Category Archives: Spirit Filled Network

Chanukah, a Celebration of Light, Chutzpah, and Miracles

Chanukah, a Celebration of Light, Chutzpah, and Miracles

Meg Olson
December 16, 2020

December 10 marked the first night of Chanukah, the 8-day Festival of Lights when Jewish people celebrate and commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC. Greek-Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes had abolished Judaism and desecrated the first Temple by renaming it for the Greek god Zeus. In response to this oppression, Judah and the Maccabees rose up and defeated the Syrian army, which restored not only the practice of Judaism, but also the Jewish people’s political autonomy and self-determination.

When the Maccabees entered the Temple to restore and purify it, their first task was to relight the ner tamid, the light that hangs in every synagogue to symbolize God’s omnipresence. However, they only had one jar of oil, which would only be enough for one day’s worth of light. Knowing that it would take eight days to obtain more oil, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid anyway, and it miraculously lasted for eight days.

Rabbi Susan Talve, the founding rabbi of Central Reformed Congregation in St. Louis, MO, has said that the real miracle of Chanukah isn’t that the one jar of oil lasted for eight days, but it was that the Jews had the chutzpah to light the ner temid at all, knowing that they didn’t have enough oil.

What I love about Rabbi Talve’s interpretation of the Chanukah story is that it emphasizes the miracle of people, rooted in faith, who took things into their own hands. Chutzpah is a wonderful Yiddish word that means “audacity.” When I think about the 2020 Election and NETWORK’s role in it, I think, “Wow, that took a lot of chutzpah!” Our staff and board had a lot of chutzpah to declare that Catholics can’t vote for Trump. It took quite a bit of chutzpah for us to hit the virtual highway with a month-long Nuns on the Bus tour. Our members and supporters had the chutzpah to share our Equally Sacred Scorecard with their bishops, pastors, and friends and to declare, “Yes, Catholics are multi-issue voters!” Beyond NETWORK’s own efforts, I’m grateful for the activists, poll workers, and election auditors’ chutzpah to ensure that our nation had a safe and fair election. Isn’t it a miracle that in a pandemic we had a record-turnout of voters? Isn’t it a miracle that we saved our democracy?

Now, as we wait for the inauguration of the Biden-Harris administration, we must refocus our efforts on ensuring that Congress passes a COVID relief bill that truly provides care for those who need it most. So much of our nation is hurting and broken right now. Those who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic are standing in line for hours for food donations and are on the brink of eviction. A COVID relief package must include cash assistance and paid sick days and medical leave if it is truly going to make a difference for individuals and families in crisis, especially for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities.

And so, in this time where we are mourning the deaths of nearly 300,000 Americans, working on the Georgia Senate Run-off, still seeing the Trump administration attempt to undo the Election, and figuring out how to celebrate the holidays safely with our loved ones, we must also have the chutzpah to tell our legislators, “No, the current bills are not enough. We need more!”

I know we can do it. To quote Peter Yarrow’s beautiful Chanukah song, “Light One Candle,”

We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

We can be the miracle, the light in the darkness.

Cultivating Community on the 2020 Virtual Nuns on the Bus Tour

Cultivating Community on the Virtual Nuns on the Bus Tour

Meg Olson
December 4, 2020

Back in April, when it became clear that we were going to be in this pandemic for the long haul and weren’t going to have a cross-country Nuns on the Bus tour, I have to admit: I was filled with sadness and despair. How was NETWORK going to be able to make a difference in the most important election of my lifetime? How were we going to cultivate the community that we experience on the Bus? Soon though, thanks to my team’s creativity, our members’ and supporters’ willingness to embrace Zoom and other technology to meet with their Members of Congress and attend workshops, and our partners’ thoughtful virtual events that they hosted, we were able to muster up the enthusiasm and vision necessary to help create a month-long virtual Nuns on the Bus tour that held a total of 63 events in 16 states!

In some ways, the virtual nature of the Bus allowed us to do things that would have never happened on the road in real life. Our very large Bus would have never made it to the hollers of Southwest Virginia to visit the Health Wagon, where we met with Dr. Teresa Tyson and Dr. Paula Hill-Collins and learned about the innovation required for a mobile clinic to provide everything from dentures to cystoscopies to one of Central Appalachia’s most under-served communities. We would not have been able to host 5 Dialogues Across Geographic Divides in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which brought people together from rural communities, small towns, suburbs, and cities across a state to discuss the challenges they face and begin to find common solutions. Finally, folks from Utah would have never attended a Town Hall for Spirit-Filled Voters in Erie, Pennsylvania!And we were still able to cultivate community. The sisters who “rode” the Bus with us met three times a week with Sister Simone for prayer and meditation. Nearly every night, Catholics and other people of faith gathered in Zoom break-out rooms and shared how their faith had led them to become multi-issue voters. At our Health Care Rally, seasoned advocates Elena Hung and Laura Packard welcomed Kristin Urqueza from newly-formed Marked by COVID, and were eager to connect with and support her. And to this day participants from our Wisconsin Dialogue Across Geographic Divides are continuing the conversation and supporting each other’s activism.

So yes, our Nuns on the Bus Virtual Tour was unusual, but it still managed to be the perfect vehicle of justice and joy to show the nation that “Who We Elect Matters.”

For more information, download the full NETWORK Election 2020 Report.

The Election Results Show Spirit-Filled Voters Chose Community Over Division

The Election Results Show Spirit-Filled Voters Chose Community Over Division

November 9, 2020
biden

President-elect Joe Biden helps kick off the 2014 Nuns on the Bus tour.

The 2020 election has been historic, with record high turnout and even higher stakes for the future of our country. While it demanded patience to count every vote, the results are now clear.

The people of the United States have chosen President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to lead our country and rejected President Trump’s politics of racism, hatred, and division.

This is a time for celebration, gratitude, and preparation for the challenges ahead.

Just before the election was officially called, when it was clear that President-elect Biden would secure the electoral votes needed, Sister Simone Campbell issued the following statement:

“Catholics are not single issue voters, and that’s why Vice President Biden is winning this election. Our community looked at the entirety of Donald Trump’s divisive and harmful record and chose to elect leaders who will govern with empathy and concern for the most marginalized. Catholics rejected racism, hatred, and division and embraced the politics championed by Pope Francis – a politics of love and inclusion.

“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in American history. When President Trump leaves office in January, he will leave behind a battered country, a biased court system, and a bitter divide in many parts of our nation.  It is up to all of us to fix what Donald Trump has broken. Unlike his administration, we are confident that a President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will listen to the full breadth of equally sacred values that multi-issue Catholic voters hold dear.

“So do not turn away from the pain and sadness of what Donald Trump has wrought. Allow it to break your heart. When our hearts have been broken open, nothing can stop us. The faithful way forward is together. We congratulate Vice President Joseph Biden and Senator Kamala Harris on their imminent victory, and we look forward to working together to create a more perfect union, caring for those who were too often left out of the Trump administration’s care.”

There is still much work to be done to create a nation driven by justice, equity, and inclusion, and as a family, we can do it together.

Together, let us congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their victory, and look forward to creating a more perfect union, caring for those who were too often left out of the Trump administration’s care.

Faith Leaders’ Statement on Integrity, Safety and Fairness in the 2020 U.S. Election

Faith Leaders’ Statement on Integrity, Safety and Fairness in the 2020 U.S. Election

NETWORK’s Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell, SSS has signed onto the letter below calling for integrity in our election processes. The letter has been sent to all U.S. congressional offices.

Let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity! – Job 31:6

O you who believe! Fear God, and be with those
who are true (in word and deeds). – Quran 9:119

As people of faith and heads of Washington-based offices of religious denominations and national organizations, we call for integrity in the processes that shape our systems of governance and form the basis of our shared wellbeing. We believe that free, fair, safe and respected elections are a bedrock of democracy, and that active and informed citizen participation in the political and electoral process is essential not only to the proper functioning of government but also to the full exercise of our faith. Therefore, we are deeply troubled by any actions or statements that intimidate voters or deny safe and equal access to voting, or that sow doubt in electoral outcomes and raise a threat of violence. Such efforts to corrupt and undermine core electoral freedoms must be condemned in the strongest of terms across the political spectrum.

This nation can only live up to its democratic ideals when all are confident that they can vote freely and without undue hardship for the candidates of their choosing. This is particularly critical in light of the long history of racial disenfranchisement in the United States. Polling places must be equally accessible, safe, orderly, and free from intimidation. All votes must be counted in a fair and transparent manner. The decision of the majority must be upheld with a peaceful transition. These core democratic ideals should be fiercely protected by all of us, regardless of political persuasion or religious affiliation. An election “won” by undermining democratic processes is a loss for us all…

Click here to read the full letter.

Bus Blog: “What Am I to Do?”

Bus Blog: “What Am I to Do?”

Sister Cecelia Cavanaugh
October 01, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about “posture” these days. One of the “postures” I’ve pondered is leaning, specifically leaning in. At the first Town Hall in Erie, I watched all the participants pay exquisite attention to those who were speaking, either in a large group or in our break out groups. Perhaps because of computer volume settings or connections, many literally moved their faces and ears closer to the screen. I wondered if our human need for connection and tactile communication might have contributed. I marveled at how all those present at the Town Hall were truly present in their bodies as well as their spirits as they leaned in toward each other. Later that week, I attended the Town Hall in Buffalo. In addition to the attention I’ve already described, in my small group, we worked together to help one member think about how to respond to a particularly difficult conversation. Our listening and suggestions truly provided support and something and someones on whom she could lean. During this week’s Dialogue Across Geographic Divides, I marveled at the leaning in I witnessed among six women ministering in urban and rural settings in my home state. As each described the reality and particular challenges faced in her circumstances, the others leaned in and offered suggestions and resources. They really could not help themselves! They had to reach out, lean in and network. I found this very heartening and supportive.

This morning I gathered with a group of sisters for our three times a week prayer and sharing and the post-debate pain was palpable. I watched tear stained faces and listened to hurting questions and petitions. “Lord, have mercy!” “God, help us!” I felt my own constant question, “What am I to do?” resonate with the prayer and questions of my sisters.

Yesterday, September 29, was the feast of the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael. I listened to the first reading, so familiar to us who love the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings.” As I pondered God’s promises of safety, defense, prosperity, safety and long life, I returned in spirit to Matamoros, Mexico where I volunteered in the refugee camp created by the US “Migrant Protection Policy.” I wondered how my dear neighbors living in simple tents for over a year were experiencing the presence of angels. Then I recalled Michael’s name and question, “Who is like God?”’ and realized again my call – our call – to be “like God,” to be angels in this world. How is this about posture? Well, a memory helps me respond to the President’s words last night addressed to the Proud Boys, “Stand down; stand by.” Reading that they rejoice in this order and that they’ve already had patches made with the quote dismayed me. I prayed, who has asked me to “Stand by?” With whom and for whom do I assume such a posture?

When I was a young sister in formation, we took classes with George Aschenbrenner SJ. Discussing the vows, he told us that Saint Ignatius of Loyola urged the Jesuits to live the vow of celibacy or consecrated chasitity “like the angels.” Father Aschenbrenner exhorted us NOT to try to be bodiless cherubs flitting around, but rather to understand angels as “mighty, concentrated personalities, standing always in God’s presence, ready to do God’s bidding at a moment’s notice.” This is the sense I have of St. Michael, for sure. It describes the strength, dedication and focus of those I met in Matamoros – the persons forced to live there and all who minister to and advocate for them. I believe it is the posture I am being called to assume, into which I pray to grow. It describes the community I experience as a Nun on the Bus.

Reflecting on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Reflecting on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Tralonne Shorter and Leslye Colvin
August 27, 2020

On the eve of the 2020 March on Washington, the NETWORK community gathered to pray, reflect, and recommit ourselves to the work of racial justice. Watch Tralonne Shorter and Leslye Colvin’s reflections.

Join the Virtual March on Washington at www.2020march.com.

Read Tralonne’s Reflection:

Nearly six decades ago, Ella Baker said these notable words: “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”

On the eve of the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Ms. Baker’s words still hold true for Black moms who are growing weary of marching for justice fighting against racism and sexism from slavery until now.

The nonstop police killings of Black people have been triggering and traumatizing for many within the African Diaspora. For me, these shootings and ensuing protests have stirred up feelings stemming from August 2014. It was the tragic death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American male killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer after a routine pedestrian stop violently escalated.

At the time of Brown’s death, I was four months into motherhood and beaming with purpose. As the proud mother of a beautiful Black baby boy, it was heartbreaking to see Brown’s dead body strewn across the pavement as though he were animal carcass for nearly five hours — almost as long as it had taken me to give birth to my son. But as a social justice advocate, I was compelled to take action. For me, Brown’s death, and the countless other Black victims of police brutality, including Jacob Blake, magnified disparities in communities across the United States besieged by institutional racism. In these communities disproportionately poor, people of color are over-disciplined in schools, over-represented in jails, and under-represented in all levels of government leadership, including among elected prosecutors, judges, and police chiefs.

Six years since the Ferguson protests, I am still haunted by Michael Brown’s death and the lack of justice for every Black and Brown family that has lost a loved one under similar circumstances. A U.S. Department of Justice probe found that the Ferguson police department’s racially discriminatory policing practices “routinely violates the Constitution and federal laws.” Yet a majority white grand jury decided not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, thanks to a widely unknown doctrine called Qualified Immunity.

Qualified Immunity was created as a response to policies put into place during the Reconstruction-era enforcement of the 14th Amendment. The doctrine shields police officers from being held legally accountable when they break the law so long as their unlawful action was not sufficiently obvious. This outdated doctrine nullifies an important civil rights statute that allows individuals to sue officers for violating their civil rights, thus rendering justice impossible.

In fact, I am more likely to win the lottery, than see impunity end for racist police officers conditioned to shoot first, ask questions later.

Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson and the protests that followed shined a spotlight on how little was known through empirical data about the extent to which over-policing occurs in Black and Brown communities. More data was needed, including the frequency of traffic stops, excessive use of force, and officer involved shootings. At the time, there were few think tanks tracking data on officer-involved shootings, so the Washington Post launched an ongoing investigation on this matter in 2015 and found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half. This is because reporting by police departments is voluntary and many departments fail to do so.

According to the Washington Post report, since 2015 there have been more than 5,000 fatal shootings involving on-duty police officers, with 1,022 incidents in 2020. While the data shows that half the people shot and killed by police are white, the rate at which Black people are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white people. Over 95% are young, men between 20-40 years old. Of course there are outliers, Tamir Rice who was just 12-years old playing with a toy gun at a playground when a police officer shot and killed him.

Our flawed criminal justice system is just one example of an institution peppered with individuals blinded by privilege, lacking cultural competencies and multi-disciplinary backgrounds in social justice. The criminal justice system especially, must be diversified, particularly because power dynamics overly favor police, prosecutors, and judges who have the power to impugn communities of color.

For Black families, children are taught early, right along with learning multiplication, how to navigate encounters with law enforcement officers. I have already practiced giving my son, who is six “The Talk.” ‘No fast movements. Always show your hands. Keep copies of your driver license, proof of registration, and insurance in your sun visor. Always get a receipt. Do not travel by yourself late at night. Do not travel in a pack. A drunk woman cannot consent. Always answer yes sir/ma’am. Don’t worry about trying to tape or record the encounter, just get home to me safely and alive, we can sort out the rest later.’

The truth is: We live in two different worlds. With two separate justice systems. With two standards of scrutiny. I pray, I’ll never have to give “The Talk,” but once my son who is projected to reach six feet tall hits a growth spurt in the next three years, God forbid he encounter the wrong police officer out of my watchful protection. There are no guarantees that he will come home to me alive. None.

But the sad reality is people of color are still treated as strangers in a country that never fully embraced us as kinfolk. It’s a misnomer to believe that race is real. Race is a false social construct designed to promote the supremacy of whiteness. The murders of Michael Brown, George Floyd and others including the deaths of Brown immigrants in U.S. detention facilities is a manifestation at the highest levels of this false doctrine. Similar to the lynchings during slavery and Jim Crow; today’s killings of Black and Brown people in police custody continue to send a clear message: Black Lives Don’t Matter.

The presumption that people of color are somehow threatening when unarmed, regardless of age, mental health, educational, or social status, is truly demoralizing. Undoubtedly, hearts and minds cannot be legislated. But laws are needed at the federal, state, and local level to mandate police accountability and force investigations, prosecutions and win convictions. Congress can show true conviction by passing the Justice in Policing, a comprehensive police accountability bill, passed by the House in June but is currently stalled in the Senate. The bill would outlaw chokeholds, no-knock warrants, train law enforcement on de-escalation methods, limit the use of military equipment, and finally end impunity for police officers by holding them liable for breaking the law. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “The conscience of this country cannot rest until this country’s laws protects all of its citizens.”

Beyond passing the Justice in Policing Act, we must root out every manner in which this country has systemically and intentionally devalued Black lives. This includes closing gaps in wealth, income, health care, voting, representative democracy, affordable housing, and opportunity. We all must be as outraged as the Mothers of the Movement by the pernicious and unrelenting acts of racial inequity and injustice. A feeble pursuit of justice, is no justice at all.

Honoring the Assumption of Mary and Praying for All Mothers

Honoring the Assumption of Mary and Praying for All Mothers

Laura Peralta-Schulte
August 15, 2020

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a day to reflect on Mary’s remarkable life and honor her great gifts. Religious scholars and theologians, like Sister Elizabeth Johnson in Truly Our Sister, note that Mary was born in Nazareth, a tiny Galilean town of about 1,600 people. She was a brown skinned, first-century Jewish woman who belonged to a peasant family. She lived in poverty, unable to read or write, and her daily life and labor were hard. Yet she stands as one of the most celebrated woman in history, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Catholic Church.

On this feast day we remember the life and death of Mary. We celebrate young Mary’s bravery and willingness to say YES when asked by the Angel Gabriel to become the mother of Jesus. We recall the love shared between Mary and Jesus as she urged her son to help a friend at a wedding and he did. We marvel at her unflinching courage to endure the pain of watching the Roman Empire torture and crucify her son while never leaving his side. We rejoice, as she did, when the glory of the resurrection was revealed confirming God never abandons.

On this feast day, we call on Mary to protect the young mothers, the children, and all vulnerable people struggling with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that has indiscriminately brought communities to a precipice. This includes the families of over 160,000 Americans who have died from the virus as well as the families grappling with new infections every day here and around the world. We ask Mary to be with the millions of low-wage workers, disproportionately in Black and Brown communities, as they struggle to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads.

We also summon the courage of Mary to continue our work to ensure Congress passes legislation that protects families like hers – the most vulnerable, the often forgotten. God’s love of those struggling in poverty is clear: Mary, a lowly, brown, peasant woman became the mother of God’s son. This is a holy paradox and a great lesson for those who seek to follow Jesus.

Let us commit today to fight for the bold and comprehensive legislation our people need to maintain their health, their dignity and their ability to thrive. Let us push past the forces of the State who fail to see, recognize or respond to the needs of those in poverty. Their willful indifference and deception condemns the vulnerable to misery and death.

Holy Mother Mary, pray for us.

On the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, let follow in Mary’s footsteps.

Working Towards Transformation in our Country

Working Towards Transformation in our Country

Sister Emily TeKolste, SP
August 13, 2020

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to have a conversation about politics or current events with someone you disagree with. But avoiding these conversations is contributing to our nation’s increasing polarization, not to mention the harmful effects of this division on family and community ties.

In May, I presented NETWORK’s Transformative Conversations to Bridge Divides training to NETWORK advocates from Philadelphia and Pittsburg. About 20 participants came together online to learn and practice ways to foster productive conversations and create the conditions needed for transformation to occur. Some of the key takeaways and commitments from participants included, “doing more preparation before difficult conversations,” “approach potentially confrontational conversations with a little less arrogance,” and “think more carefully about the other person when I need to have a difficult discussion.”

After the training, Gerri in Philadelphia found “There are constructive, concrete, successful ways we can have meaningful conversations with those we love who have opinions other than ours.” As we approach the November election, NETWORK will provide additional opportunities for all members of our Spirit-filled network to participate in this Transformative Conversations training, as well as other trainings and activities. Together we can transform our policies and our nation!

PHOTO: Participants learn how to build the foundation for transformative conversations.

5 Steps to a Healthy, Transformative Conversation

  1. Be Curious
    Seek to learn about the other person’s perspective
  1. Listen
    Listen fully and attentively, with an open mind
  1. Review
    Repeat back what you heard to make sure you understand correctly
  1. Validate
    Acknowledge what they said, even if you feel differently
  1. Express
    Share your truth, your assessment of the issue, your reasoning

Learn more: networkadvocates.org/transform

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

 

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Voting Under the Sign of the Cross

Putting Our Focus on the Margins
Meghan J. Clark
August 13, 2020

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, our communities powerfully cry out for racial justice. The global COVID-19 pandemic remains, it has not dissipated, despite growing public fatigue with mitigation measures. Amidst all of this, we struggle to maintain voting rights in primaries and in preparation for November. NETWORK and its partners have tirelessly worked on issues of racial and economic justice for decades. The issues are not new, unknown, or unstudied; and yet, something about 2020 feels different.  The collective albeit deeply unequal experience of COVID-19’s vulnerability, suffering, and death has inescapably interrupted our business as usual attitude.

Today there is a growing chorus of people demanding a more just and equitable community. A chorus that rejects returning to a business as usual that benefits only the privileged while excluding millions. At marches in Rockaway, Queens, youth leaders pair a focus on racial justice alongside voter registration and census participation. Alongside chants of “Black lives matter!” you also hear, “Don’t just hope, get out and VOTE!”

Participation in the political, social, and economic life of the community is both our right and our responsibility. While not everyone is called to be an activist, all are called to actively work for the common good. Voting, in Catholic social teaching, is a moral obligation. Yet, as Christians, we are called to vote not motivated by own self-interest but by a commitment to the human dignity of all, an all-inclusive common good, and with a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Faithful discipleship, then, becomes a matter of solidarity and kinship in which all are equally sacred. In faithful citizenship, we are called to vote under the sign of the cross.

Beginning with the Crucified

In his first homily as pope, Francis prayed that we, as the people of God, may receive the grace to “to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ crucified.” In focusing our journey on Christ crucified, Francis draws individuals out of themselves and towards the margins of society. The task is two-fold: to focus our attention on those excluded from our societies while also recognizing the structures by which they are rendered invisible or expendable. Beginning with the crucified Christ illustrates the ways both individual dignity and structures of sin are inextricably linked.  When Francis labels inequality as the root of all social ills in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), it is in recognition that it is “making it practically impossible to live a human life ruled by moral principles.”

Building on both Catholic social teaching and the prophetic insights of liberation theology, Pope Francis’s decries, “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.…those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it.” (EG 53).

Voting under the sign of the cross, then, asks us to begin our discernment from the perspective of the excluded, of those who suffer from institutionalized violence, those whom the martyred El Salvadoran Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria called the crucified peoples. For Ellacuria, the cross focuses our attention on the “collective reality, grounding and making possible individual sins.”1 Talking about the reality of individual sin is not enough. Seeing the reality of our society’s crucified peoples requires those with privilege to face the uncomfortable and unavoidable complicity in social sin, of which in the United States, racism and white supremacy are paramount.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the call for racial justice in our country today. Professing Christ crucified, in all its historical complexity, has long been central in African American Christian ethics, most notably the work of Protestant theologian James Cone, who famously described the crucifixion as a first-century lynching.2 Reflecting on the current protests, Nigerian-American Sister Anne Arabome laments that God cannot breathe; “As the protests continue, I see people on the streets — breathing in and breathing out. In their voices I hear the God of life screaming and asking for space to breathe again.”3

Living Incarnational Solidarity

“A faith that does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead, it is deceitful…faith without solidarity is a faith without Christ.”4 These provocative words, spoken by Francis on a pastoral visit in Paraguay, challenge us to see that solidarity and work for justice are at the very heart of the Christian faith. For Christians, Jesus is our model of solidarity and it is in practicing solidarity that we encounter Christ in our neighbor.

In the Gospels, both the Beatitudes and Matthew 25’s parable of the last judgement provide clear descriptive illustrations of the connection between solidarity with Jesus and solidarity with those on the margins, culminating in an uncompromising statement that whatsoever one does or does not do for the least, one does or does not do to the Son of Man himself. A radical identification of Jesus not with his followers but with those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, etc.  Visual artists like Kelly Latimore powerfully concretize this for us depicting the Holy Family as migrants crossing a militarized border.5

“Solidarity is a wrenching task,” notes theologian M. Shawn Copeland, “to stand up for justice in the midst of injustice; to take up simplicity in the midst of affluence and comfort; to embrace integrity in the midst of collusion and co-optation; to contest the gravitational pull of domination.”6 Incarnational solidarity is deeply rooted in seeing one’s neighbor as the image and likeness of God, as the face of Christ in our midst. For Francis, “Solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them” (EG 189), a difficult task because “complacency is seductive” (Gaudete et Exsultate 137). In practice, this solidarity strengthens efforts to practice good politics, in which “everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home.”7

A Community of Kinship and Justice

Both the image of the crucified peoples and the focus of incarnational solidarity ask us to reflect deeply on how we view the work around us and possibly change the position from which we participate in the political community. For Christians, the task of politics is to build a community of kinship, and justice. It is the recognition that we belong to each other and that we are all diminished by the exclusion and oppression of some. In his many books and TedTalks, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ of Homeboy Industries challenges us to imagine a circle of kinship and then imagine it is big enough where no one is on the others side.8 For Boyle, Jesus does not provide us with easy answers but relentlessly asks, “Where are you standing?” The shift is at once a severe challenge but also freeing.

The fundamental starting point is where do you position yourself? With the marginalized and against marginalization? With the oppressed against their oppression? These seem like easy questions and yet for those like myself, a white woman in the United States, answering them honestly requires facing the ways in which my life has been aided by the white supremacy I recognize as sinful and evil. It requires humility in acknowledging one’s own complicity in systems of injustice, followed by a firm and persevering commitment to be anti-racist.

The Challenge of Radical Kinship and Politics

At this point, you may be thinking voting under the sign of the cross is impossible in U.S. politics. While it is true that Catholics who hold with the Church a consistent ethic of human dignity do not neatly fit into the U.S. political system, I wish to make two caveats before delving into the practical reflections on the type of political engagement envisioned above.

First, voting is always a bounded choice. There are no perfect candidates or political platforms. One advantage of Catholic social tradition’s approach to social ethics is that it recognizes the reality of both individual and structural sin. Our political engagement is aimed at bringing about greater justice and peace but recognizes that the fullness of either relies on God. By letting go of purity and perfection, we are freed to act for justice. This recognition, alongside a realistic appreciation of pluralism, also helps us act with humility, recognizing with Pope Francis that “growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others” (GE 141).

Navigating voting and political participation amidst these complexities is a challenge. It requires practicing: see (learning about candidates’ records), judge (discern), act (vote/advocate). Whenever Catholics explore the meaning of “the preferential option for the poor” the list includes: the unborn, migrants, those living in poverty, the elderly, victims of human trafficking, etc. For many in the United States today, the challenge is most acutely felt in navigating their position on abortion alongside their solidarity with marginalized and minoritized peoples.

Personally, I find Pope Francis’s approach helpful for discernment. Cautioning against ideologies within the church which either avoid talking about God or avoid social justice, he states, “our defense of the unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm, and passionate…equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned, and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking. . . we cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice” (GE 101). There is a unity and integrity to this image of “equally sacred” that is rooted in prioritizing those whose dignity is thrown away.

Equally sacred is not a capitulation or deflection. It does not deny the specific reality of injustice, the way “all lives matter” dismisses the need to specify Black lives matter. Instead it is a desire to be faithful to the Gospel, to standing with the crucified.  “A fundamental tragedy of this broken and sinful world,” notes theologian Cathy Kaveny, “is that the most vulnerable persons – the unborn, the disabled, the needy are often completely dependent upon persons almost as vulnerable as themselves.”9 The first step, according to Kaveny, is to listen and hear their voices. In U.S. politics, concern about abortion is often reduced to the question of criminal law. However, if we follow Jesus to the margins, it is difficult to treat any single issue as the only one of concern. Similarly, if we follow Kaveny alongside Boyle’s vision of kinship, it asks us to consider our policies on abortion from both the perspective of the unborn and the pregnant woman in crisis. In doing so, the nexus of concern expands far beyond mere criminalization of abortion.

Throughout his ministry, Pope Francis has implored us to pray with the Gospel, reject the throwaway culture, and be in kinship with the marginalized. When we do that, our understanding of building a pro-life community of solidarity must be a circle in which no one is left out. We position ourselves with Black Lives Matter,10 with migrants of all ages, and with those experiencing poverty and struggling to meet their basic needs.

As we head into election season, voting is one important way that we participate in the political life of our communities. It is an act of solemn discernment and conscience. In 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, desperate cries for racial justice, and increasing economic need, it feels as if the stakes are quite high, and they are. Still, as people of faith, we begin by making sure we are standing in the right place as we discern, our focus on promoting the common good and building a community of solidarity in which none are excluded.

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Meghan J. Clark, Ph.D., is an associate professor of moral theology at St John’s University (NY). She is a senior fellow of St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society. From 2010-2013, she served as a Consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. She is author of The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: the Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights (Fortress Press, 2014) and co-editor of Public Theology and the Global Common Good (Orbis, 2106).

Sources:

  1. Ignacio Ellacuria, “The Crucified Peoples,” in Ignacio Ellacuria: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, Edited by Michael E. Lee, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013), p. 204.
  2. James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2011).
  3. Anne Arabome, “I can’t breathe because God can’t breathe,” National Catholic Reporter, June 10, 2020 https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/i-cant-breathe-because-god-cant-breathe
  4. Pope Francis, “Visit to the People of Bañado Norte” (Address, Paraguay, July 12, 2015) https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/july/documents/papa-francesco_20150712_paraguay-banado-norte.html
  5. Kelly Latimore, “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia” https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_2361/
  6. Shawn Copeland, “Towards a Critical Christian Feminist Theology of Solidarity,” in Women and Theology, ed. Mary Ann Hinsdale and Phyllis H. Kaminski (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995), 18.
  7. Pope Francis, “Good Politics is at the service of Peace,” World Day of Peace Message 2019.
  8. Gregory Boyle, SJ, “Compassion and Kinship,” TEDxConejo 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipR0kWt1Fkc
  9. Cathleen Kaveny, “Could the Church take a risk?” Commonweal Magazine, August 10, 2018.
  10. Olga Segura, “What Black Lives Matter Can Teach Catholics About Racial Justice” https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/02/01/what-black-lives-matter-can-teach-catholics-about-racial-justice
This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

Advocacy for Justice Continues… Virtually

Advocacy for Justice Continues… Virtually

Meg Olson
August 13, 2020

In response to the call to action on the April 2020 webinar, “NETWORK’s COVID-19 Response: Updates and Our Work Ahead,” Grassroots Advocates Teams and other NETWORK members and supporters from across the country held 24 meetings with their Senators’ offices in April and May to discuss what needs to be included in the fourth COVID-19 relief bill. As these were the first meetings held during the time of social distancing, NETWORK members and Senate schedulers worked together to coordinate these meetings to take place over the phone or via video conferencing.

Watch the COVID-19 Response webinar: www.networkadvocates.org/webinarrecordings

The specific topics of each of the meetings were chosen either based on the Senator’s position within leadership or key committee, or the NETWORK members’ advocacy interest and expertise. They included each of NETWORK’s seven Mend the Gap public policy priorities, as well as unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, and caring for those who are incarcerated or in detention centers. Our Government Relations team helped prep advocates for their meetings and participated in calls held with Hill staff.

Read more about NETWORK’s COVID-19 legislative priorities:  www.networklobby.org/covid19.

Overall, NETWORK’s advocates found the virtual in-district and Hill meetings to be as effective as meeting in person. Sister Phyllis Tierny, SSJ of Rochester, New York joined with members of the LCWR Region 2 Justice Promoters Collaborative to discuss ensuring safe and fair elections and protecting all immigrants with Hill staff in Senator Gillibrand and Senator Schumer’s offices. One reason why she helped organize these meetings is because, “In these difficult and uncertain times, the issue of who can vote has become a priority as we look forward to the election in November.  Voting is both a privilege and a responsibility for all citizens and to be deprived of the opportunity because one is housebound or in danger of contracting the virus limits who can vote.” Sister Phyllis adds, “It was a privilege to interact with the legislative assistants of our New York Senators, knowing that they are sympathetic to these issues and will raise their voices in the Senate. One of the take-aways for me is the need for a different approach to work with legislators across the aisle. It is easy to think of politicians as ‘cardboard’ and talk at them. We need to find a way to engage their humanity and begin a different conversation!”

NETWORK is grateful for all of our members’ and supporters’ advocacy efforts around COVID-19, particularly for Black, Native American, and immigrant communities, as well as for those who are incarcerated or detained.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the ways our federal government has failed to structure a society that cares for those most in need… The grave challenges facing the United States and the world are unprecedented and require a bold and compassionate response.”
From NETWORK’s COVID-19 Legislative Priorities Leave Behind

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue