I was recently thinking back to Manresa, when you gather with your major for the first time. Dr. Paul Colella, the founding Philosophy, Politics and the Public’ director, walked into the room full of scared 18-year-olds and asked us one question, “What is justice?”
I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I do know that it was a great way to frame our first PPP class, where all we did was look at different philosophers and what they defined justice as. I thought that the mental heavy lifting was over and I could go back to “normal classes.”
Well boy, was I mistaken. My classes at Xavier have pushed me to deal with real world questions on an almost daily basis. I have been asked tough questions about right and wrong. While at times very frustrating, I also have never been given a clear answer. I have been taught to question, to understand, to analyze and to reach my own decision.
Hard questions were asked of me outside of the classroom as well. Through my involvement in the Center for Faith and Justice and the Office for Student Involvement, I have consistently been put in positions where I have had to ask if something was good, not just good enough. Did something need to change, was something problematic? How can we do better? I would love to say that I always improved the situations we were in, but that’s simply unrealistic.
Did I make some mistakes? For sure. Did I learn from them? Most definitely. I learned that when asking the hard questions, you won’t always come up with the right answer, but you can still better yourself.
Whether that be something as simple as what the theme is for Community Action Day or harder things like how to create intersectional programming, how to navigate racial tensions on campus after bias incidents, how to deal with sexual violence in your friend group, or a dozen of other incredibly difficult questions that Xavier students deal with far too often.
These questions are difficult, they test our values and make us question who we are. But the person we become on the other side; that is a better person. You become a better person for fighting the fight. You become a better person for the struggles you have come through. You become a better person for asking the hard questions.
I have been asking and attempting to answer these questions for the last four years and as I close in on my final days at Xavier. I have had plenty of time to reflect. I think back to that Manresa orientation session with Dr. Colella. He asked us to define justice.
Honestly, I think that Xavier never stopped asking me that question. Every hard question I have faced has come down to: what is justice? What is the right thing to do? Well, I don’t know if I have an answer four years later, but I’ll try.
I once attended a talk by a Jesuit about St. Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation. During that talk the speaker said that “justice is a right relationship with God.” What is the right relationship with God for me? That can sometimes feel like a loaded question. As I have come to find comfort in Ignatian spirituality, it helps provide glimpses of an answer.
A right relationship with God means Cura Personalis in my daily life for the people around me, but it also means Cura Personalis for those migrants at the border. It means Cura Personalis for those affected by climate change. It means striving for solidarity and kinship. It means walking with those on the margins. It means coming together in the spirit of St. Ignatius. It means learning and serving together. It means succeeding in changing the world together. It means acting with integrity, justice and generosity. Striving for the right relationship with God, striving for justice, is a lifelong challenge, but oh, is it worth it.