Did you ever play this game? When I was in college we used to play it in class sometimes (sorry, Fr. Freeman S.J. and Rabbi Mandel). Back then we played it as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” because he acted in so many films—the idea was that you can link any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon within six steps. If you could stump someone then you won the round, and if you could prove a closer relationship you also won the round. The one I would get people on was Steve Martin. Kevin Bacon makes a quick cameo running to a cab in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Almost everyone forgets he is in the movie; so I could always stump my opponents with that pairing.
I had a famous neighbor, who has since moved. If you’ve watched Seinfeld, Mr. Klein called him my “Keith Hernandez.” After he moved I really thought about how close I was to so many famous people because of our acquaintance; which made me think how close we all are to one another. Because of his job, he met a variety of famous people and I am only one step away from all those individuals. It is a funny feeling to realize how close we all are in reality. I’m only one or two steps away from presidents, titans of industry, poor children, and people who are dying of cancer on a cancer ward.
In my teaching career, I have taught and coached more than 3,000 people. Every one of them knew someone who knew someone that brought me closer to likely more than a million possible contacts. (I never took a statistics class, so you may have to check my math.)
Think about the vastness of personalities and types of people I could conceivably come into contact with. It is mind boggling.
Jesuits teach us “to find God in all things.” I like to take out “things,” which may be a bit arrogant on my part. I’ve been in Jesuit schools for 31 years and that phrase has been there the entire time. I’ve spent more than two-thirds of my life with many Jesuits, and I’ve seen them try to find God in all things: from watching The Matrix: Reloaded to enjoying a homemade cherry pie to sitting in silent prayer to crafting a good lecture, the Jesuits I’ve known try to find God in all.
As a teacher in a Jesuit School, it is my job to educate my students in this way; all teachers in Jesuit schools are called to teach in this way. When Ignatius founded the Jesuits, he based their structure on his military experiences because that’s what he knew—but how quickly the militant side of his Catholicism fell away from the order as his companions spread across the globe to experience new cultures and convince people to become Catholic. Ignatius saw Catholicism with a small “c” meaning “universal,” “for all,” regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual preference; much like Jesus intended.
Jesus spoke to every sort of undesirable in his day from lepers, to whores, to the poor and infirmed, to tax collectors, to the rich, to the farmers, to the fishermen, to the demon possessed, and even to women. Women were second class citizens in Jesus’ day; however, they were the only group that literally followed Him to his execution; none of the selected men went, because they felt fear.
On the cross, Jesus pardoned everyone of their sins, “Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do.” The Roman military, on the command of the Roman Governor, influenced by the conservative Pharisees and Sadducees, killed a man who taught inclusion and acceptance, and that man’s dying prayer was to forgive them. If the “liberal agenda” is about love in the form of acceptance and understanding, then it would seem that Jesus was a “liberal.”
Catholicism isn’t an exclusive club, it says so in the name. It is for everyone.
Fr. De Smet knew this when he went to the Native Americans and met them where they were in their beliefs and showed them that they could hold on to their traditions and accept Jesus into their hearts. They were undesirables, and De Smet saw that they were already catholic and spoke up for their rights as humans and not the savages that the “white man” said they were.
If every one of my Jesuit educated students comes away believing that the world is a good place, that God is present in all, including themselves, and God is all around them, and everything He made is “good,” then they are truly educated by the Jesuits.
We are only a few degrees from everyone on the planet, and we need to understand that we are all loved by God.
(This essay is purely my own and does not in any way reflect a stance of De Smet Jesuit High School; however, it is a reflection of Jesuit education across three decades of my experience.)