Families as Schools of Solidarity

My wife and I were blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families conference back in 2015. The wonderful Professor Helen Alvaré gave one of the keynote talks during that week that stuck with me.

Professor Alvaré was talking about how the love we give and receive within the family grows and overflows into the wider world. Specifically, she spoke on how a parent’s unconditional love for their child “organically and divinely” grows into the unconditional love of strangers. She said:

“Eventually, if you have asked God day in and day out to work His will with you, you begin to see every child as if they could be your child…You won’t be able to look at the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the fatherless, without remembering how they are someone’s child or sibling or mother and then converting that co-suffering, maternal and paternal selves into action.”

In other words, the virtue of solidarity is fostered within the family. By loving my own family and suffering with them I can learn to love and truly recognize the suffering of strangers. This comment resonated with me at the time and still resonates with me now.

Just a few weeks before this conference started, there was a picture of a little boy that was circulating online. The boy was three years old in this picture, just a little older than my eldest son, Simon. In the picture he was lying down with his knees tucked under him, his arms off to his sides, and his head full of light brown hair turned sideways. It looked just like Simon when he slept.

Except this little boy wasn’t sleeping in this picture, he was lying on a Mediterranean beach after drowning in the Aegean Sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and his family were refugees fleeing Syria.

I remember staring at this picture when it came across my newsfeed and it totally captivated me. This little boy reminded me so much of Simon. I realized at that moment that this little boy, Aylan, was loved by somebody as much as I love my own son. Aylan smiled and laughed and cried and played like my own son. Aylan drowned in the Aegean Sea along with his brother and mother because his dad wasn’t able to hold onto them. I just sat in front of my computer and cried.

We’re supposed to see Christ in others, because all of us bear the image of God. We are especially supposed to see Christ in the poor and the hungry and the homeless and the refugee because He said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” But the best I can muster up when I see someone suffering is pity, not the love and respect due to our Lord. Yet God is so wise. He knows that it’s hard for us to see His image in the stranger, so He gave us our families to be training grounds for unconditional love. He lets us first see every child as if they could be our child so that we may eventually learn to love the outcast like we love our own children. He gave us our family as the school of solidarity.

As a Christian, I must resist looking at the poor, the homeless, and the refugee as “people,” as an abstract group or “issue.” I must see every human person for the unique and valuable individual that he or she is. I must see the poor as I would see my own family. I must love the homeless as I would my own family. I must treat the refugee as if they were my own family.

As Professor Alvaré put it, “We start with family and end with strangers…whose only link is our common humanity.”

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and parish director of religious education. A version of this post first appeared at his blog, The Porch. You can reach him at fahey.paul@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook.


Leading Democrats Clash Over Creating an Abortion Litmus Test

For a brief, fleeting moment, the Democrats looked as if they were about to do something very, very smart.

Tom Perez, Democratic Party Chairman, along with Bernie Sanders, endorsed Heath Mello, a pro-life Democrat, for mayor of Omaha.

Sanders, despite having one of the most consistently pro-choice records of anyone in Congress, defended this move, saying, “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about.”

And he’s right. The Democrats are currently at their weakest point since the 1920s. The Republican Party dominates every level of government across the country, and until we open the big tent and allow room for more ideological diversity, things aren’t going to change. That’s why this endorsement was such a big deal. It seemed like the party was finally starting to come around.

And then Perez buckled.

Under pressure from big money pro-choice special interests like NARAL, Perez went above and beyond to reassert his absolute allegiance to abortion by drawing a line in the sand and demanding ideological purity from any Democrat who hopes to make it to office.

Perez stated that he “fundamentally disagree[s] with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” and—after Mello himself released a meager statement saying he’d never restrict a woman’s access to abortion—said he was happy that Mello was now more in line with the Party’s position and that “every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same, because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”

For pro-life Democrats like myself, this wasn’t just disappointing—it was infuriating. We simply cannot afford to define ourselves based on a singular issue, especially one as divisive and alienating as abortion. As stated above, the Republicans have the majority at every level, and they are actively attempting to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance, roll back any progress we’ve made on combating climate change, cut benefits for the poor, and demolish public education.

Yet, in the face of all this, Perez made it abundantly clear that under his leadership, all of these issues, and more, will come second to abortion. “Sorry, middle and lower class Americans. We could have stopped the Republicans from taking your healthcare, but we decided to implement an abortion litmus test instead.”

What’s even more frustrating is our inability to move past this binary of for/against. In doing so, we completely ignore any middle ground where we can actually work together—and there’s a lot of it. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find someone on either side of the debate that wants to see an increase in the abortion rate. So rather than shutting people out, Perez could be inviting pro-life advocates to the table for a discussion on how we can collectively reduce abortions, as well as reduce economic and social stressors that drive women to abort their children in the first place. But he chose to do the opposite. This is the hill he wants the Democrats to die on, and if things don’t change, he just might get his wish.

Despite all of this, there are still some glimmers of hope. Sanders doesn’t seem to be backing down from the idea of working alongside pro-life Democrats. And Nancy Pelosi (known for her strong pro-choice credentials) seems to be in agreement. In a recent Meet the Press interview, Pelosi stated that “of course” you can be pro-life and Democrat, and what really unites the party is our dedication to helping working families. Both understand that purging pro-life Democrats from office means continued Republican rule and sacrificing economic justice in the process. We can only hope that the two of them will pass that message along to Perez and encourage him to build a more inclusive party.

In the meantime, I’ll be working to do the same with my state party, and I highly suggest pro-life Democrats and progressives do the same. Discouraging as all this may be, now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to fight.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.


Stop the Excuses: Working for Social Justice is Not Optional for Catholics

The phrase “social justice” tends to trigger a wide range of responses depending on where one lands on the political spectrum. For some, it’s a pejorative. For others, a badge of honor. Either way, from a secular perspective, social justice is often viewed through the prism of partisan politics.

But for Catholics, it’s something much different. For us, social justice is a central component to our faith, a key part of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). If the mass is how we celebrate, enrich, and renew our commitment to Christ, then social justice is the manner in which we live and practice that commitment. As defined by the USCCB:

Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment. Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.

What’s particularly important to note about the Catholic commitment to social justice is that, unlike its secular counterpart, it is consistent and enduring, not changing with the political seasons or latest political trends.

The rich theological tradition of Catholic Social Teaching is based on recognizing the inherent dignity of each human person through the unconditional love of God. Therefore, justice, in the eyes of the Church, is owed, not earned.

The worker is owed a living wage for his or her labor.

The unborn child is owed the right to life.

All persons, sick and healthy, are owed quality healthcare.

The earth is owed good stewardship.

The homeless are owed shelter.

The naked are owed clothing.

The hungry are owed food and drink.

Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest shortfalls in American society, even in many Christian circles. We have a bad habit of putting politics before Christ and allowing challenges—such as cost, labor, and time—to become excuses for inaction.

We operate under the impression that works of mercy and justice come strapped with contingencies, and only those we deem deserving—those who meet a particular set of standards—may receive them. But this is not the spirit of social justice or the gospel.

In fact, not only are humans inherently owed justice, but it’s our Christian duty to ensure that justice is properly distributed—especially to the poor and marginalized. This is not a suggestion. It’s a non-negotiable obligation, and the scripture makes it clear that we will be judged on how we treat the least of these.

That means that American Catholics must have a presence in social and political life. It means we are responsible for ensuring that the workers are paid justly, that unborn children are protected, that the earth is cared for, that the sick have quality medical care, that the homeless have homes, that the naked are clothed, and that the hungry are fed. We simply cannot shy away from civic involvement.

And to that point, we must remember that Catholic Social Teaching, with its commitment to social justice, is not a political ideology. It does not conform to any party platform, and so we cannot put our trust entirely in the Republicans or the Democrats. What we must do, instead, is look to the Church first, adjust our mindset to see social justice as the Church sees it, and then work together to find solutions that protect the dignity of all people.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.


The Right To Healthcare Is Owed, Not Earned

For the better part of a decade, the healthcare debate has been at the center of American political discourse—thanks largely to the signing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In both the 2012 and 2016 presidential races, the debate on whether to repeal or expand the ACA was a major component of each candidate’s platform—leading to some highly publicized conversations about the best way to ensure coverage for Americans.

At least that’s how it looked on the surface.

On its face, this entire debate  appeared to be about mechanics and methodology. What is the best way to run the system? What should and shouldn’t be regulated?

But if you strip it down to the underlying ideologies underpinning the approaches, you’ll discover that the debate is less about the how and more about the what.

What is healthcare in the first place?

Is it a right—something to which all people are entitled regardless of income, job status, age, or health?

Or is it a consumer good—a service that’s meant to be bought and sold on the market?

Approached from an entirely secular, political perspective, this is, admittedly, a complex question worthy of debate. However, for any Catholic, the answer should be a pretty simple.

Healthcare is a right. It absolutely is. And that’s not my opinion, but the position of the Church:

Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance. – The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2288

All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born. The Bishops’ Conference believes health care reform should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable. — USCCB

It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege. — Pope Francis

This really shouldn’t be a controversial position for us. Healthcare is a right because we are committed to the right to life. And we cannot, in good conscience, promote and defend the right to life only to turn our backs on those who are without the necessary resources to actually exercise it. If we do, then we are hypocrites.

This does not mean that all Catholics must support an entirely government-run or single payer healthcare system. That’s not the position that the Church takes.

Instead, it means that we should adopt the mindset that healthcare is something owed, not earned. It is something to which all of us are entitled, simply because we are living, breathing children of God.

There are no exceptions here. Cost, labor, and time may be challenges, but they are not insurmountable, nor are they excuses for inaction. As Catholics, we have a Christian duty to support and promote healthcare as a right and do whatever we can, in our own capacity, to ensure all can take advantage of it.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.


A Politics of Memory and Hope: The Catholic Political Ethos of In the Heights

During the last presidential election, it was not unusual for commentators to reference Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton as a counter-narrative to the rise of Donald Trump. The story of an immigrant, who was integrally involved in the American experiment, who was concerned about the dangers of populist politics in particular, resonated with many across the political spectrum. It functioned as an anti-narrative to Trump’s faux-populist, anti-immigrant political platform.

Yet, perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda’s political masterpiece is not the thoroughly re-imagined life of Alexander Hamilton but his first musical, In the Heights. In this musical about the gentrification of a once Dominican-American (and before that Irish) neighborhood in Washington Heights in New York City, Miranda artistically describes a culture that attends to both the importance of memory and the hopes of a future. It is precisely these two dispositions that must become the heart of a Catholic political culture in the age of an ideological and divisive politics in which human dignity is often forgotten by those who profess the credos of their respective parties.

A Politics of Memory

The act of remembering is a constant throughout In the Heights. There is the memory of immigrants, who have left behind their homeland, to discover in the United States something akin to a “new home.” There is the remembering of the neighborhood itself, which is undergoing significant changes because of the gentrification caused by hipsters (ironically now flocking to Hamilton but that’s a story for another time). Although Miranda does not himself say it, artisanal cheese shops are replacing neighborhood bodegas and hair salons where stories (and thus) human relationships are being forgotten. As Nina and Benny walk the neighborhood, they remember a world that is disappearing before their eyes.

The heart of this remembering is Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood’s grandmother who keeps alive the stories of each family. Her death is a moment in which each character encounters the dissolution of time and thus of place. Their stories, like many stories of that neighborhood before, will be forgotten.

This emphasis upon memory in the musical is the heart of the political vision of In the Heights. Memory is not a form of traditionalism whereby one simply refers back to some idealized past. After all, this comes to be the great foible of Usnavi in In the Heights—he imagines that he can return to the Dominican Republic as his home, all the while forgetting that his home is now where he was raised, where he has established particular relationships with others.

Memory is not traditionalism but a constant referring back to those narratives by which we must make sense of the present. And these memories are tied to particular places, not simply ideas. As Paul Connerton writes in his classic, How Societies Remember:

Groups provide individuals with frameworks within which their memories are localized and memories are localized by a kind of mapping. We situate what we recollect within the mental spaces provided by the group….It is our social spaces—those which we occupy, which we frequently retrace with our steps, where we always have access, which at each moment we are capable of mentally reconstructing—that we must turn our attention, if our memories are to reappear. Our memories are located within the mental and material spaces of the group. (37)

Thus, the restoration of a political culture must take place through attending to the public spaces that we share in common. A Catholic political philosophy is not fundamentally about ideas, about the creation of a utopia apart from particularity. It is always about the particularities of place, of time, of the spaces that we call home.

The danger of the present American political arena is that it forgets about the particularities of place, where political culture is actually lived in concrete human communities. Politics cannot simply be about regulations, laws, and elections. It is not an on-going drama whereby a certain elite class of citizens in Washington DC entertains the American citizenship whose eyes are glued to the carnival of excess. It is not the exercise of raw power for its own sake. Politics is about the ordering of local life toward the common good. As Pope Francis notes about the establishment of this local ecology: “Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlook the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community. New processes…need to be based in the local culture itself” (Laudato ‘Si, no. 144).

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to get this wrong. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike fail because they too often seek to create a global citizen (or financier), who is not attached to any local culture. They look with derision on those who choose to live in spaces outside of the city, committing themselves to a particular narrative that is often radically distinct from the one told by cultural elites. These are not backwards people, who need to get with the times. They may disagree with progressive and conservative politicians alike on social issues, on how to best take care of finances for the nation-state, even about what public education should include.

The Church has an important function here in holding up particular memories in these local communities. We read old texts, because what is passed on to us is a privileged source even now for present wisdom. We hold onto old buildings, because the stones themselves are steeped in memories of redemption both ancient and new. We acknowledge and foster the memories and cultures of local peoples, precisely because everything that is human may become a source of redemption—an image of divine love for us to contemplate. It is not enough for the Church to form consciences for faithful citizens every four years. Instead, like Abuela Claudia in In the Heights, we must become custodians of memory for a society that seeks increasingly to forget.

A Politics of Hope

It is because of this politics of memory that we dare to hope. In the Heights often concerns itself with the hopes of its residents. Vanessa wants to move uptown, away from the barrio, to the heart of uptown Manhattan. Usnavi wants to leave behind his bodega, opening a bar on a beach in the Dominican Republic. Kevin Rosario wants his daughter, Nina, to have possibilities for success that he couldn’t by obtaining her degree from Stanford. Dreaming is such a large part of In the Heights that much of its action revolves around the hope of winning the lottery.

There is a subtle critique throughout In the Heights relative to the rather limited “hopes” that many of the characters have. They want to win the lotto so that they can pay an entry fee to a business school and thus become a multi-millionaire engaged in business dealings on the golf course (with ironically now President Donald Trump as a caddy). They want to use the money to leave Washington Heights behind, fulfilling the American dream of “making it.” But the social conscience of In the Heights, Sonny, opens up alternative possibilities for what fulfillment of the American dream might look like:

Yo!

With ninety-six thousand, I’d finally fix housin’

Give the barrio computers with wireless web browsin’

Your kids are livin’ without a good edjumication

Change the station, teach ‘em about gentrification

The rent is escalatin’…

The rich are penetratin’…

We pay our corporations but we should be demonstratin’…

What about immigration?…

Politicians be hatin’…

Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant…

I’ll call my ticket and picket, invest in protest

Never lose my focus ‘til the city takes notice

And you know this man! I’ll never sleep

Because the ghetto has a million promises for me to keep! (“96,000”)

Sonny’s desire is to transform the particular place that he calls home. It is not to leave behind the place for the sake of his own individual success. He wants to bring the community of Washington Heights along.

It takes a long time for Usnavi to come to the same conclusion. Only after encountering the hopeful depiction of a graffiti artist’s series commemorating the death of Abuela Claudio does Usnavi realize what his dream must be:

I illuminate the stories of the people in the street

Some have happy endings

Some are bittersweet

But I know them all and that’s what makes my life complete

And if not me, who keeps our legacies?

Who’s gonna keep the coffee sweet with secret recipes?

Abuela, rest in peace, you live in my memories

But Sonny’s gotta eat, and this corner is my destiny (“Finale”).

Usnavi assumes his vocation as the one who remembers the people of Washington Heights, who undertakes responsibilities for the hopes expressed by Sonny. From memory comes hope.

Once again, the present political situation is short on hope. Political parties flourish (or at least politicians believe they will) through the inducement of fear. “Elect me or else the worst will occur” was the theme of the last presidential election. Yet, human beings can change the world precisely because human beings can dare to hope. This hope is not a memoryless hope that bypasses the particularity of local communities, of the wisdom passed on by our forebears. For it is a hope that sees the possibility of a present world that conforms itself more fully to the gift of love at the heart of existence itself. As Benedict XVI writes:

…every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed…every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom (Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 25).

The Church most of all has a responsibility to perform this politics of hope. We dare to hope for a world in which the unborn, the immigrant, African-American men and women, the man sentenced to death row, every human being created in the image and likeness of God is treated as a person worthy of love.

This is not our present world. And sometimes, this world can be rather dark. But, through the witness of love, we hope that a new world conformed to divine love can take shape in local communities. This work of hope is at the heart of the Church’s effort of evangelization. We do not spurn the world, opting for some escape from the present age, but we take the world along with us toward the fullness of redemption. Because God first loved us, we can love the world.

In this way, In the Heights can function as a parable for the Church’s present mission of politics in this age. We pass on a memory of what authentic human flourishing can look like at the local level. Narrating this memory through our very lives, we learn to hope that human dignity can become not a political football between conservative and progressive Catholics or politicians but a form of life lived concretely in South Bend, in Washington DC, and in Charleston, SC.

It’s time for the Church to cease simply thinking about how we should vote. Instead, our work is to rebuild a political ethos outside the sphere of ideological politics that have poisoned the political well. We do so not as naïve millennials but as those who have attended to the memories of hope that manifest themselves in the Tradition that has given shape to our identity in late modern society.

Who knows? Perhaps, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s next musical will be about us.

Timothy P. O’Malley is director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.


Children Deserve the Best


In the waning days of summer in 2015, a three-year-old boarded a boat with his father to make the journey from the resort town of Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos. Clad, as any three-year-old might be, in blue shorts and a red t-shirt, he was just another among the nameless, faceless migrants fleeing Syria, until an image surfaced of his fragile body washed up on a Turkish beach. Images of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi lying face down in the shore quickly spread around the world. The ferry he was on had capsized, and he, his mother, and his five-year-old brother Galip drowned in the Mediterranean in the early morning hours on September 2, 2015. This image of a lifeless child challenged the world.

In his Christmas Eve homily this past year, Pope Francis urged all Christians to “allow ourselves to be challenged by the children of today’s world, who are not lying in a cot caressed with the affection of a mother and father, but rather suffer in the squalid ‘mangers that devour dignity’: hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants. Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who have not toys in their hands, but rather weapons.”

Children deserve the best—the loving caresses of parents; the care and protection of the community; a safe, clean place to sleep; the stability of a home filled with affection; nourishing food to eat; clear, clean water to drink; the joy of playing with siblings and friends; a dignifying education; and participation in the life of the family and society. Children do deserve the best of our time, energy, and affection. Yet children are made to bear the brunt of society’s failures. They are in the precarious position of being useless, redundant, of being non-producers. Children endure the weight of modernity’s failures, its violence, and its sin. We enslave their fragile bones and vulnerable bodies, and on flesh imprinted with all the freshness of dignity, we inscribe hunger, violence, and death.

Children deserve to be at the center of families, communities, and societies, yet too often they are condemned to the peripheries of society. Children may deserve the best, but according to the scandalous calculations of modernity, a child’s right to stay around is precariously dependent on her geopolitical location, her gender, her parent’s economic stability, and, yes, even her race. She may end up sold into slavery or crushed at the bottom of a raft, or she may never be allowed the rarefied privilege of taking a first breath. She may be expunged from the human family, her body relegated to the waste yard, because she fails to meet the rigorous expectations she knows nothing about.

Children deserve the best, yet they are often what the late Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called “‘collateral casualties’ of progress,” excluded from protection under the law, non-persons. Children are our first casualties. They are among the first to be un-humaned, to be declared unwanted. The child that drowns in dark waters of the sea; the child who stares in blank silence, bloodied by barrel bombs dropped on his school; the child who has taken up arms; the child who tries to draw back as a syringe of saline searches her out in the darkness of her mother’s womb—these are the little ones who had the audacity to be poor, to be exiled, to be at school, to be alive.

Children are the most vulnerable among us. As Christians, we forfeit the right to determine a child’s worth. When we die in the waters of baptism, we forfeit the right to decide someone else’s usefulness, value, or right to exist. We forfeit the right to choose to love some but not others. To be Christian is to take up the duty to love without discrimination. This love compels us to lay aside the weapons of the battlefield, the weapons that are used to kill children while they attend school. This love compels us to lay aside the weapons of the boardroom, where decisions are made in the interest of profit margins that mean certain death for the most vulnerable. This love compels us to put down the weapons of the medical field that are used to eliminate human life in the womb.

Christian love forms us into a new vision, a dignifying vision that stands in solidarity with women and with their preborn children, a vision that sees value where the world sees uselessness—in the preborn child with Down syndrome; in the indigent elderly man who can’t consume the small, white communion wafer; the refugee, the women and children fleeing persecution searching for signs of hospitality; yes, even in the unrepentant death row inmate. To be Christian is to be formed in the love of Christ, who loves us while still sinners. This means to forfeit the right to decide who is worthy of love. It means we forfeit the right to decide which children will be allowed to take their first breath or which mothers will receive adequate prenatal care. This love is not a uniform love, but it is unifying love. It is a vision that sees that a society that fails to defend its most vulnerable members will soon find that it is unable to defend the principles of integral human ecology and that what is considered a “right” will be determined by the whims of the powerful.

This vision sees that the realities of abortion, war, migration, economic exploitation, of human trafficking and sexual slavery, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us, namely children, but also that all offenses against human life, in different ways and at different levels of gravity, participate in a logic of violence, in a logic that produces a throwaway culture. To be Christian means that we participate in a form of love that is whole, healthy, and fresh—that doesn’t choose its own way, but is led by the love of Christ, who loves people, not systems. To love like this is to love against the grain, to love into the darkness, to love with that burning heart that only Christ writes in us.

Jessica Keating is the director of the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.


After the Women’s March, Let’s Build a New Coalition for the Vulnerable

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My two young daughters, my husband, and I were among the 125,000 people who gathered on Boston Common on Saturday morning to march (or to try to march, anyway – to the surprise of no one, Boston’s comically skinny and winding streets were no match for the masses). We brought a double stroller, tiny outerwear for every conceivable weather condition, and enough Cheerios and raisins to feed a small army. Seemingly the only thing we didn’t bring with us was that critical activist must-have: the sign. I had contemplated making one the day prior, but I kept coming up blank. Maybe something about hearing the phrase “American carnage” undulating from my car radio zapped my creativity and wit. But on another level, there was part of me that wasn’t quite sure how to name what I was bringing with me to the march.

To be honest, participating felt fraught. I was irritated at the exclusion of pro-life organizations from official partnership in the national march. On the most basic, most practical level, it struck me as a monumental missed opportunity for coalition building among groups of women long alienated from one another. What a chance it could have been to finally see one another as more than single-issue voters, to celebrate the complexity of our political and religious identities. Isn’t it sort of the point of feminism to get behind the idea that there are as many ways to be a woman as there are women? Besides, what could have been a stronger statement against the vacuous pro-life rhetoric of the Trump administration than the open inclusion of pro-life organizations in the protest?

But, imperfect as it was, standing in solidarity with those sure to bear the brunt of the new president’s chilling contempt for society’s most vulnerable was too important to me to stay home. So I came, Cheerio-laden and signless.

Toward the end of the day, I spotted another mother holding her infant daughter in a carrier and a large sign in her hands. It read: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” Below was a picture of her bright-eyed daughter. On the other side was a list of ways the Affordable Care Act had been critical for her pregnancy, birth, nursing, motherhood, and the life and health of her daughter.

Hers was the sign I would have made. In many ways, her story was my story. My oldest was born after three consecutive miscarriages. Without the tens of thousands of dollars worth of complicated testing that helped my doctors finally get to the bottom of what was preventing my body from carrying my babies to term – tests covered by my insurance that my husband and I would never have been able to pay for on our own – it’s unlikely that my daughters would be here. That mother’s sign spoke in a powerful, practical way to the interconnectedness of all life and all creation, and to the truth that society’s concern for its least powerful is a litmus test of its goodness. Our strength comes in recognizing the unbrokenness of that proverbial garment of life. That, to me, is the work yet to be done.

A few years ago I participated in an anti-racism workshop that concluded with the mantra, “The work is not the workshop.” The workshop itself was powerful and challenging – so much so that it would have been easy to fool ourselves into believing that participating in it was the same as doing the work of justice it demanded. But it wasn’t. It was only after the workshop ended, after we all went back to our workplaces and schools and churches, that the real work needed to begin.

In the same way, the Women’s March was not the work. That’s not to dismiss it. Just the opposite: if its purpose was to direct our eyes toward the work yet to be done, to propel us outward to take up what theologian M. Shawn Copeland calls the wrenching task of solidarity, then mission accomplished. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a movement in which I felt not quite comfortable and not perfectly at home. Dissonance can be fruitful, if we allow it to be. Instead of coming away feeling complacent, I rode home on a crowded bus more convinced than ever of the need for authentic solidarity among women and more energized than ever to work for it.

I research religious ritual in contexts characterized by pluralism. The beauty and genius of public rituals – like a women’s march, for example – is that they create space for ambiguity. In the act of walking-with, standing-with, being-with, they can become sites of embodied encounters and unexpected relationships. They allow for the emergence of the unanticipated, the unexpected, the almost-impossible. So here’s my best hope for the Women’s March: that the coalition building can happen after the fact, recognizing in retrospect that for a short time we all stood and walked together for similar and different things but ultimately for a vision of the common good that begins with the smallest, the weakest, the most vulnerable.

Susan Reynolds is a PhD Candidate in Theology and Education at Boston College.