That powerful force, that supple grace of Pentecost wind continues to blow today. The proposed federal legislation I described last week is surely a movement towards justice, designed to help children in poverty, and those left unemployed by the lockdown. So too are efforts at racial justice, reforming the police, using alternate energy sources.
Another event last week speaks of a painful honesty and acceptance. I know nothing more about it than what I read in the newspaper, which reported that Kevin O’Brien, SJ resigned as president of Santa Clara University. While the murkiness surrounding allegations against him lacked transparency and confused many, his response is admirable.
The press picked up on the theme of “how are the mighty fallen.” Four months ago, Fr. O’Brien was presiding at Biden’s inauguration Mass. Apparently the accusations came from Jesuit graduate students–he’d had joking conversations with them over alcohol that were “inconsistent with Jesuit protocols and boundaries.” Aside from the dinner conversations, no inappropriate behavior. The provincial offered him a leave of absence when he could get outpatient treatment for alcohol use and stress management, but he didn’t want to leave the university without leadership for several months. So he resigned.
Many of us who’ve enjoyed cocktail hours and dinners with Jesuits squirmed uncomfortably. How much of our banter which seemed so innocent violated those protocols? (Don’t even know what they are…) At first I wanted to find a villain, but now I suspect it’s better to focus on the hero. To fail publicly is hard on the Irish; to admit the need for alcohol treatment even worse. Yet O’Brien did both, with courage and grace, in the glaring spotlight. He countered the joking Jesuit motto, “often wrong but never in doubt.”
In a competitive setting where few want to make mistakes, his letter to the university community upheld a fine model: “no matter the success or positions you achieve in life, it is okay to ask for help when you need it, and to allow others to care for you.” His board, faculty and students all spoke highly of him; now he must follow the hard road of apparent failure which for many can hold surprising insights. Maybe there’s more to the story; maybe the full picture won’t emerge for years.
But we can celebrate Pentecost by appreciating the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in our lives, “filling the entire house.” The processes of ordinary living are so fragile, so immensely significant, so fraught with terror, that we desperately need someone beyond ourselves. We all need the warmth and power of the Spirit to help with whatever we undertake.
Dear Kathy, you write so clearly, so well. I found much compassion threading through your comments about Kevin O’Brien. be well, Joyce