The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to better understand the phrase, “Men and Women for and with others” which is used often in the context of Jesuit education. To learn more, check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: Are We Ready to Be “People for and with Others”?
Father Arrupe’s challenge to form “men (and women) for others” is not only applicable within Jesuit educational institutions, but should be the foundation of all Catholic missions and apostolates that work with young people. To live out the Gospel authentically, every Christian must live out their faith fully through service – “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)
Jesuits and collaborators at Jesuit schools have taken Fr Arrupe’s words to heart. Students have the opportunity for immersion experiences where they learn about the inequality in our society and the ways systems of governance have disadvantaged certain groups. Retreats give students the space to grow in their faith and to discern how to incorporate service into their lives. Campus ministry and the underlying core values within Jesuit schools integrate the mission to become “men (and women) for others”. Students who have the opportunity to attend Jesuit schools are more likely to volunteer their time and talent to the Church and serve those in need. The service opportunities at Jesuit schools often change the lives of these students and the lives of others in meaningful ways.
There is still much to do for the majority of Catholic students who do not attend Jesuit schools. Growing up in an immigrant family, I attended public high school and university. Many of our young people who attend public schools miss out on the opportunities that I had listed previously – immersion trips, retreats, and service-oriented faith formation. We need to incorporate service as a part of faith formation and actively work to encourage young people to serve the marginalized. Jesuit education is one such place, but we can also work with young people in our catechism programs by building service into our faith formation, fostering servant leadership from a young age.
Newman Center at UCSD
One such place that I firmly believe where Jesuits and collaborators can make a big difference are the Newman Centers associated with public universities around the country. Newman Centers serve as a place of worship, service, and community for our Catholic university students. I believe that many of the young people who come to these centers are thirsting for a purpose and for meaning. They have a deep faith in God and adhere to Church teachings, but they hunger to live out their faith in ways that stretch them and help them to grow.
At the Newman Center at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), we’re working to give our students the opportunities to grow in their faith and to find purpose and meaning in their lives through service. We nourish our students spiritually through mass, the Eucharist, adoration, reconciliation, retreats, Christian Life Community (CLC), faith formation, RCIA, service to the poor, and immersion trips. Most of our students have never participated in one or more of these activities and almost all have never been on a service immersion trip. We take Fr. Arrupe’s challenge to form “men (and women) for others” as opportunities for growth both during and after college.
Recently, over 60 students participated in the Search Retreat organized by our student ministers from the Newman Center at UCSD. This is similar to the Kairos Retreats that most students at Jesuit schools would be familiar with. At the Search Retreat, there were witness talks given by their peers who shared their experiences and struggles with faith, family, and school. There was small group sharing which helped students to express their fears and frustrations. There were opportunities for prayer and silence so that what they have experienced might grow and change their lives. Reconciliation service and Spiritual Direction provided students with ways to repair broken relationships (with God and with others) and to love and forgive themselves. There were games and activities fostering friendships rooted in Jesus Christ. And most importantly, they saw the need to serve one another and the community, not only through their witness of faith but in real tangible ways. One student shared this about his time at Search Retreat, “Having experienced what others can do for me in my faith has moved me to try and do the same for others. I want to help others find God in people the way Search Retreat did.”
At the beginning of the retreat, there was a sense of nervousness among the students. Many were probably wondering if they had made the right decision to come on a retreat with so many strangers. In some of my private conversations with students at the start of the retreat, many of them felt anxious about the future and what to do post-graduation. Students felt the weight of unrealistic expectations that they’ve put upon themselves and of what they think God wants for them. As the retreat progressed and by the end of the retreat, I witnessed that these unrealistic expectations began to weigh just a little less. After listening to their peers speak about their challenges with grades and faith, students realized that they weren’t alone in their struggles. They were able to share the load and support one another when during their small group sharing.
The realization that they didn’t have to have everything figured out opens the door to new opportunities for exploration and growth. They know that they don’t have to do it alone because of their new friendships with peers who walk with them – relationships that are rooted in their faith and fellowship with Jesus Christ. These friendships are vital because students are more likely to encourage each other to join service opportunities and immersion experiences. These are the seeds from which we hope will continue to bear good fruits of service long after they’ve graduated and moved on from UCSD. This is what one student took away from the retreat, “Search taught me to be open to others, so that we may share in our struggles and triumphs. I learned about how I could find God in the various aspects of my life, and in the people around me.” Retreats help students come to realize that they are part of the body of Christ and that they have a responsibility to care for the whole body.
Another formative experience for some students has been our collaboration with Birthline of San Diego (Birthline). Birthline provides services to support families from conception until the child enters kindergarten. Many of the women who use the service struggle financially or have left abusive relationships. Birthline has provided support for thousands of families by giving them viable options to carry their pregnancy to full term. Students who volunteer with Birthline realize that issues surrounding abortion are not so black and white for the women who come there for help. They recognize that women who might choose to terminate their pregnancy struggle tremendously with that decision. But more importantly, they see how choosing to keep the pregnancy can be challenging without the right support structures.
During the season of Advent, students ask the Newman community for donations, then they collect and sort the items to deliver to Birthline. On the weekends, they sort through piles of donated clothes and baby items for expecting mothers. Students who have technical skills help increase the visibility of the organization by growing their online presence. Before coming to Birthline, many students didn’t have a clear understanding about the organization. They assumed that they were just going to do some work and go home. However, once they’ve seen the piles of clothes and diapers, once they’ve heard stories of the children who have benefited from their efforts, they see how something so simple can save a life. Here’s what one female volunteer had to say about her experience, “Volunteering at Birthline has widened my perspective on what it truly means to be pro-life, to support women in all of the phases of motherhood, not just in the decision to keep the child. The passion that these women running Birthline have for this cause is so tangible, and it is evident through all of the care they show in their case work with mothers to their ambitious goals to expand the organization. Yet what inspires me most of all, is the way they serve families without any judgment of their background – the kind of blanket compassion that aligns so perfectly with our mission of loving all neighbors.”
The experience with Birthline has given many students hope that their efforts to save the life of an unborn child can have some tangible impact. When it comes to the issues of abortion, many students feel helpless, that there’s nothing they can do to change anything. However, their involvement with Birthline has given many of the volunteers a sense of hope. Although they have not met the hundreds of clients who come to Birthline each month, the students gain a clearer sense that every piece of clothing they fold will eventually go to a baby.
Understanding Birthline’s mission has helped students to see clients as real people who struggle with difficult life choices; not as potential sinners. Volunteering at Birthline gives students the opportunity to advocate the Church’s pro-life agenda through service; not condemnation and shame. One of the male student volunteer reflected, “While I thought abortion was bad, I was pretty hesitant about supporting the pro-life movement since a large majority of the movement focused solely on the pregnancy phase and not the crucial developmental phases of the child after birth. Hearing about and volunteering at Birthline comforts me in knowing that expecting mothers who don’t have the resources to feed and clothe their children don’t need to turn to abortion but instead can seek out the resources they need from places such as Birthline. To love a child and the parents supporting them goes well beyond loving them prior to birth, and I’m thankful Birthline has provided a place for us to do just that.”
These are just a couple of examples of the activities that the Newman Center at UCSD is doing to “form men (and women) for others”. Over the course of four or five years at UCSD, many Catholic students who participate with the Newman Center grow to love the atmosphere, the community, and the support (both spiritual and emotional) that they receive from student leaders and staff. They develop deep connections with peers who share their faith. They are affirmed in their faith and come to know that to serve God is to serve others and to love God is to love others. We have also been able to connect students to post-college service opportunities, like JVC and others. We are hopeful that students will make the discernment to serve others after graduating from UCSD. Eventually, this will be the norm rather than the exception because students have experienced the joy of serving others and will want to make it a part of their Christian identity.
Men and Women for Others, Everywhere
“Forming men (and women) for others” is a challenge that every Catholic apostolate working with young people must incorporate into the foundation of their mission. We must look to the successes of Jesuit schools to apply what we can to create opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. We must help young people to see beyond their personal needs so that they can recognize the greater need of their neighbors. Most importantly, we have to keep Jesus Christ as the central figure for which we live and work for others. Christ is the head of the Church and a role model of servant leadership. As ministers in the Church, we are witnesses to the empathy, love, and compassion that Jesus has shown in the Gospels for our young people so that they see Jesus in their leaders, in each other, and especially in the marginalized.