At the Foot of the Cross

Whenever I come across images of a crucifix, I’m enamored by the ones placed in such a way that the viewer’s perspective looks upward towards Jesus. If one were to close their eyes, recalling the accounts in the gospels, one can enter through Mary’s perspective as she sat at the foot of the cross watching her beloved Jesus pass his earthly life, offering himself as ransom for our sins.

“Leave it at the foot of the cross.” I’ve come across that saying in a few instances, once in the context of leaving sin at the confessional after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. This means leaving the weight of anger, fear, and sadness that comes with sin and walking anew in God’s forgiveness and grace. It’s been a spiritual practice that’s been very important to me and a constant reminder that only Christ can carry our burden.

As we continue to navigate life in a time of pandemic, social unrest, and climate crisis, I feel a strong desire to be at the foot of the cross, gazing up at Christ.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to serve as a missionary in Kenya, working in an orphanage alongside the Missionaries of Charity, a female religious community founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta. I remember a sister encouraging me to always keep my focus on Christ and the cross, as I worked. The moment we begin to take our sight off Christ and the cross is the moment we begin to lose focus in our lives. Distractions. Preoccupations. Whatever you want to call them, there is an evident disruption one will experience when Christ and the cross are no longer the focus.

With nonstop news coverage, constant social media updates, and the latest controversies from political and religious leaders, there are many outlets competing for our attention. Where do we find ourselves amidst all this noise and chaos? Are our souls at rest? Venerable Fulton Sheen once said:

“There can be no world peace unless there is soul peace. A man who is not at peace with himself will not be at peace with his brother.”

At the foot of the cross, we will find our peace. At the foot of the cross, we can fix our gaze on the one who is the source of our peace. As our world continues to endure heartache and hardships, both at home and abroad, let’s sit at the foot of the cross more intentionally. At the foot, we sit with our mother Mary who shares in our sufferings, as well. In a world of chaos, we can find the focus and peace that we need today.

Patrick Laorden is an Associate Director of Ministry Services for the School Sisters of Notre Dame and a theological consultant for the Laudato Si’ Movement.


Building a Culture That Values Families, Rest, and Human Flourishing: An Interview with Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson is an attorney, mother of two, and Fellow at the Center for Public Justice, advocating for fair and family-supportive work. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed her on pro-family policies, rest, the pandemic, and meritocracy.

You’ve spent a great deal of time advocating for paid leave and other pro-family policies, but it seems like the cancer diagnosis you received last year, which you discuss in a recent Sojourners cover story, still transformed not just your life, but how you think about rest, human flourishing, and how policy fits in with some of these big questions. How has that experience reshaped your thinking?

The experience that propelled me into pro-family policy was maternity and motherhood. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s widely circulated Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” early in the morning after putting an infant to sleep for the second or third time, bleary-eyed yet still needing to get up for work the next day.

From the vantage of parenting, it seemed necessary to expand the timescope during which one’s job training or career unfolds so as to anticipate childbearing and childrearing as seasons within a whole working life. Establishing universal paid family leave advances this goal well. Were paid parental leave benefits and job protections universally available, it would provide parents with the resources they need to be present with their children and it would also help transform the template of an “ideal worker.” Rather than the unencumbered person who shows up the same way each day of their career, an ideal worker should be understood as one whose life includes seasons of time away from work in order to have children, raise a family, and take care of others periodically.

In some ways, experiencing cancer reinforced my views about work and care. At a minimum, having come to accept the value of caregiving through motherhood (contrary to the countervailing social pressure to value work over care), I have been more willing than I might otherwise have been to accept care and rest for myself. But, having recently completed the now-common battery of cancer treatments—surgery, chemotherapy, radiation –I’ve entered into a new, ill-defined state of convalescence about which my views are changing and, truly, are in formation. There is no “What to Expect When You’re Recovering” handbook…Some days, I can peer over the edge of illness into the world of health and vitality; others, I’m firmly planted in the place of exhaustion and fatigue. In other places and eras, I think, convalescence was a more capacious social category.  The role of convalescence seems to have shrunk as modern medicine’s capacity to treat illness has expanded. But the line between illness and wellness remains indefinite. I am not certain how to formulate policies that account for this. Should paid sick and medical leave be widely available? Absolutely. How it should be accumulated and allocated is not as clear. What is clear is that so many of us are in this liminal state of convalescence right now, recovering from COVID-19 itself or the sacrifices and solitude the pandemic imposed. I’m hopeful that, over the coming months and years, we can pay gracious attention to our own and our neighbors’ healing processes, offering each what’s needed in the moment and perceiving patterns that might ground just social norms and legal policies going forward.

How should Christians think about rest?

Culture often treats rest as an instrument or even an “achievable luxury.”  Rest enables our productivity. In the Christian tradition, however, rest is fundamentally a divine gift. As such, it is something stranger and much less within my control than I might wish it to be. When I have entered into the kind of rest that involves stilling my mind and orienting toward God in worship, the outcome is not always peaceful. Sometimes, lament or grief emerges in rest in ways that the opposing state—action—tends to suppress. I think of the gospel account of Jesus sleeping in a boat while a gale arises, stirring up waves that crash over the side of the boat (Mark 4:35-41). Perhaps rest is not incidental to the storm but entwined in it. As such, what is offered in the gift of rest is not the silencing of the storm—at least not at first—but rather an awareness of the wind and waves and, then, more deeply of the accompaniment of God’s presence in and through the gale.

During the pandemic, many students and workers who may have felt pressure to go to work or school sick have stayed home to recover (there are, of course, some who do not really have that option). Some problematic old norms have therefore been disrupted. Do you think we will learn anything from the pandemic and establish better norms in some of these areas or that we will return to the old way of doing business the first chance we get?

In 2008, the journalist George Packer wrote that the inequities and abuses of power revealed by a shocking financial crisis might lead to a fairer, more just America in which (to paraphrase) the pie would be smaller but more equitably shared. His expectation, though elegantly stated, has not come to pass. The aftershocks of the Great Recession have been far less predictable, less linear, and more subterranean than most would have predicted in 2008. So I am incredibly reluctant to judge the results of COVID-19 on our long-term ways of doing business. For those who work in white collar settings, there are new norms and new tools arising that might enable more remote work. And there is evidence that fathers in white collar, remote-accessible work took on a greater share of parenting responsibility during the pandemic—a trend that could, among other things, shift assumptions among employers, schools, and other family-adjacent institutions about the identity of the “go-to” parent in a household. But a more troubling consequence of the pandemic seems to be a sense of alienation and even anger with each other and with the institutions around us. In such a context, it will take a great deal of work to sustain workplace norms—such as workplace flexibility—that require a great deal of interpersonal trust. I would love to see workplaces dedicate a significant degree of intentionality to workplace systems and norms of all types, including accommodating those who have long shouldered the work of family care as well as all of us who are in some phase of convalescence or reconnection to work post-COVID.

You talk a little bit about the meritocracy and the ideology it generates and that sustains it. What role does this play in shaping how Americans live—both for highly educated workers and working class people? How does it shape our values, how we spend our time, how we see ourselves, and our family relationships?  And with structural factors playing a big role in the precarity and insecurity that so many families and individual people face today, is there a way for a person or family to successfully resist the norms and structural pressures that arise from meritocracy? I often think about this when reflecting upon the extreme individualism that shapes our society. Even those of us who are consciously trying to resist it and have many countercultural values probably live much more individualistic lives than we would in a society that truly valued community and solidarity. Is there a way out?

The problem is an ideology that hierarchically ranks our roles in society, assigning fundamental dignity and worth along a gradient. On a social level, we can reassert the fundamental, equal dignity of all persons by establishing a more robust social foundation for all—through access to a decent income, health care, and protected time for rest, recovery, and care.

On a personal level, one way out of “the meritocracy trap,” as the author Daniel Markovitz describes it, is to prioritize a quest for excellence over the pursuit of status. Likewise, I find it helpful to view work as a cultivation of craft rather than competition for position. Finally, your suggestion that family and community could be a way out is a beautiful one. Within families as well as within friendships, we can appreciate each other’s different quests for and ways of being excellent without ranking them. Ideally, this is a practice that inclines us to honor the equal dignity of all persons—in those outside of our families and friend circles and in ourselves as well.


Why Moundsville Matters: An Interview with John W. Miller

John W. Miller is a journalist and the co-director of the PBS film Moundsville. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed him on the film, Moundsville, and social and economic changes across the country.

Why did you decide to make a film about Moundsville?

After the 2016 election, I thought: What could I write or create that would be a narrative all Americans would agree was true and would tell a deeper story about America than the daily journalism I had been doing my whole career? Immediately, Moundsville, WV, came to mind as a place to do this. In 2013, I had written a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal about the town’s ghost tourism industry. Moundsville is one of the few places in industrial America that has so many layers of history. The 69-foot-high Native American mound in the middle of town is a window to the prehistoric pre-Columbian past. Moundsville experienced white settlement in the 18th century. It had a glorious industrial era as a manufacturing center on the Ohio River, including the world’s biggest toy factory. And now, it’s a service economy based on a Walmart, a main street, a hospital, and a prison. What could be more archetypical? I thought about moving there and writing a book. But when I met filmmaker David Bernabo I proposed a film and he said yes. We got a $4,000 grant from the Pittsburgh Arts Council and made the film in 2018. One thing that’s important about the Moundsville project is that we decided not to cover Trump or opioids. I think these are really important topics that deserve attention but they’re not the only topics, and they’re also momentary. I wanted to offer some deeper answers.

The film shows the movement from an industrial economy with a lot of good middle-class jobs to a post-industrial economy, where these types of jobs are often replaced by lower paying jobs in the service sector. How much of that shift do you think is driven by decisions made by national and local public officials versus larger structural forces?

I think it’s really complicated, and there are a lot of different reasons. It’s true that work has been devalued in the last 40 years in the name of profit. The Reagan Revolution in the 1980s gave companies license to pay as little as they could and move factories to countries where they could pay even less.  Factory owners in place like Moundsville often took the bait and made a killing selling to private equity and Wall Street investors. They bear a lot of responsibility. But another reason for decline in Moundsville is simply the nature of capitalism, which is a great system for creating new businesses but doesn’t have a lot of answers for when those businesses die. And inevitably many businesses die because, simply, people have moved on to consuming something other than the things they were making. For example, Marx Toys in the Moundsville area made Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Big Wheels and all these other iconic toys. In the 1970s, kids started playing video games and physical toys became less popular. That contributed to the factory closing. I don’t think that was anybody’s fault. It’s true that trade deals in the 1980s and 1990s opened the door for cheaper products from Asia and Mexico that killed a lot of American factories. But American citizens and consumers, I think, endorsed that by endorsing a consumer society. “We the American people did this,” a retired boiler operator named Les Barker says in our film. “We wanted everything cheaper.” I think one of the lessons of Moundsville is we should all learn to live with less and prioritize community instead of consumption. 

One person in the film bluntly says that young people with college degrees should leave. Do you agree? And do you think there is anything a place like Moundsville can and should do to attract or keep young people with higher education degrees?

One of the things I love about the movie is that it shows there’s no easy answers. Life is complicated. I think some people probably should leave, but some shouldn’t. Some young people have chosen to make their lives there. Life in Moundsville isn’t hell. As our characters show, there’re still lots of people finding meaning and fulfillment Moundsville. Some depopulation is inevitable. I think the answer in places like this is smaller populations, tourism, and niche business and industries. And maybe some remote work thanks to technology and the work-from-home revolution.

Another theme that came up was the way the loss of industrial jobs seemed to erode a broader sense of community. Do you think the changing economy has undermined community there and increased things like a greater sense of alienation or isolation?

Absolutely. There’s an interesting debate that Tim Carney brings up in his book Alienated America about what comes first: industry or community? My answer is that the jobs have to be there to support a good life for people. It’s a principle of Catholic Social Teaching that for a strong community, you need work that pays a living wage and offers a good standard of life. I think if you don’t have a bunch of decent jobs in a place, you’re going to have isolation and alienation.

In Chris Arnade’s book Dignity, one of the big themes seems to be how people find meaning in a post-industrial economy where middle class work once gave people stability and a sense of purpose. Where do you think people in Moundsville find meaning? Do they still look to their work to provide that meaning, like so many ambitious college grads (imbued with a meritocratic ideology) do when they head to big cities for jobs?

I think people in Moundsville still love their community. It’s incredibly safe. It’s between an iconic river and beautiful mountains. They find meaning in that beauty, and in that closeness to each other. They’re very loyal to each other. They also find meaning in the hope that things might improve in the future. I think one thing the pandemic has taught people is that they can find good lives away from New York and San Francisco. The brain drain to those cities is an undercovered story, and one thing that needs to happen in this country is a rebalancing toward the middle. A lot of people still leave places like Moundsville, and almost always it’s to get a better job.

Do you think people in places like Moundsville have the sense that you can have a stronger local economy or diligently protect the environment—but probably not both? 

That’s a good question. I think people in Moundsville are very aware of that tradeoff. In a perfect world, they’d have industrial jobs with some environmental cost (because every industry has some cost) but not a poisonous or dangerous one. In some towns, people miss the smell of stinky air because that was the smell of really good jobs.

Do you think there are policy changes that can be made to strengthen the middle class in Moundsville and similar places all across the country? 

I think there are two things that really hold people back in Moundsville and around the country. The first is that wages need to go up. Even in Moundsville, $10 an hour isn’t enough to have a decent life. I don’t love the minimum wage rules because they do limit what businesses can do, but I think they’re probably necessary when companies have so much power and pay so little. I’m glad companies are now hiking wages in response to all these people quitting their jobs. The second is that we need to figure out a way to make health care and college affordable. Their excessive cost is brutally unfair and really punishes people in places where wages are too low. Americans tend to hate this idea but I think we should have a health care system with private insurers but regulations that limit prices. But the truth is that there are no easy policy answers, and if I had them, I’d be running for office. Whatever policies are prescribed, what I wanted to show with Moundsville is that we need to do a better job of listening to the people policies are affecting.


Young Catholics and Climate Action: An Interview with Anna Robertson

Anna Robertson is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization for Catholic Climate Covenant. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed her on her work, young people in the Church, and the role of lay Catholics in promoting climate action and social justice .

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up doing this type of work?

I’m originally from Nashville, Tennessee, where I lived until the age of 18, when I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio for college at Xavier University. I graduated with a B.A. in theology and went on to complete my Master of Theological Studies degree from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Laudato Si was published when I was in the middle of my graduate program, and I remember being captivated by so much of what Pope Francis had to say. The way that he talks about mercy, a culture of encounter, integral ecology, and ecological conversion all continue to shape my understanding of the world, of what it means to be human, what it means to be creature, and how we might approach the question of right relationship. After finishing grad school, I took a job as a campus minister at Seattle University, and there’s a lot of that pastoral formation that informs the way I show up in this work now. I’m very curious about how we develop resilience in the face of the climate crisis, both as individuals and as communities. I’m interested in the ways we can evolve our movements toward relationship.

What are your goals as Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization for the Covenant?

I really believe that young people have a particular power in this historical moment, both within the Catholic Church specifically and within the world more broadly. I couldn’t say it better than Cardinal Blase Cupich said it during the Q&A following his keynote address at this past summer’s Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church Conference: “You have more power than you think, young people.” In the Catholic Church we are seeing this move toward synodality, toward drawing out and listening to the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” of the Body of Christ as genuine sources of theological authority, to borrow that brilliant phrase from Gaudium et Spes over half a century ago. Meanwhile, it’s no secret that young people are no longer embracing the paths of organized religion in the same ways that previous generations did. There is something about the joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties of young people that we have failed to hear as a Church—if that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t see the rates of disaffiliation that we’re seeing. And yet, now with the Synod on Synodality, with the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, we are seeing these opportunities to speak and to listen as a family of God. As Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization at Catholic Climate Covenant, I want to create a platform and community for young Catholics across the country to come together and amplify the call to care for creation, both within the society and within the Church, especially at this crucial moment in history—with, on the one hand, the urgency of the climate crisis and, on the other, a church freshly committed to listening, especially at its own margins, which include young people.

What are the biggest challenges you are facing?

I think one of the biggest challenges to working with young people in a religious context is young people’s shifting relationship to organized religion. People have so many diverse ways of relating to Catholicism. There are cultural Catholics, devout Catholics, former Catholics, ambivalent Catholics, Catholic-adjacent people (e.g., non-Catholic students at Catholic institutions)—and within each of those groups there will be people who resonate more and less with creation care. This is true across age groups, but really seems to be amplified among young people. It’s been an adventure trying to wade into that ambiguity and diversity and to devise strategies for community organizing within it, but it’s a worthwhile adventure, and I wouldn’t trade the beautiful diversity of thought and expression that I get to encounter among the people I work alongside.

At past gatherings of the US Bishops (USCCB), we have seen efforts to mobilize the conference behind Pope Francis’ agenda and priorities of taking on the throwaway culture in all its aspects and expanding what it means to protect the sanctity of life (among other things) continually fail. What would you say to lay Catholics who are disappointed by this—who feel like the bishops are undermining the pope and refusing to treat climate change with the urgency and focus that it demands? 

Something I’ve been working on myself recently is trying to catch when I am thinking of “Church” as primarily the church hierarchy rather than the people of God, the body of Christ. I think that we the laity in the Church have power that we don’t always embrace because of the ways that we’ve perhaps internalized the very culture of clericalism that so many of us push back against. It can be really liberating to look honestly at where we have more—and less—power and to make choices informed by that analysis. We can approach Church leaders using the very same tried and true methods of advocacy and community organizing that we use with lawmakers and other secular decision-makers. Are we listening for shared values we can lean into in our conversations? Are we building a diverse and powerful base of allies? If you’ve, for example, been trying for years to get the same parish priest to, I don’t know, be more vocal on care for creation, are there other approaches you can try that would achieve the same outcome? Feeling like Church leaders are out-of-step with something as urgent as climate change can feel very disempowering; stepping into our power can be an important antidote that frees us and energizes our Church. This isn’t to dismiss those feelings of frustration and disappointment but to seek to locate our agency in the midst of them as members of God’s family.

I think part of your job is to help young Catholics care about protecting God’s creation and be more active in protecting the environment. But do you also think that by connecting the desire and efforts to protect the environment with faith that this can bring young people into the Church or help those who have felt alienated and isolated to stay in the Church?

Absolutely. To be a young person today for so many people is to be awash in constant and cascading crises, to constantly perform life under the exposure of social media, to be oversaturated with connection but parched for relationship. Studies from the Springtide Institute have shown just how important relationships with trusting adults can be for young people’s mental well-being, and yet those same studies show that young people are relatively infrequently turning to ministers or other folks they associate with religion for this relationship. I believe—and whenever I say this I always say that I’m sure someone else said this first but haven’t been able to find the quote—that the Church should offer its people a credible hope, and I don’t think it’s been doing that for a lot of young people, partly because so many young people have experienced leaders in the Church remaining silent on issues they care about, or even directly opposite them on those issues. Climate is certainly one of these issues, and I do believe that when church leaders speak out on climate, it makes a difference for young people who might be on their way out the door. I know, as someone who, due to my role as a leader at a major Catholic organization, represents “Church” in the minds of some people, that it can be so important and life-giving for people to hear me speaking up on issues they care about. I know this because people have expressed it to me. Many young people, however, are also leaving the Church because they have been hurt within it, and so it behooves those of us who remain to work very hard to make sure that the space we want these young people to return to is one in which they will be welcomed and celebrated as they arrive, as God would and does welcome and celebrate any of us. If people’s genuine and authentic needs are not being met within the Church, we must take that seriously and ask from a place of deep humility and pastoral sensibility how we might better meet those needs.

How can young Catholics make a difference in their communities?

Young Catholics certainly already are making a difference in our communities! I was on a call last week with Washingtonians in attendance at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, and there were so many of us on that call who fell into the category of ‘young adult.’ Back in October, hundreds of Catholics across the country followed the leadership of Catholic young adults fasting in solidarity with the five youth hunger strikers calling for just and expansive climate legislation in Washington, D.C. Those are just a couple of countless. Within the Church these days, there’s a real hunger on the part of older generations for intergenerational community—or at least that’s something I hear expressed very frequently. I think there’s an opportunity here for young people to elevate their concerns within their faith communities. If climate change is something that you care about, let people know. Better yet, get some friends together, and then let people know. Maybe plan an event. Invite the broader community. Find out about local environmental justice groups organizing around issues impacting their community—maybe impacting your community, too. Ask how you can support their efforts. And consider along the way how all of this work is part of the journey of faith and relationship-building. The ecological conversion that Pope Francis calls for and that this historical moment demands of us is one made of millions of relationships orienting themselves more toward love. At every step, how are we creating the community we want to be a part of, the kind of community that can sustain life on earth?


Why We Created ‘Real + True’

On September 7, 2021, we launched a new project inspired by the Catechism of the Catholic Church called Real + True.

The word “catechesis” comes from a Greek word that means to “echo down” — to pass down and pass along the gift of the faith from generation to generation.

But in the modern world, what is good and true about our faith seems to be getting drowned in the noise of debate on Catholic Twitter, in politics, and more.

And this is why catechesis and the Catechism are antidotes to the noise and a pathway to bring about renewal in the Church. Periods of renewal in the Church have always been accompanied (or led!) by intense moments of catechesis. We seem to be on the cusp of such a time: we recently received a new Directory of Catechesis that calls for evangelizing catechesis, a catechesis that leads to an encounter with Jesus and presents the Gospel, the Good News.  Earlier this year, Pope Francis instituted the lay ministry of catechist which highlighted the role of catechesis in the life and mission of the Church.

But how can we bring about this moment when many Catholics look at the CCC and see it as an intimidating book, a set of rules or concepts to be memorized? How can we help our generation to unlock its beauty and riches? We hope Real + True can change that.

Our mission is to share the gift of our faith by creating beautiful, captivating, and relevant content inspired by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is an innovative project that transforms the Catechism of the Catholic Church into a living voice for the modern world. Real + True will engage with Millennial and Gen Z audiences around the world through videos, social content, and a podcast. It’s also a global project: content is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, and accessible for free to people worldwide. The content speaks to the dreams, aspirations, and needs of our audience in a down-to-earth and relatable way. The content is thought-provoking and rewards curiosity in a way that we hope will help people encounter the Catechism pulsating heart: Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us in this mission! Check out Real + True and share it with someone you know so that we can unlock the Catechism for the modern world and bring about renewal in the Church.

Emily Mentock is the co-founder of Real + True and FemCatholic, and lives in downtown Detroit with her husband, Drew. Real+True is part of The Catechism Project, a global initiative sponsored by OSV. Learn more at realtrue.org

 


Power and Wealth Matter, But So Does Human Flourishing

Photo by Cody Pulliam on Unsplash

Political power matters. Economic security matters. Any worldview totally divorced from material reality is one bound to perpetuate injustice, needless suffering, and further division. Humans do not live by bread alone, but we also need bread.

In a true, genuine democracy with authentic freedom, political participation cannot be reserved for the few. Government of, by, and for the rich is plutocracy, not democracy. Government designed to perpetuate white supremacy or racial hierarchies cannot be reconciled with democracy or freedom. Those working to establish free democracy and liberate people from hunger and desperate poverty must pay close attention to material conditions and the distribution of power.

But we run the risk of dehumanizing—or, more precisely, depersonalizing—others when we view them exclusively through the prism of how much power or money they have. When we think of ourselves this way, we can easily slip into a radical individualism that ignores the plight of the vulnerable and the common good. When we think of society through this lens, we can easily fall prey to collectivist ideologies that treat individual persons as cogs in a machine rather than as unique persons with innate worth and dignity. In many ways, collectivism and extreme individualism are two sides of the same coin.

Power and material security matter for human flourishing, but they certainly are not the only things that matter. Human worth is not based on how much money a person has or how much they contribute to society through their work or how many consumer goods they purchase. It is innate and immeasurable. And it is rooted in our nature as not just physical, but also emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings.

When we understand the nature and worth of the person, it transforms how we view ourselves and others. Acts of generosity are not a foolish waste of our hard-earned money but expressions of love for those we value. People who run into burning buildings to save people they have never met are not throwing their lives away, but may very well be pressing the limits of human potential with their courage and selflessness. The Black Christians who forgave the Charleston church shooter who massacred their loved ones were not afraid of demanding justice and equality, but were instead motivated by a sense of integrity and living out the radical faith, hope, and love that they believe endures all things and can transform all things. The parent who turns down a promotion at work that would involve far more travel in order to spend more time with their children is perhaps not sacrificing their potential but fully realizing it.

The reality is that we only truly flourish in community with others. The pandemic has made this vividly clear. Even introverts (like me) that do not mind a great deal of solitude understood that something important was missing during these lockdowns and quarantines. We need community. We are drawn toward communion. To resist this in order to maximize our individual or collective power or wealth is to betray our true nature.

In communities where relationships are rightly ordered, we do not become means to an end. We are not reduced to one of our characteristics. We do not discard those who seemingly lack utility. We are recognized as whole persons—and as entirely unique and irreplaceable.

How unique? Think of a child cradled in the warmth of a parent’s embrace. How irreplaceable is that child to the parent—and the parent to the child? Think of your dearest friend. What makes them so dear to you? Is it their style or your shared interests—or who they are at their absolute core? It is easy to understand the infinite worth of each person when we consider how irreplaceable they are to those who love them most.

If we start from a belief in the worth and dignity of each person and a commitment to creating a society where each person can truly flourish and reach their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual potential—a vision shared by personalists from Emmanuel Mounier to Martin Luther King Jr. to Pope Francis—the struggle for justice will neither ignore power dynamics and material conditions nor stop there.

We can fight against systemic racism—and for universal brotherhood and sisterhood. We can work to build a more equitable, sustainable economy that benefits all, rather than simply giving more people the resources to pursue happiness down the false path of consumerism, where the next thing you buy is always supposed to fill the hole in your heart or eliminate the insecurities gnawing at you. To build a just society, we must tackle unjust inequities and tyrannies, but we must also construct a future that allows true, integral flourishing—for all.


Millennial of the Year 2020: Loujain Al-Hathloul

For her commitment to women’s rights and equality and her bravery in protesting for these in Saudi Arabia, where a brutal regime engages in harsh crackdowns on human rights activists, our 2020 Millennial of the Year is Loujain al-Hathloul.

Loujain al-Hathloul openly protested Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, posting videos of herself driving and attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. This led to her initial arrest in 2014. She also protested Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, which placed heavy restrictions on women’s freedom of movement and actions. She has also spoken out on domestic violence. She attempted to run for office in 2015, the first time women were allowed to vote and stand for election, but she was excluded from the ballot.

She was arrested again in 2018. This was part of the regime’s crackdown on women’s rights activists, and she has described the torture, physical abuse, and sexual harassment she has received while detained. While the regime cracked down on activists, it reformed some of the very laws that these activists had challenged.

It took tremendous courage and sacrifice for Loujain Al-Hathloul to resist these unjust violations of universal human rights in Saudi Arabia and protest for greater equality for women. And she has never backed down. For her principles and persistence in the face of violence and oppression, she is our 2020 Millennial of the Year.