With these weighty words, we lit our candles and were welcomed in as members of the Fordham University family. Four years later, we would sit on the same quad, surrounded by the same people and be challenged with the same words. This time, however, wearing silly hats and long robes, these words meant much more. It is easy to talk about doing good, to learn strategies for cultural sensitivity, and to debate how to work towards social justice. But actually sitting there, actually being sent out to set the world on fire, I could not help but think “Oh Crap.”
Truth is that I have few better examples than St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, as I head out on Mission (Fordham is one of the 28 Jesuit universities in the USA). St. Ignatius developed a revolutionary way of teaching: teach everyone, regardless of whether or not they can pay. Teach them philosophy, theology, literature, science, culture. And make sure that no matter what you teach them, you teach them to use it for the good of the world around them. After he had trained his colleagues who would spread his way of living the Gospel around the world, he sent them off with the call to “Set the World on Fire!” Their message spread around the world and lives on to this day.
Sitting here on the patio behind my house on a cool summer day less than a week before my departure, I cannot help but imagine what it was like for these men: leave behind everything you have ever known to head off into the unknown, unsure of whether you will ever come home again. In comparison, my journey is easy. I can Skype with my parents, e-mail with my friends, and know that there are daily direct flights JFKà Port-au-Prince.
Still, people often ask me “how do you get ready to leave for a year?” The short answer is that you spend a lot of time on hold: with the phone company, the insurance company, the credit card company. You buy a year’s supply of bug spray and sunscreen. You have your hair cut, your teeth cleaned, your wisdom teeth removed. You load your Kindle with books, go to the pharmacy at least 9 times, clean your room. And then you breath. You take the long way home and drive through the fields around your town at sunset, breathing in the brilliant scent of growing corn. You eat incredibly well because your Mom wants to make sure you get your fill of all of your favorites for a year. Friends call, come to visit, write your lovely cards to send you on your way.
You take the time to realize that you are not being sent on mission as an individual. You are going out as a member of a community, a brilliant community that has raised you, nurtured you, and allowed you to come into who you are. And in this way, I feel an enormous kinship with the Ignatius’ fire-setters. They were sent as representatives of their community to spread good news, to work for systemic change towards equality and education based solutions towards poverty. They were sent out as representatives of communities that they believed in, to do work that they believed in. They too were unsure of where they were going or how they would be transformed. And yet they went and here I am writing about them hundreds of years later.