These are tough times. Still, over the course of my first year serving in the Office of Mission and Ministry, I have been struck by how important Georgetown University can be during this period of political strife in our country.
As Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the last living leaders of the 1963 March on Washington, said in our Dahlgren Chapel on Nov. 13, “What is at stake is the very soul of our nation, the soul of what it means to be an American.”
Or as one of my Jesuit brothers pondered out loud at dinner: “When have we last seen such mean-spiritedness, such a quest to humiliate each other in our public life as a nation?”
Whether it is the increase of tawdry Twitter posts, the sexual misconduct allegations from Hollywood to Capitol Hill or the defense by so-called Christians of Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexually assaulting minors, there is no doubt that meanness and humiliation have infected our nation’s soul.
Georgetown, rooted in Christian faith and founded on a Jesuit vision of inclusiveness, dialogue and service to the common good, can offer a moral compass for our intellectual and political engagement.
It does so in an important way — by fostering the virtue of humility.
The 2,000-year history of Christianity has, admittedly, had moments when it has acted in contradiction to the gospel of Jesus.
The violence of the Crusades; the terrible internal ruptures that left a deep wound in the separation of Christians into Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant; the collusion of some church leaders in the persecution of Jews — these are just some of the sordid highlights of a Christian community that has historically lost its way.
These failures exist even in our own community: Georgetown knows too well how slavery is written into its own wretched pages.
But there has always been a renewal from within — a soul-searching — that comes from people who engage the world with humility and remind us to return to its founder as its moral compass.
Whether St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola in our distant past, St. Teresa of Calcutta and Pope St. John Paul II in the 20th century or Pope Francis today, the Catholic community is rich in leadership that calls us back to an honorable service of the common good.
These individuals’ lives pique our conscience and remind us of who we all are — made in the image and likeness of God.
Our culture clings to power and vanity as signs of strength, forgetting the quiet, more powerful strength in humility before others. Through humility, we are reminded that we are not here to change or convert one another. For the Christian, that is the work of faith, as faith is a gift from God and is never expressed truly through power or superiority.
A humble encounter, like real dialogue, means valuing one another without giving up one’s own truth or one’s personal conscience.
Catholicism affirms that in the depths of one’s conscience, there is a law that does not impose itself upon us, but rather holds us to a deeper obedience. Always summoning us to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience speaks to the heart: Do this; shun that.
Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of every human person. It is — as the well-known and influential Cardinal John Henry Newman argued — a light, an aspiration toward the good, a call to live the truth of human dignity, even when it contradicts the appropriate or normal.
This light, this truth, can only manifest in a humble heart: Only in humility can we recognize it in ourselves and admire it in others.
Conscience is the voice that has urged so many people to stand out against oppression and violence — to declare a road to freedom.
As a Jesuit university, we claim to offer a pedagogy of personhood, in which humility is a sign of authentic leadership. Hoyas must be the conscience of our time and the humble leaders in the days, months and years ahead.
Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., is the vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown University. As This Jesuit Sees It appears online every other Thursday.