One of my favorite sayings is “making a virtue of necessity.” I was not familiar with this expression until fairly recently when I heard someone on a podcast (I think) use it in reference to something President Nixon did during his time in the Oval Office. It basically means that we are in a situation that we can’t avoid so let’s put the best face on it. Well…
Here we are beginning the first ever, and, God willing, the last ever attempt at long-distance learning in the history of Saint Ignatius High School. It will be a mix of – and one can be excused for not knowing the terminology – synchronous and asynchronous learning environments. Another term for synchronous would be “live,” and, as I was taught by Mr. John McManamon, S.J. '69 in our Greek I class, an “a” at the beginning of the word negates it (known as the “alpha privative”), asynchronous would be online and available at a student’s leisure rather than at a particular time.
I’ve also learned what Zoom is and have experienced it firsthand at an online meeting led by Principal Dan Bradesca ’88 and Tech Guru Jon Jarc ’93. Zoom is a provider of online meetings where a teacher can be seen and heard by students on their computers and can interact with the teacher and each other during an online session. This platform (if that’s the correct term – but even if it isn’t I like using words that make me feel like I know what’s going on) is one of several that faculty will be using over the next few weeks as a way to simulate class, but also as a way of staying in touch with students.
More important than advancing the knowledge of math and science and the rest is our concern for each individual student as a person, as a child of God. This focus is an essential aspect of the Ignatian vision of education and goes by the name cura personalis. Easily translated – “care for the person” – but not easily unpacked, this phrase encompasses not only all that an education in a Jesuit school should be but what the Christian life should be. We are all called to care for each other, and to see the face of Jesus in everyone we meet.
One of my favorite works by Pink Floyd is the epic full-side almost-instrumental “Echoes” from the album Meddle. There are few words throughout the 23 and a half minutes of music, but the sparseness of the lines does not detract from the depth of their meaning. Just after the four minute mark the words of Roger Waters remind us of the bond that one person can have with another, no matter who that other is: “Strangers passing in the street/By chance two separate glances meet/And I am you and what I see is me.”
Taken on a purely humanistic level, this is a statement of recognition of the commonality of the human condition: we are all, whether we realize it or understand it, in this together. As followers of Jesus we know that this commonality, seen in the eyes of another – even, and maybe especially, in the eyes of a stranger – is Jesus.
Waters continues with words whose meaning we can appropriate, but can’t really act upon for a few weeks (at least): “And do I take you by the hand/And lead you through the land/And help me understand the best I can?” In these times of social distancing we must reach out to others in ways other than by taking their hand, but that only makes the reaching out more necessary. The works of mercy are never quarantined and technology enables us to reach out to others in ways that previous generations could never have imagined.
So, as we embark on this somewhat frightening new world let us remember to keep our focus on what really matters – loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. To love God above all things is to, in turn, see the face of God in our neighbor and to care for our neighbor as a sister or brother. If we allow Jesus to lead us along the path of cura personalis then we can use these days to truly make a virtue of necessity.