We at HANNON LAW GROUP have seen many messages after the breach of the Capitol. We commend to you the following message from Rev. Stephen W. Planning, SJ,
President of Gonzaga College High School, the alma mater of our founding partner, J. Michael Hannon:
"The events that unfolded yesterday at the Capitol building, only blocks from our beloved Gonzaga, have left us all deeply shaken. While our school was never impacted directly, it was profoundly disturbing to see some of our fellow citizens behave in a way so deeply contrary to the values of our country. This assault on the democratic ideals of our nation, ideals held by the vast majority of all Americans of all political parties, should be condemned and rejected by all Americans of good will. While I hope that most Americans found the actions of yesterday abhorrent, I also believe this should be a wake-up call for us all to ask ourselves how we might contribute to changing the toxic environment in our country today. While I cannot always change my neighbor, I can change myself. The damage done to our nation yesterday will take generations to repair if we are not able to change our hearts and minds.
In recent years, the temptation towards fundamentalism has been growing on all sides of the political divide in our country. However, what is fundamentalism? Fundamentalism, at its core, is the idea held by an individual or a group of people that their beliefs are comprised only of absolute truths at all levels and that everyone else is hopelessly wrong. Fundamentalism can be both liberal and conservative, Christian, Muslim or Jewish, male or female.
Whether liberal or conservative, many people are becoming so convinced that their way is the only way that dialogue is not only difficult, it is no longer even desired. While there are multiple reasons why this is problematic, the fact is that a democracy cannot exist in such a context. Democracy requires as a prerequisite for governance the willingness of disparate groups to come together in dialogue, not with the goal of defending one side or another at all cost, but rather to find the best middle ground to serve the group as a whole. If we cannot find a way back to this kind of civility in society, we face a real existential threat to our way of governance as a nation. We cannot allow this to happen. What can we do?
I can only offer a suggestion from what I know best: the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola. St. Ignatius lived during the Protestant Reformation. It was a time of clashing worldviews not unlike our own. St. Ignatius offered sage advice to his brother Jesuits when engaging the world. Ignatius suggested that we always try to put the most positive interpretation on the views of a person who thinks differently from us.
This does not mean that we have to agree with every person or abandon our own beliefs, and it certainly does not mean that we should fail to condemn thinking or actions that are immoral or dangerous. But when we encounter a person who thinks differently from us, St. Ignatius would encourage us to choose to believe that a person who, on the surface seems so different from me, usually desires many of the same things that I do. Proceeding in this way is often exceptionally difficult; but it is only from this basic stance that dialogue and the search for a common way forward can begin.
In the time of Jesus, tax collectors were considered villains and traitors to the Jewish nation. They were reviled and hated. Yet Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his twelve closest companions. That must have been galling to the other eleven. However, Jesus saw something different in Matthew. Because of his willingness to give Matthew a chance, we now have the Gospel of Matthew which reveals to us the loving heart of Christ from the perspective of...well…a tax collector! Because with God, all things are possible when we approach another with love.
The Society of Jesus is often criticized by those who do not understand us as being “too liberal” or “not Catholic enough.” The reality is that Jesuits span the political spectrum just as much as anybody else. However, Jesuits of all stripes strive to be more willing to engage openly in dialogue and to allow for the free exchange of different perspectives in a fair and balanced way. Because of our willingness to do this, Gonzaga and other Jesuit schools have produced just as many accomplished liberal politicians as they have conservative politicians, many of whom usually look back on their Jesuit education with affection. This is because Jesuits believe that the truth is discovered less by winning an argument, than it is by carefully discerning together from all opinions. As one alumnus put it to me, “You Jesuits are more interested in teaching people how to think, than what to think.” While I agreed with him, the only thing that I would add is that we do this within the context of the values handed on to us by Christ and the Church.
Because of this, you have my assurance that, in these challenging times, the faculty and staff of Eye Street will continue to do everything we can to train young men who are able to openly and critically engage the world around them using the ideals of Christ as their guide. We do not hope that they will all turn out the same, because while the Body of Christ is one, it has many diverse members. Rather, our hope is that we will produce men who are willing to search together rather than to impose, to respect rather than to vilify, and, above all things, to engage the world with love for the betterment of all. May God bless you abundantly in the coming year."
Rev. Stephen W. Planning, SJ