A personal reflection from a member of our Theology Department and Diversity, Inclusion, and Sensitivity Coordinator
Schools are by nature future-oriented institutions. The formative learning experiences they offer improve prospects for both students and the broader society. Catholic schools are directed toward the future by both this general educational impulse and, more importantly, by a commitment to the coming Kingdom we affirm each time we pray as Jesus taught us. However else they might address issues surrounding diversity and equity, Catholic schools must do so from their context of waiting in joyful hope for an ultimate future.
Catholic educators must ask themselves and their schools what such an eschatological approach to diversity could look like. Our scriptures and history offer helpful guideposts. Isaiah 19: 23-25 offers a stunning picture of an idyllic not yet realized peace between the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Israelites. Christ urges his disciples in Luke 11:2-4 to acknowledge the coming Kingdom of God as we pray.
Catholic schools need not look far to find pictures of a future in which swords are transformed into plowshares and ideals such as loving one another expressed by Biblical prophets and Christ. Theologian Paul Tillich notes that “the first duty of love is to listen.” If we are to love one another, it is fair for Christians in general and Catholic schools, in particular, to examine how well we engage in listening. As we direct our schools toward a not yet realized harmonious future, we must also make every effort to listen to voices all too often silenced and ignored. Failure to do so is a failure to love our neighbor.
Efforts at diversity have to take seriously the histories and contexts of each educational institution involved. One school may have a strength or obstacle in its history that a similar school in the area lacks. All Catholic schools can take honest looks at their own contexts while also drawing upon our shared practice of seeking reconciliation with one another and with God through honest confession and acts of penance.
A great deal will be accomplished if every Catholic school renews its commitment to the coming Kingdom of God while listening to and reconciling with voices long silenced. Still, that would not be enough. Pope Francis and theologian Jurgen Moltmann recognize the fact that oppression damages both the oppressed and the oppressor. In sections 241 through 245 of his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis expresses how forgiveness of oppressors should manifest itself. He notes, “Forgiveness does not entail allowing oppressors to keep trampling on their own dignity and that of others.” Pope Francis insists that reconciliation is achieved “through dialogue and open, honest, and patient negotiation.” Catholic schools do not have the option to simply cut themselves off from those who promoted or continue to support the silencing of others through prejudice, as this would do nothing to prevent oppressors from “trampling on their own dignity and that of others” in other settings. Rather we must attempt to minister to both the oppressed and the oppressors.
The work required to draw near a state of true reconciliation worthy of the dreams expressed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or of the prophet Isaiah will not be easy. Listening intently to those who have suffered from prejudice in the present and the past must occur. Seeking reconciliation for the misdeeds that are part of our own corporate history is also mandatory. Perhaps most difficultly, we are required to make efforts at constructive engagement with those who held or continue to hold hateful positions within our own communities. The virtues of fortitude and perseverance will need to be cultivated to achieve lasting changes in diversity and equity. Still, the eschatological hope of the coming Kingdom in which Christianity breathes and expresses itself will provide more than enough inspiration to continue our struggle for justice so long as we take the time to be inspired by this arriving future.
Daniel E. Martin, PhD