This past weekend I attended my fourth Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ) in Washington, D.C. The IFTJ is a gathering of students, campus ministers, Jesuit Volunteers, parishioners, and other people connected to Jesuit institutions across the country. It is a time of learning, praying, and advocating for social justice. The IFTJ is always one of the highlights of my fall semester, and this one was no exception. Speakers like Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., Sr. Norma Pimentel, M.J., and Lisa Sharon Harper inspired me to speak truth to power. In breakout sessions on everything from questioning the morality of Just War Theory to examining how to write about politics and faith in a polarized world, I learned how some people are applying Catholic social teaching and Jesuit ideals in challenging times. After spending the weekend with nearly 2,000 people who care deeply about “a faith that does justice,” my hope was renewed after a week where I wasn’t able to find much hope.
I went to sleep the night of November 8 after crying a bit and getting angry with God. It’s been a long time since I last yelled at God in prayer, but that felt like the only way to express what I was experiencing. As I tried to get some sleep in the early hours of Wednesday morning, my roommates were still watching CNN, still hoping that something would miraculously change and that the nightmare of a Trump presidency would disappear. I prayed fervently and angrily, begging God to stop the madness.
I woke up the morning of November 9 weighed down by a particularly substantial sort of anxiety that I had never felt before. I wondered what a Christian was supposed to do next. Catholic social teaching professes a particular love for the poor and the oppressed. Jesus’ companions included prostitutes and tax collectors. What is a Christian to do in the face of a president-elect who has insulted and threatened nearly every minority group? As followers of the man who said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, how are we to react to a man who has promised misery and hardship for the poor in our midst? (Mt 5:3).
At the IFTJ, one of the breakout sessions I attended was a panel of America Media editors entitled “Optimism and Charity in Polarized Politics,” which addressed how to write about the political climate today in the spirit of the Gospel. One of the panelists said something that has stayed with me: “Hope runs deeper than optimism; it doesn’t rely on things going well.” Though for many people in our country, things are not going well, we can still have hope. Not a passive hoping and wishing for things to get better; a dynamic hope which leads to action.
If you are upset, horrified, or otherwise disappointed about the results of the election, I urge you to work and pray. Work for justice: call or write to your representatives in Congress to express your opinions, meet with a staffer to make your voice heard, and immerse yourself in a campaign which advocates for issues you care about. Pray for peace: in our hearts, in our country, and in our world.
As of late I have been praying for peace and for the strength to remember that Christians are called to love our enemies. Jesus’ radical call to love means loving even those who hurt us or people we love, those who we see as fundamentally different from us, and those who we do not understand. Dorothy Day says that “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” By that standard, I may not really love God at all. What does it mean to love a Trump supporter, or Donald Trump himself? I think that I share the sentiments of many Christians when I say that I am struggling to discern how to love Donald Trump.
Work and pray, my friends. Work and pray.