Recently on Twitter, Tom Reese, S.J., linked to an article from the Ignatian Solidarity Network detailing the ways in which Jesuit schools around the country were trying to respond to the murder of 49 people in Orlando on June 12. Many Jesuit schools have had prayer services or Masses; university officials from around the country, like Brian Linnane, S.J., at Loyola University Maryland, Lisa Reiter at Loyola University Chicago or Michael Engh, S.J., at Santa Clara University, have also issued statements of support for those hurt or killed and for the L.G.B.T. communities of our nation.
And as I read through the list of great schools, some of the country’s very best, filled with talented faculty and staff, dedicated alumni and passionate students, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be accomplished if our Jesuit schools and all our other institutions worked together to advocate for stronger gun control—a national campaign.
Because individually organized prayer services, while meaningful and important, are not enough. Statements of support, particularly for the L.G.B.T. community, are important, very important at a time when many of our leaders have been silent on this point, only reinforcing the sense of exclusion and danger that many L.G.B.T. people feel.
But statements, too, are not enough. Not in the face of the same events occurring over and over. Indeed, our situation calls to mind the oft-quoted definition of insanity: to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.
These days I find myself haunted by the possibility that all our prayers and statements and articles on gun control are things that make us feel like we’re doing something meaningful, when in fact we haven’t actually committed to doing anything at all. I daresay that every Jesuit school at every level has had prayer services and issued challenging statements after other gun-related tragedies, notably the killings at the Sandy Hook school in 2012. But on Sunday 49 people were gunned down by a single armed individual. How can we tolerate that?
It’s quite clear that our politicians are not going to do anything unless they are forced (or, put more positively, given a tremendous amount of political cover). We can complain about that and retweet endless crazy comments made by right-wing politicians and others. It feels good, but none of it makes any actual difference.
I’m sure that some of our institutions and members of our institutions are already working for change on this issue. They should be praised and also consulted. Because if our institutions worked together, we could make an enormous difference. I daresay there are few-to-no networks in this country with more connections, resources and capacity to exert the kind of pressure needed for actual change than that of Jesuit institutions.
Obviously, there is risk in speaking out and organizing on the issue of gun control. Debate over gun laws are the definition of divisive in our country. Some alumni, employees, board members would not agree to our institutions advocating for any restrictions on gun ownership. Some may threaten to withhold donations or other support.
But if our institutions—which include not only the works of the Society of Jesus and our Ignatian-inspired colleagues but the Jesuit provinces themselves—cannot take the risk of standing up and leading when faced with such an obvious and ongoing moral and social catastrophe, honestly, what is the point of them?
It’s like the old joke about the guy caught in the flood who repeatedly refuses rescue because he believes God will save him. In the end he drowns, not because God didn’t hear his prayers, but because he never acted on any of the opportunities God provided. “Where were you?” he howls at God at the Pearly Gates.
“I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter,” God tells him. “What more did you need?”
Or as late-night comedian Samantha Bee put it in furious, blistering, must see comments: “Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our [EXPLETIVE] problems.”
Jim McDermott, S.J., is America's Los Angeles correspondent.