by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation, why did you choose the Jesuits?
David: I met the Jesuits while studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England. A friend invited me to a dinner with the Catholic community. Wanting a free meal, I went. Fr. Simon Bishop, S.J, sat next to me at that dinner, and I felt from him a genuine sense of love and joy. Later, I thought about why this priest was so happy and yet I was so unfulfilled. I sent him an email to talk, and he soon became my spiritual director. He introduced me to Ignatian forms of prayer such as the examen and imaginative prayer. I started to develop an authentic and committed relationship with Jesus, and this closeness with Jesus led me to discern a vocation with the Jesuits. I entered right after graduating college with a double major in religion and Spanish from Wake Forest in North Carolina.
Gordon: When you were a staff writer at the Wake Forest News, what was you most challenging article that you wrote and why?
David: During my sophomore year (2011-12) with the Wake Forest student newspaper The Old Gold and Black, I wrote an article about an uptick in drug use on campus. You can find the article here. It is lamentable that many of my peers were and are abusing drugs, especially prescription drugs. We see the same problem today with the opioid crisis. While at Wake, I served as a resident advisor, and I had to respond to several drug-related crises. While in Chicago, I’ve responded to hospital calls related to drugs, too. Those situations were never easy to address.
David: I keep a copy of The Flies on my bookshelf. A philosophy professor at Wake, Dr. Charles Lewis, introduced me to the play. Though there are several points on which Sartre and I disagree, especially in light of his obviously negative treatment of God, I see in Sartre some wonderful themes that can and should speak to the 20th and 21st century audience. Sartre powerfully captures the importance of free will. Today, fatalism, determinism, and materialism challenge the idea of the free will, but Sartre radically doubles down on the reality and significance of freedom. As the essay you mention claims, the true human ex-ists (hence existentialism) in the sense of standing out or being outstanding. We might go through life without ever having made a choice. Time flows, and we can become slaves to routine and custom. Sartre and the Church (I think of Erasmus here) position themselves around the great responsibility we have to actually reflect and make choices to stand out from the hum-drum of fatalism.
Gordon: It is somewhat unusual for a Sartre scholar to also have am interest in the musical hits from the 80s, 90s, and currently. You are a fan of Drake? What do you enjoy most about his work?
David: Drake caught my attention while I was working as a Jesuit novice at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Twin Cities. It seemed like half of the girls had cut out pictures of Drake’s face and pasted them around circles of hearts in their notebooks. I thought, “These girls love Drake. If I want to meet them where they are, then it looks like I’m starting with Drake.” From that moment, I’ve listened to his music. “God’s Plan” is a particularly fascinating piece. I mention in my article on the Jesuit Post that he promotes abandonment to divine providence, good old fashioned almsgiving, and honor of one’s mother. These three ideas are part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and I’m not too surprised to find them in the son of a Jew and a Catholic.
Gordon: Why do you believe that that inter religious dialogue is important?
David: Interreligious dialogue has been important in my life in two ways. The first is that dialogue with people of other religions and with other holy texts has led me to grow in admiration for the way that God operates in all cultures. I remember my first semester at Wake when I was in a survey course on Asian religions. I absolutely fell in love with the study of world religions. In cracking open a text, I felt that I was absorbing the wisdom of all places and all ages. Of course, in doing so, I was led to seek more knowledge about my religion, Catholicism. God planted the seed to my vocation in the study of other religions. Second, interreligious dialogue is important because we can cooperate with people of other faiths on shared points concerning social justice and morality. The Second Vatican Council counsels us to work together with people of other faiths to the degree that it does not compromise our own principles. I steadfastly believe in that teaching. Where we can seek and find common ground, we should.
Gordon: The Catholic Church has lost many young people over the fast few decades, What in your opinion could parishes do to interest more young people returning to their faith?
David: Pray and invite. Researchers have noted that most young adults drift away from the faith slowly. If they only received more invitations or more encouragement, then they would not drift away. Get young people involved in the parish. Give them positions, even the very young. Make them feel that they are a significant part of the community because they are a significant part of the community. Young people will rise to the call of responsibility if we give them a chance to serve and to lead. It is true that others break more decisively from the Church. In these cases, we have to pray, be patient, engage in respectful dialogue, and hope that God will touch them in a way that will bring them back to their spiritual home.
Gordon: How can parishes use social media more effectively to reach young people?
David: I would recommend apps to young people. Connect them to Pray As You Go, an Ignatian prayer application for smart phones and computers. Give them a little Word on Fire by Bishop Robert Barron. Show them The Jesuit Post. There are tech-savvy Catholic resources out there. Additionally, I would recommend being a kind, loving, and knowledgeable presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A little post here or there from a family member or friend can change everything. When evangelization is done online in a respectful, dignified, and generous way, it can be successful.
Gordon: What in your option can parishes do to encourage more vocations?
David: As with evangelization, I would recommend prayer and invitation. I think my vocation rests on the shoulders of numerous parishioners at Our Mother of Good Council in Homer Glen, IL, who have prayed for me. They are my heroes. Continue to pray. Also continue to invite young men and women to religious life and the priesthood. If you see a spark, then say something. I hope for a world in which every young person seriously thinks about religious life or the priesthood as a very really option. We live—or at least we try to live—a beautiful and holy life. We have fun, have friends, and serve God 24/7. We must also speak of lay vocations, as each lay person has a calling to holiness, too, as Our Pope has reiterated recently. It would be a good practice to have discernment groups among young people in parishes. Whether there is a call to married life, single life, or consecrated life, it is important to give young people a prayerful space to discern. God is calling. Do we have the tools to listen?
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.