By Cassie Clemente, Chief of Staff and Director of Advancement at Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Cassie is also a Former Jesuit Volunteer (Milwaukee, 2006).
Saturday evening, I arrived at my sixth Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice (IFTJ). The first was in 2006 in Fort Benning, GA as a Jesuit Volunteer, when I had almost no idea what was going on. Back then I had never heard of the School of the Americas. I didn’t know about the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador. And although I had grown up in Washington, DC I had never advocated for anything. Even so, it was in Georgia where we walked the streets and to the gates of the School of the Americas and proclaimed “Presente!”
For the past five years I have listened to student speakers, Jesuits, met friends both new and old and shared the story of JVC. Through moments of prayer, laughter, tears, and an exchange of t-shirts. Yet I have always felt a bit like an outsider. Like I wasn’t radical enough, or political enough, or educated enough to show up at the Teach-in and to truly belong. I didn’t know all the songs, I didn’t know all the issues or the lingo.
This year, however; the gathering at the IFTJ felt more like home than I could have ever imagined. All week in talking with teammates and friends, near and far, I came to see the full abundance of my community, of the luxury of my life. In many ways, the IFTJ felt like the upper room where the apostles sat after the crucifixion. They didn’t know where to go or what to do, but they knew how to be together. To be presente.
In moments of fear or confusion, JVC offers me and so many others, community, connection and someone to sit with. A way to no longer feel like an outsider. Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ affirmed us all in saying that at IFTJ and in JVC we live in a “community that God would recognize.” Yes, we do. And we, just like the apostles have to leave that upper room. We are called to live in a world longing for love. A world that is crying out for boundless compassion, for tender mercy and for the flourishing of community.
I know I needed the weekend in my own upper room to fill my well. To feel awe wash over me again and again, to pray, to cry, to hug, and to laugh. And today, today I enter back into a world where luxury is king, where individual success or attainment of goods powers over community and shared resources. And I do so in a position of great power, privilege, and possibility to share a different story, to build a different definition.
I offer myself and my life as one of radical abundance, where everything is shared amongst us – pain, joy, resources, love – and in the sharing the love multiplies and the pain is soothed.
Today I pray for the strength and courage to continue to be presente! To show up, to stand where Jesus stands, and to be part of a community that God would recognize. Abundantly and luxuriously.
Thank you Ignatian family for this gift.