A Letter to My Younger Disillusioned Self, In a Time of Similar Upheaval

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The world you inhabit has suddenly become dark. You are seeing things you had, until this point, only read about in books. The brand of Christianity that you adhered to–that you wanted to lay it on the line for–has started to unravel under the weight of injustice. You will begin to shed layer after layer of piety.

In what becomes an act of bravado, you start to go to coffee shops on Sunday mornings instead of looking for a “Bible believing church” in your new city. When folks back home ask if you checked out their cousin’s fellowship, you smarmily reply that it is in the suburbs, a land of white privilege that doesn’t warrant your time or effort. When you do visit an urban church that seems promising (on a Sunday night–practically subversive), they happen to sing a chorus from your youth and you abruptly depart.

A family in the neighborhood where you are serving as a year-long volunteer dies in a fire that could have been prevented. Except that not everyone perished. The infant son is pushed up and out and over the iron bars on the windows that hemmed in the rest of the family as flames enveloped the house. Hesurvives. The poverty that led them to use the gas oven for heat persists all around. The stench of burnt vinyl siding lingers in the air for a few days afterward. You walk by the stoop daily and see a growing pile of fruit and candles, offerings for the deceased to take to the other side of life.

Soon, you will stop going to church altogether. No God you want to know would be alright with what you have seen in a few short months. The effects of addiction. The crippling poverty. The nightly sounds of battery and pop of gun shots. The alarm and confusion turns to anger and then to cynicism. A couple of teens from your after school program get picked up in a “sweep,” a common practice of rounding up young black men who “fit the description” of petty thieves and drug dealers. They remind you that it doesn’t pay to play by the rules because they will be targeted anyway, simply for the color of their skin and where they live.

By the time Mo gets shot, you are drinking your way through cynicism a few nights a week. You’ve stopped answering phone calls from some friends and family. You feel that you are too busy doing important work. Your only spare time is spent with the other full-time volunteers in your program. They are the only ones who “get it.” All the pain. All the brokenness. They’ve had the same conversations you’ve had with the dope-sick prostitutes on the avenue as you open the community center in the early morning. A friendly hello. A wave to the pimp nearby as you lock up late at night. This is normal now. Even welcome. No one back home would understand, so why try to explain or even describe it? Read More


From the Francis Moment to the Francis Movement: Mercy is the Way Forward

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for President and Hillary Clinton has math firmly on her side to win the Democratic nomination, the next six months of politics is going to be contentious if not outright ugly.  Not just because we’re heading into an election that no one wants, but quite simply because Trump and Clinton are the two leading candidates Americans describe as potentially “terrible” presidents: 44% of Americans think Trump would be terrible (as opposed to 10% who’d argue he’d be “great”) while 30% in the US say Clinton would be terrible (compared with 11% contending she’d be “great”).  By the evening of November 8th (or in the early hours of November 9th), a large portion of our country will be disgusted with the election results.

This is beyond the typical political polarization we keep hearing about, including the latest figures from the Pew Research Center.  A few examples: 61% of Republicans think defense spending should be increased, compared with only 20% of Democrats; 74% of Republicans are seriously concerned about the threats posed to national security by refugees from Syrian and the Middle East, while only 40% of Democrats concur; when it comes to global warming, only 26% of Republicans worry about the impact to the US,  a fraction of the 77% of Democrats; on the issue of increasing foreign aid, only 32% of Republicans offer their support, compared to 62% of Democrats.

To be sure, ideological differences are to be expected between rival political parties.  But as illustrated by these striking images, a divided Congress can bring politics to a standstill.  And I don’t just mean the Republican stonewalling of President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.  As Trent Lott and Tom Daschle have argued, the lack of compromise, chemistry, leadership, and shared vision can bring our political system to a crisis point.  The anger of the American populace has been palpable in this election cycle and certainly some of the appeal to candidates like Trump is the old “throw the bums out” angst.  As philosopher Martha Nussbaum has observed, underneath this anger lurks fear and helplessness, and if this continues to go unaddressed, there’s potential to unleash a “dangerous rage in a way that might do great damage to the American people in the long run.”

So what is to be done?  If so many Americans consider our political system to be so dysfunctional and find the presidential nominees so repugnant, what is the way forward? Read More


Sant’Egidio, Lay Groups, Service, and Social Justice

Imagine that you’ve just graduated from college and moved to a city for your first real job. How do you live your faith and find community? Or perhaps you’ve just started a family and want to raise your children around people living the faith. How do you respond to the universal call to holiness? One way, is to join a lay movement or association.

One of the lay groups that best models how a solid foundation in prayer and the Word of God bears fruit in good works is the Community of Sant’ Egidio, which has been praised by the last three popes for its spirituality, ecumenism and service to the poor. 

In college, my best friend, was a member of a Sant’Egidio community. She met for evening prayer every Monday and visited a nursing home in a poor part of town every Friday. The day I broke up with my boyfriend I was depressed and didn’t want to leave my house. I told her not to come over, that I just wanted to be alone. She came over anyway, and after doing my dishes and listening to me talk for a while said, “C’mon let’s go” and took me with her to visit the nursing home. Every part of me just wanted to stay home and watch movies, but doing something kind for someone else, and taking a break from feeling sorry for myself, actually made me feel a lot better. Read More


Amoris Laetitia and Social Justice: Ten Quotes from Pope Francis’ Exhortation

Pope Francis’ much-anticipated apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, does not disappoint. It is an incredible work that is full of good advice for both families and church leaders, delivered with theological richness and pastoral sensitivity. Do read the whole thing if you can.

A lot has already been written on many of the key elements of the document, but what struck me while reading it is how clearly Pope Francis connects family concerns with social concerns. He argues that families are only able to flourish if our societies are set up to support them.

This approach called to mind a great quote by St. John Paul II, who said,  “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Part of Pope Francis’ emphasis in Amoris Laetitia could be summed up by flipping that idea around: As society goes, so goes the family. They are complementary ideas.

Here are ten quotes from the exhortation that connect particular social issues and our call to work for justice to family life:

1. Dignity of Work

Labour also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of one’s family: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children!” (Ps 128:5-6)….This having been said, we can appreciate the suffering created by unemployment and the lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of Ruth, Jesus’ own parable of the labourers forced to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life. [24-25]

2. Care for Creation

Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kg 21) and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice (cf. Lk 12:13; 16:1-31). [26] Read More


Pornography Is a Social Justice Issue

Millennial Catholic Megan McCabe, who has written on hookup culture and rape culture at Millennial, has a new article at America. She writes:

This process of desensitization and subsequent search for a new thrill is one way that male viewers find themselves aroused by acts of violence and degradation that they previously would have found horrifying.

Through “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” the U.S.C.C.B. attempts to address these social concerns. But the statement mentions them only briefly and without much explanation. Despite addressing issues of violence, the overall framing of the document remains focused on lust and chastity. To take pornography seriously as a structure of sin would require moving violence to the fore, allowing it to frame how we ought to understand the ethical challenges posed by pornography. Through further exploration of the negative social effects of pornography, it becomes clear that the primary concern ought not be lustfulness. Rather, use of pornography entails complicity in a social structure that makes violence against women seem normal, even erotic. It is a matter of social injustice.

Such an approach would lead us to see that the primary necessary response ought to be oriented toward justice and social transformation. It would require solidarity with those who are victimized by sexual violence. Avoiding such material is good not only because it promotes moral purity but also because it challenges the cultural underpinning of unjust, gendered power and sexual violence. The key moral issue is not one’s own “clean heart” but one’s participation in upholding and passing on cultural forms that promote violence against women.

You can read the full article here.


Four ways to Heal the Social Justice/Pro-life Divide

Millennial writer  Mike Jordan Laskey has a new article at NCR. He writes:

Accept “political homelessness” and live in the tension.

John Carr, the former director of the U.S. bishops’ justice and peace department, uses the phrase “politically homeless” to describe where Catholicism’s consistent ethic of life leaves us. We might be “comfortable with neither Republican economic individualism, which measures everything by the market, nor with Democratic cultural individualism, which celebrates personal ‘choice’ above all else,” he wrote in America. “Neither form of libertarianism leaves enough room for the weak and vulnerable or the common good.”

Political homelessness is hard! I’d love to feel content with either major party, and contribute to and vote for their candidates without thinking too much about it. I want to buy a t-shirt and go to a rally. I’d like to be a fan of the only presidential candidate to prominently feature a quote on economic injustice from Pope Francis on his website — Bernie Sanders — but the candidate’s perfect 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America breaks my heart.

Maybe this tension would be more manageable if we put less emphasis on the vote and instead spent more energy lobbying elected leaders on both sides of the aisle. Or, to borrow another favorite line of John Carr’s, if politicians go wherever the wind blows, it’s our job to change the wind.

Acknowledge that the state has valid roles to play in matters of both life and justice.

One point of debate I’ve noticed between pro-lifers and social justice advocates in the church mirrors the secular political debate about the size and scope of government. Many pro-life champions are politically conservative and favor limited governmental intervention — except when it comes to highly regulating and eventually eliminating the practice of abortion. And some social justice activists, even those who are nominally pro-life, are all for robust social program spending and strict regulation but balk at the idea of legal efforts to restrict abortion or protect the rights of the unborn. The ethicist Charles Camosy calls this the “Costanza strategy,” named for the Seinfeld character who spends a famous episode of the series “doing the opposite” of his usual instincts.

Catholic social teaching affirms that the state’s job is to ensure all vulnerable people and groups are protected from various threats. In his encyclical Mater et Magistra, St. John XXIII brings together life and justice concerns in one beautiful passage. “As for the State, its whole raison d’être is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters,” he writes. “It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children.”

Let’s avoid the hypocrisy of the Costanza strategy. The important role of the state is an area where Catholic pro-life champions and social justice activists should be in full accord.

You can read about the other two ways to heal the divide and the rest of the article here.