Breathing Space – Jesuit institutions must do more to undo racism

America Magazine – Alex Mikulich

Jesuit institutions must do more to undo racism.

There have been, sadly, far too many protest chants of late coined to strike the public consciousness in campaigns against abuses of police authority. One now well-known chant speaks in memory of Eric Garner—“I can’t breathe”—Mr. Garner’s last words as he died on a Staten Island sidewalk.

Breathing is a necessity for life that represents the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God, who literally breathes the breath of life into a living being (Gn 2:7). The chant raises consciousness about the ways racism takes away an individual life as it also takes life away from all of us.

Like breathing, people of faith are called to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). Nine members of the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church exemplified prayer without ceasing, in intimacy with God, when they were murdered on June 17, 2015. And since Eric Garner’s death in July 2014, the wound that is racism seems to bleed unceasingly.

Breathing and prayer represent the universal good of human life and dignity. They represent our divine source and direct us to our ultimate purpose. The “I can’t breathe” chant is not only about an individual life; rather, it goes to the soul of Jesuit education to live the magis, the better course of living for the greater glory of God.

“The more universal a good, the more divine it is,” wrote St. Ignatius Loyola in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Drawn from St. Thomas Aquinas, this was Ignatius’ animating vision of education. For Ignatius, education was not primarily about an abstract value of universal knowledge; rather, it was directed at a fuller integration of faith, learning and living of persons and communities for the magis—the greater glory of God.