Why Focusing on Social Justice, in All Its Many Forms, Is the Only Way to Ensure a Voice for All

By Carolyn Burstein
June 25, 2015

Catholic Social Teaching, starting with Pope Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Rerum Novarum and continuing through the many papal encyclicals and the teachings of bishops’ conferences throughout the world, to the most recent encyclical last week of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, is the source of my beliefs on social justice. Actually, there is little, if anything, in these writings, that isn’t part of Christ’s own teachings and life example, as the pastor of my parish is fond of saying.

Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) led me to NETWORK

It is love of these teachings that impelled me to join the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) after retiring from work in both the private and public sectors. The IVC is a national organization (with 16 regional groups throughout the country) that partners with various agencies that either serve those who are poor and marginalized, believe strongly that their voice should be heard, or advocates with them, as NETWORK does. As a member of IVC, I have had the opportunity to tutor disadvantaged kids in grades six through eight who were falling behind in their studies; serve homeless people who live on the streets at drop-in day centers; serve in various capacities at actual homeless shelters, and, for the past two years, do research to assist NETWORK’s lobbyists and blog for the NETWORK website.

Unfortunately, my service at NETWORK is ending (this is my last blog), but I will continue to work for greater social justice through IVC at another agency, whose identity I do not know yet. It has been a great privilege to contribute to NETWORK’s important mission of lobbying on issues critical to social justice causes, and to get to know a number of wonderful people who labor in this vineyard of love. There is so much to be done before thevoice of all can be heard in their local communities, in their local governments, in the halls of Congress.

About the IVC

People in IVC must be 50 or older, be available for part-time work (about two days a week), and stimulated to serve those on the margins of society. There is also a strong spiritual component in IVC – more on this below. As a result, IVC has former foreign-service officers, military, laborers, lawyers, contractors, professionals, managers, scientists, housewives, and workers from every walk of life you can imagine. These are the people who volunteer to teach English-as-a-second-language, to tutor kids, to care for abandoned children, to work with those in prison, those who are dying, people who are homeless and very elderly people. They also work with people in hospice, immigrants, refugees, and others, too numerous to mention — as well as advocate with them and anyone whose voice is undeard. Many of our IVC members also provide indirect service to marginalized people by serving in an administrative capacity.

So what is IVC’s spiritual component? Remember that we are the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, so we derive much of our spirituality from Ignatius and the Jesuits, although most of us agree that our spirituality is Christian. It should be pointed out that our membership is primarily Christian because our numbers include a small number of Protestants. We are members of the world church – White, Black, Latino/a, Asian – who believe that the Jesuit charism, especially as it has unfolded since Vatican II, embraces all aspects of social justice that have been emphasized in Catholic Social Teaching.

Among the many spiritual opportunities afforded to IVC members are two retreats and one Day of Recollection annually, a spiritual reflector (director) with whom we can take a more intense spiritual journey (each region has numerous reflectors available for members), if that is desired, and monthly small-group meetings (some regions have as many as four or five) during which we discuss our service ministries, Scripture and a book on contemporary theology, social justice or Ignatian spirituality. Many members have said that the spiritual component of IVC is not only the highlight of their membership, but also prevents “burn-out” from squandering their ministry. And I agree.

I have to admit that among the many issues of social justice, I am especially concerned about the availability of sufficient “affordable housing” for poor individuals and families both in my community as well as nationwide. This interest accounts for my nine years of service at homeless shelters and has impelled my membership in the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

NLIHC is an all-round advocate of housing for the poor and vulnerable members of our communities. It also provides major support for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF), a fund that would largely assist extremely-low-income residents of a locale to afford housing. As of June 23 (yesterday), the Senate Appropriations Committee had left the NHTF intact during its deliberations over the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget, but had gutted other aspects of housing for low-income individuals and families. Sequestration has done further damage. When events like this happen, it merely makes me more determined to convince other members of Congress, through emails or calls, to vote in opposition to damagin.

My Farewell

Enough of my special issue! Your journey will be different than mine. I encourage everyone interested in social justice to determine what impels you to desire justice for others. Once you have chosen your specialty, go for it! Get involved, to the extent possible, and make your mark, whether that be in your neighborhood, your larger community, or the national stage. There can never be too many people who are ardent practitioners of Catholic Social Teachings. As I said in my title, working for social justice is the only way we can ensure that all voices are heard. And thank you for being a reader of my blogs.

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