Remember when, about four years ago, conservative Glenn Beck equated social justice with Communism, advising Christians to leave their churches if they ever heard the words uttered there? “If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop.” Yet, the Church has had a body of teaching on social justice for almost 125 years. Evidently pundit Beck didn’t get that memo.
People tire of hearing the words “social justice,” especially in connection with faith. Often they confuse it with social activism–protests, drives, or letter-writing campaigns. They’re afraid that if they don’t do this, they’re not real Christians. Others hear the call to justice as a threat to their cherished beliefs or lifestyle: They claim that the bishops shouldn’t “play politics” or breach the wall of separation between Church and state. They may not realize, though, that every social issue is, at its base, a moral issue. So the bishops have not only the right, but the duty, to speak out in faith on immigration, euthanasia, or the host of other issues facing us daily.
We have the corresponding responsibility to become familiar with them, prayerfully reflect on their implications, and act accordingly. Citing a 1984 instruction by Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis writes: “…none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: ‘Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone’” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 201).
Sr. Margaret C. Kerry, FSP, wanted to reach out to the poor with the Gospel as her eight-month practicum toward a master’s degree in pastoral ministry. Taking her cue from our founder, Blessed James Alberione, who urged us to really know the people we evangelize, and suspecting that maybe she (and we) might not, she volunteered at Boston’s Horizons for Homeless Children. Interacting with the kids and their mothers changed her pre-conceived ideas, teaching her how to reach them with Gospel values through the Pauline mission, within the context of early childhood learning.
Even though the ambient of a government subsidized program precluded any direct sharing of the Gospel message, she laid the foundation for eventually giving them that gift she had received. She read to them, began a newsletter and reading project for families, and organized a table for books on loan. This experience has enriched her other ministries, especially catechetical workshops and the training she provides for Pauline Cooperators. (These are laity who evangelize within various social strata.) Her enthusiasm is catchy. She shared many of her experiences with us in community and is exploring ways to do that in more structured settings.
Sr. Margaret’s required practicum has ended, but her relationship with the program hasn’t. Recognizing the role that spirituality plays in fostering family stability, the director now wants to gently incorporate spirituality to reinforce the mothers’ existing support system, which often includes church. She hopes to work with Sr. Margaret to offer donor-sponsored Pauline activities.
You might not be able to “fix” a social or cultural situation, any more than Sr. Margaret can “fix” homelessness. Can you do something, though, to bring the Gospel into it? Here’s a “recipe” to try:
- Fire your imagination. What social situation consistently tugs at you? In one or two sentences describe what change would look like. Then jot down ideas–even “crazy” ones–that could effect that change.
- Let it simmer. Setting it aside awhile, learn what you can. Pray to move from resisting God’s initiative to acceptance, then pray to find the way to follow his lead.
- Add advice. Talk with someone who knows your inner workings and is wise in God’s ways. Take that feedback to prayer.
- Skim off the excess. Now jot down objections to your ideas and, as dispassionately as possible, eliminate what may not work. Map out a tentative plan.
- Serve with love. Take the first step, then go from there.
Dare to do faith justice in untried ways!
Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP