Our Worst-Kept Secret: Finding God in All Things

By Jeremy Dunford
On Matriculation Day each August, a palpable buzz seeps through the air on campus as students first lay eyes on their academic schedules for the upcoming semesters. The urgency with which they pester their friends is truly remarkable: “When are you scheduled for history?” “Who is your math teacher?” They may not realize it explicitly in the chaos of that moment, but as Jesuit students, what they are really asking each other is, “When are you scheduled to find God?” and “Who is going to show you where to find Him?”

Finding God in all things is a hallmark of Jesuit theology and pedagogy. St. Ignatius believed that if we really paid attention, we could learn to revere God not only in the chapel but also through the seemingly mundane. At Strake Jesuit, we believe this to be the telos of education. Sure, it would be awesome if our students graduate knowing how to find the zeroes in a quadratic equation and which part of the brain is responsible for auditory processing, but if they have not encountered God during their time with us, we have failed.

We would be naïve to think that every student will have a powerful conversion experience during their four years with us, but that’s where our distinctly Ignatian approach can act as our Trojan Horse. God is not relegated to theology class, retreats, and Mass. In his English classes, Mr. Matt Kubus introduces texts that portray characters wrestling with ethical dilemmas that speak to the moral state of the modern teen. If students can learn to see the movement of the Spirit in Dostoevsky’s “soulless, axe murdering Nietzschean superhero” in Crime and Punishment (Kubus’s words), it is hard to imagine a place where God cannot be found.

More subtly, Mrs. Cheri Armstrong observes that her math classroom “is a place where mistakes are encouraged, because we retain more when we have to struggle, and where mutual respect is require. By showing my students grace and respect and asking them to do the same, we’re modeling the greatest commandment.” I’m not sure whether John the Baptist had geometry errors in mind when he preached his message of repentance on the banks of the Jordan, but when students are led to encounter the humility of forgiveness and fortified by the soul-building battle to understand a difficult formula, I can confidently say that even math teachers are doing the Lord’s work.

Strake Jesuit so values this practice of finding God in unexpected places that senior-level theology classes tend to deviate from the more direct education offered in core Theology 1, 2, and 3. While these classes are necessary to help students build their theological arsenals, Mr. Chris Siemann says that “it would be foolish to not give our students practice using the proverbial ‘sword and shield of Christ’ before they leave our campus. Our Theology electives all give our students an outlet to practice applying all of their previous teaching to a topic or medium that they will encounter outside of Strake Jesuit’s campus.” More than 15 years ago, Mr. Tommy Romano was one of the first to put this tenet of Ignatian education into practice, leading students to find the Christian God through the world of hobbits, elves, and orcs in his Catholic Worldview of J.R.R. Tolkien course. Building off Romano’s success, Siemann’s more recently developed Religious Themes in Fiction course encourages students to take varying works of fiction, some made with God in mind and some not, and “try to find the golden thread of God’s truth woven within and throughout the story.” Because the innate desire for God is written in the human heart, we possess the lens to see God not only in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, but also the movie Interstellar and the graphic novel Creature Tech.

A few years ago, Mr. Carlos Barboza redesigned his Business and Faith in the 21st Century course to include a classroom economy, so that students could see the implications of certain policies and practices. “If business has no impact on faith, then the Letter of James led us wrong when it instructed us to live our faith by our works. Doing good to our neighbor is possible when we can provide them a good or service that improves their life,” Barboza says. One of the most popular aspects of the course is when Catholic business owners visit the class to share their experiences of integrating faith into their professional lives. The reality is that most Strake Jesuit students will not pursue degrees or careers in theology, but many will rise to influential positions in the business world. Barboza wants students to recognize the social impact of leading a business according to Christian ethics. “Our goal as Christians is to make sure that the forces of supply and demand are guided by God’s will.”

Barboza notes that this is perhaps the biggest difference between Theology and other academic disciplines— science, for example, may not have much to say about poetry, given that each area is limited to its own respective processes of truth-seeking. But Theology, “deriving its content from the source of all Truth, God, can accurately guide moral decisions in science and economics as well as lead to deeper truths in the humanities.” Siemann agrees, as the goal of studying fiction “is not about escaping from reality, but rather escaping deeper into reality by digging deep enough into the stories we encounter that we find God waiting there for us.”

Finding God in all things could be considered the theological preface to the motto of the Jesuits, Ad Majorum Dei Gloriam, for it is only when students can see God in all things that they can glorify Him at all times. You see, at Strake Jesuit, it is no secret that every class teaches the same thing—critical thinking, creativity, intellectual honesty, courage, diligence—it just looks like History in 4208 and Chemistry in 3106 and Football in Clay Stadium. As Mr. Kubus says, “God has so much to show these boys. He needs a team of people to work through in order to reach each and every one.” Though richly diverse in content and approach, we at Strake Jesuit are united by the common goal of helping our students cultivate virtue and pursue He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.