Operating in Darkness
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman, AVLI President
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Please be aware that this article uses the word grope. I recognize that, used in a different context, this word elicits negative sentiments. However, within the intended context - that of feeling one's way through darkness - I was unable to come up with a suitable synonym. I appreciate your generosity in providing me this latitude.
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
Why choose a Catholic school if children don’t come out stronger Catholics on the back end? It’s a fair question, and one I have been thinking more about in recent years as more young people coming out of our schools demonstrate apathy (in some instances, hostility) toward the Church. To be fair, it’s not just young people and it’s not just the Catholic Church. As a society, we’ve lost faith in most every major institution including government, big corporations, organized religion, and schools and universities. Still, we all know that society has become less religious and more suspicious of those that do faithfully practice.
These thoughts were part of my mental landscape as the recent school year drew to a close. Then came the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and more recently, Highland Park. Utter senselessness. Pure evil. And what was the response of many? To place blame, stamping each event with their personal flavor of rationality. “This is a gun issue.” “This is a mental health issue.” “If our ‘do nothing’ Congress would just…” “If the media would stop…” As if each of these responses by themselves would magically make our problems go away.
The problem with the blame game is that it absolves all of us of any responsibility while throwing someone else under the bus. My last CrossCurrents post discussing subsidiarity suggests that oftentimes we look to our large institutions to solve our problems. Is it any wonder, then, that it is these same institutions that often wind up on the bus’s underside when things don’t play out to our liking?
Besides providing a convenient scapegoat, the blame game also diminishes our personal sense of agency - our belief that our actions can make a meaningful difference. We become spectators as life plays out around us. This isn’t to say that each of us bears responsibility for these senseless shootings. That lies squarely with the perpetrators. But it does prevent us from taking personal stock of our collective circumstance and asking, “How can I through my actions change the narrative and current course?”
Changing the current course, however, assumes we have a better destination in mind. Most often we don’t. Due to the sheer complexity of the issues we face, we lack a purposeful sense of direction. Instead, we grope.
We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, groping in the dark. Whether because you’re trying not to wake a spouse (or your parents) in the middle of the night, or a sudden power outage leaves you scrambling for candles, there is something about pitch darkness that is particularly disorienting. In these moments, we often search for what’s familiar - a wall, a handle, a light switch. However, if nothing’s familiar and you don’t know what you’re groping for, anything will do. Even if someone told you, “You need to find a flashlight,” but you’ve no prior experience of a flashlight or why it might be of value, you will only continue groping until you have something firmly in your grasp that seems helpful. And as long as darkness persists, that first object will likely remain the thing that emboldens all of your future actions. In this way, there’s not much difference between good and evil. In fact, in some ways, evil might present itself as a more attractive option. Like an anglerfish emanating a soft light, a person is drawn in by the allure of misplaced power, dominance, revenge, fame/infamy, or fortune.
That’s why possessing a faith tradition matters, even if it has been most recently dormant. In times of darkness, it serves as the familiar - that thing to hold on to to bolster your continued searching. It is the flashlight.
This isn’t meant to be an oversimplified admonishment that all of this evil would simply vanish if everyone “found religion.” God knows, there have been numerous scandals plaguing faith communities, as well as unspeakable acts perpetrated on synagogues, churches, and mosques carried out by religious people. Still, walking in the light matters. Particularly in the midst of great uncertainty and turmoil, when you can see where you are headed, your next step is purposeful - even if that step is necessarily backwards occasionally.
A Final Word About Catholic Schools
The task for Catholic schools is to not just teach about “the light,” but to help students experience the light in meaningful ways so that, in the long run and through difficult times, they can endure. Noting the current state of education today, “enduring through difficult times” is a constant theme of Catholic schools. Budget difficulties, enrollment concerns, staffing issues, and more make running a school a challenging proposition. So when 450 Jesuit school leaders, teachers, and staff gathered for a national conference a few weeks ago, one could easily assume the nature of the agenda. Instead, the entire schedule was dedicated to the four themes Showing the way to God, Walking with the Excluded, Journeying with Youth, and Caring for our Common Home.
What a powerful witness to the purpose of Catholic education. It’s not that budgets and enrollment don’t matter. They absolutely do. However, mission matters more.
vol 4 issue 11