one's life and world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to seek clarity about the consolations and desolations we encounter as we serve the Lord and his people. In 2016, Baton Rouge was the scene of the police-involved killing of Alton Sterling, the ambush shooting of law enforcement officers, and a flood that damaged approximately 90,000 homes and businesses. In my examen, I seek to do what theCongregation invited—enter into a deeper understanding of the mystery of evil and seek hope in the transforming power of the merciful gaze of God.
I must admit that up until July 5, 2016 I was standing on the sidelines in Baton Rouge. I had come from Boston where, as pastor of another black Catholic parish for fourteen years, I was deeply involved in the struggles of an urban neighborhood and a participant in neighborhood and faith-based coalitions. I decided to take a break. Concerned that I had neglected some of the needs of the church community and weary of the amount of time and energy that coalitions and advocacy required, I regarded Baton Rouge community issues as perennial battles that produced little success: still no supermarket in our food desert; limited public transportation; and lack of access to health care. I was succumbing to the temptation of cynicism and complacency. The death of Alton Sterling was a rallying call. There was no more standing on the sidelines. This was too important. Baton Rouge was now part of the national narrative of black people shot by police.