How to Implement the Spirit of the Gospel of Jesus in Our Work at Fu Jen Catholic University
Daniel J. Bauer SVD
I would like to share some reflections today on a subject that is both interesting and challenging to me. The title of this brief paper only hints at the fullness of this subject. The first part of the title, ¡§Tan ju ho ko i fu yin ching shen lo shih fu ta te pan hsueh li nien¡¨ might be translated as, ¡§Some words on how to implement the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus in our work at Fu Jen.¡¨ The second part of the title seems to point us in a different direction: ¡§I hui ying tang chin tai wan she hui te hsu yao,¡¨ ¡§ How to respond to the needs of Taiwan society today.¡¨
Do the two parts of that title appear to be unrelated? Do they speak to us of two directions, or of two different worlds? I do not think so.
I believe the Gospel of Jesus can relate closely to society in Taiwan today. I think our university cannot be called ¡§Catholic¡¨ unless it involves itself in our local society in many ways. I believe that no university, whether public or private, should live on some solitary island apart from the problems and needs of the society in which it dwells. We can be proud that Fu Jen has a reputation for producing students who do in fact succeed in many careers in Taiwan life. More than that, we can also be proud so many of our students contribute to our local society. We are known as a university that takes special care to develop students who care about the meaning of life, and who honestly believe that a life can be happy and ¡§successful¡¨ only when it serves others, and when it is responsible to the public good.
The first question is, ¡§Just what does ¡¥the spirit of the Gospel of Jesus¡¦ mean for our work on this campus? It of course does not mean that a majority of our faculty, students, or support staff are Catholic, or members of another Christian denomination. The percentage of followers of Jesus in our wider ¡§Fu Jen Family¡¨ is the same as in Taiwan society in general. Thus, followers of Jesus are only a tiny segment of our campus population.
Does this mean that it is impossible to share Gospel values with one another and our students? The answer is, ¡§No.¡¨ I believe we can share Gospel values with each another, and our students, too. In fact, I already see around me many excellent examples of assistants, clerks, secretaries, administrators, and instructors who show very much the same care and spirit of service for others that Jesus himself shows us in his Gospel.
Let me share with you three of the values of Jesus that mean the most to me. Regardless of the type of work we do at Fu Jen, and regardless of our nationality or gender differences, I think each of us agrees with these values, and puts them into practice in our own ways. These values are compassion, the dignity of human life, and the wholeness of the human person. I will also relate these values with the needs of our local society at this time.
The first value of the Gospel is compassion for the suffering. If we want to succeed in our goals of educating students well, we must help them become sensitive to the fact that not everyone in Taiwan or our world is as fortunate as they may be. Our society and world have families and individuals that are forgotten or overlooked in various situations of suffering. Those who are sick or poor in our society, those who are not respected or cared about by the political and economic structures of Taiwan should be a real focus of our concern. At the same time, however, it is obvious we do not need to always look to outside society to find suffering and the lack of compassion around us. Students, workers, teachers and other employees of our university may need a helping hand through times of pain in their personal or professional lives, and it is our task to see their suffering more clearly, and respond to their needs.
I often ask myself what I can do in my courses with students to help them open their eyes to see the pain of other people near them here on campus, in their families, in Taiwan society, and in the greater world outside. The kinds of books and literature I choose to teach, the lessons I research and bring to my students in ethics classes, the materials I choose for composition homework and discussion activities in English classes are all rich opportunities for me to touch compassion emotionally as well as intellectually, and to teach compassion as a way of life for my students. In countless conversations and moments of ¡§counseling¡¨ in my office, or while talking with students and faculty in the corridors, I daily experience chances to care more sensitively for the people around me. Simple human understanding that we call ¡§mercy¡¨ or ¡§compassion¡¨ is as close to us as our hands.
The Dignity of the Human Person
The second Gospel value that I believe Fu Jen University can wisely continue to encourage on campus and in our involvement in local society is the dignity of the human person. This is a value we see Jesus constantly practicing in the Gospels. Time and again we see that this is a holy man who sees others with eyes that are different than the eyes of most people.
For Jesus, every individual person has an innate dignity. Every person has a voice for him, every person a heart that he is able to hear beating. For Jesus, it does not matter how much or how little wealth a person has, or what position he or she enjoys in society, or how many years of education or awards of worldly success they¡¦ve experienced. For Jesus, every person has an undeniable human dignity. A poverty-stricken blind man who begs for his food, a beautiful woman so attractive and restless that she falls in love with too many men too often and thus cheapens her reputation in the view of her friends, a grieving mother weeping over the death of her only child - - each of these persons is different, but is equally important for Jesus Christ.
How do we help our students understand more clearly the meaning of ¡§dignity¡¨ in their lives? How can we encourage them to become people who care about human dignity, and live in ways to promote that value? My answer is that I cannot teach the meaning of dignity until I show by my actions that I see dignity in the people around me.
I once heard a Fu Jen dean remark that our students rarely greet or thank a worker on this campus. Our students, he said, tend to dress well, and come from middle class or even higher class families. Nowadays many of them travel to foreign countries, have money in their pockets, regard themselves as sophisticated. They see workers cutting our grass, or scrubbing our floors, or cleaning our classrooms, and easily think they are better than ¡§them¡¨ because they are university students. This dean said students take it for granted they are superior to our workers, and often superior to others who serve them at Fu Jen. This dean said that such attitudes are wrong at a Catholic university which claims to foster values of the Gospel of Jesus. You may be surprised, but he was not a priest or Sister or Brother.
I agree whole-heartedly with him. Many of our students do not realize the importance of people around them who are not highly placed in society. Some of our students also do not understand what ¡§dignity¡¨ means. They walk by little piles of refuse thrown in our hallways, or leave classrooms in total disarray, as if they are too ¡§dignified¡¨ to consider the feelings of others, and clean up their own messes. These young friends of ours may think their ¡§dignity¡¨ is too high to carry out common tasks.
But ¡§dignity¡¨ is not only an abstract value. Jesus teaches us that dignity is a way of thinking, and an attitude about the worth of other people.
Sometimes we see administrators or teachers berate secretaries or assistants or students in moments of frustration, causing them shame and silent suffering before the gaze of others. They do not always appreciate the dignity of some of our most faithful employees. Or we may see assistants or secretaries forget that students are often only young and foolish, and need a gentle word of loving instruction, instead of a harsh reprimand. A student has his or her dignity, too.
Dignity also includes an appreciation for human needs for privacy. Gossip about the personal lives of students or colleagues or department chairs or deans may sometimes be interesting, but it may also strip good people of the dignity we owe to them. At Fu Jen Catholic University, especially students should never fear what they tell teachers about their health, or family problems, or emotional difficulties will become the common property of other teachers or assistants.
And at times, when administrators are overworked and bear heavy burdens of service, they may forget the dignity of others around them, too. How can they treat others with the dignity they deserve? My answer is, by consulting with the people under them who are affected by important decisions, by seeking out opinions and feelings about issues before making decisions, by allowing people a true voice to determine new policies. Administrators show they respect the dignity of others when they ask wise questions, when they make requests and are willing to compromise, not when they issue orders and demands. These are the examples that our students need to see at Fu Jen if, after graduation, they too are to treat others with true human dignity.
The Wholeness of the Human Person
Some people criticized Jesus in the Gospels because he associated with ordinary people with personal problems, sin, bad reputations, and low social prestige. Some criticized him because they felt he was too independent-minded, or too untraditional. Actually, he was ¡§guilty¡¨of all those ¡§wrongs,¡¨ and he was ¡§guilty¡¨ on purpose, because that is the way he chose to be.
Jesus related to people as whole people. When he spoke with others, he did not only see them as ¡§problems¡¨ to be solved. The suffering he met in the people around him was not the pain of just another ¡§case¡¨ or ¡§situation.¡¨ When Jesus saw people, he saw feelings and hopes, he saw dreams and heartbreak, he saw regrets and joys, he saw failures and successes all as part of every person. To put it in other words, Jesus accepted people as whole people, not as parts.
Government and business, and various large institutions of politics, education, and public health cannot deal with people as whole persons. All they can do is give people a serial number, or a case number, or a membership card, or an appointment on a fast moving clock. Fu Jen Catholic University must do better than that.
If Jesus considered the emotions and hopes of people with care and concern, we should try our best to follow his example. A worker is not only a worker. He is a man with a family and children who need him back at home. A clerk or secretary or assistant is not only a computer specialist or a problem-solver. She is very often a young lady with financial worries, with sisters and brothers who share her salary. She may hope one day to marry and have children of her own. She¡¦s got moods, too. The people who serve us with our most basic needs at Fu Jen all have another side to themselves that we almost never see here at work. They are whole people, and we should not forget that in how we relate with them.
This means we need to be aware of how we treat each other when we ask for over time service, or when we discuss who loses or gains in sharing opportunities.
It is difficult to make time for students with personal problems, difficult to reach out and listen to their worries about their families or their futures. But at a Catholic university, students, too, are whole people. Their youth and their weaknesses do not make them less important, or less whole. They can develop more fully their interests in music, in self-understanding, in a variety of skills, if we show by our examples that we too are whole, that we are happy and healthy people ourselves who enjoy our lives, our families, our personal interests.
I have attempted here to put into words some of the lessons I¡¦ve learned by contemplating the Gospel of Jesus and my life at Fu Jen these past fifteen years. I deeply believe that the values of Jesus can make this world, but also our university and our society a better place. Surely many will regard my message today as impractical or impossibly idealistic. I am not bothered by such reactions. I am a person of hope and of faith. Fu Jen is my home and my life. I am here because I choose to be here. And I am grateful to the administrators, colleagues and staff members who have made my days and years here so happy. But most of all, like each of you, I am grateful to our students. They are the reason for Fu Jen¡¦s very existence. By teaching them lessons of compassion, of the dignity of all people, and of the joy of being whole persons, we share a very special mission. I feel really good about that!