Voice of the Poor Reflection Post-Presidential Election

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Tom Dwyer, National Voice of the Poor Committee Chair, Society of St. Vincent de Paul

In the wake of the tumultuous, divisive, and bitter 2016 Presidential Election marked at times with unspeakable vulgarity and personal character attacks the like of which we have not seen in our lifetime, many are now wondering what the results mean and what the future holds for our nation. I certainly am among those.

Can we return to the common good? Can we heal?  Can we retain the morality and civility of our society by re-embracing the dignity of every human person?  Do we accept the social Gospel message to be the keepers of our brothers and sisters in need?

As we ponder this as a nation, I also think about what this means for those of us who work directly with persons in poverty. For more than 175 years, seeking, listening, and ministering to the invisible in our midst has been the distinctive call of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. To use Pope’s Francis’s imagery, our Society has been doggedly fighting the “throw-away culture” he describes so vividly – one in which the poor, the alienated, the marginalized, and the vulnerable are ignored and discarded like pieces of trash.

Let us pray that we can heal in the spirit of the “field hospital” that Pope Francis describes as one critical role of the Church. And, as Catholics, let us position ourselves as Blessed Frederic Ozanam would have us do in the middle of the “warring factions” on the battlefield, whether the fight is about class, race, income distribution, care of the poor, education, hunger, employment, trade, health care coverage, immigration, climate change, foreign policy, or any of the many issues that confront and confound us.

But we must also do more than just bind wounds and bring about a cease-fire. As Catholics, we are called not only to charity but to justice as well. For there to be sustained, real progress – or, in other words for divisiveness to be healed, for the President-elect to be a true leader of all the people, for the throw-away culture itself to be abandoned – the underlying causes which opened the wounds and started the warring in the first place must be identified, addressed, and remedies begun.

In the uncertain years ahead, the faithful can be a vital voice helping move our country and the new Administration toward that type of real progress and away from rhetoric. We have, as the Bishops teach and the Pope has repeatedly reinforced recently, a “moral obligation” as Catholics to do this.

 We must continue to be the Voice of (and with) the Poor, but we are now challenged to understand that in a new and broader way than before these elections.   Since we have come to see so clearly the extent of the alienation, the disenfranchisement, and the sense of powerlessness and hopelessness, we cannot fail now to open even wider our eyes and our hearts.  We must also be willing to work with those with whom we may not seem initially to share similar goals, aspirations, approaches, and fundamental understandings of our spiritual and human nature.

Working as we do with those who are poor, marginalized, and alienated on a daily, personal basis, we have much to bring to this collective national discussion on which we have now embarked post-election. We not only can help guide and inform new policies, legislation, and approaches that will be considered, but also interpret the ones that are pending for our fellow Catholics and others of faith and good will.  We have a singularly important role to play.

With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let us re-double our commitment to charity and justice for all, and let us broaden our understanding that being a Voice of the Poor extends to all who are feeling left out – in whatever form that may take. Irrespective of where we may be in our understanding and discernment, let us prayerfully seek and spread the enlightenment, good news, and joy of the Gospel to the all too numerous social concerns of our time and to troubled individuals, including ourselves.

Tom Dwyer is the Chair of the National Voice of the Poor Committee, Society of St. Vincent de Paul.


Going Deeper

 As our country seeks to heal following a season of division, use these resources from WeAreSaltAndLight.org to assist your efforts to encounter and reach out to others.

For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food

thanksgiving-1705784_1920Every November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are grateful for food, the ability to feed our own families, and the need to ensure our entire human family has enough to eat.

Our holiday table reminds us of many other important tables: tables where families comes together to share a special meal; tables where our nation’s decision makers negotiate trade, aid, and public policies that affect us all; and, the most sacred of tables—the altar where the church gathers to be nourished by communion. Let us enter this month remembering that each table calls us to act with faith and hope.

November is the anniversary month of the pastoral letter “For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers,” first issued in 2003. The letter seeks to highlight the issues of food and agriculture and their connection to our faith.  The letter states, “We focus on how food and fiber are produced, how land is protected and how agriculture is structured, compensated, and regulated to serve the ‘common good.’”

The purpose of the bishop’s letter was to address the concern that food and agriculture are “little seen and less understood” by a post-industrial society living increasingly technological lives. It is true we are further removed from food and agriculture than ever before. Yet what we eat, who grows and harvests that food, and the state of the earth that produces these goods are the very things we need to consider as Christian disciples. It’s a valuable consideration this harvest month, and every month. More than a decade since it was first published, the bishop’s pastoral letter still serves as a poignant reminder that food and agriculture must be viewed from a deeply faith perspective.

November is also Native America Heritage month. Native Americans were once the most agriculturally prosperous group of people in the United States. Yet a snapshot of hunger and poverty today on reservations is nothing short of a banquet of scarcity.  Sixty percent of the counties with majority Native Americans face dangerously high food insecurity rates, according to Feeding America.  These statistics are a sobering reminder that many marginalized brothers and sisters are missing from our tables of plenty.

A broader overview of the state of hunger in our country reveals that 48 million Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table, and that 1 in 5 kids live at risk of hunger.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving won’t be a feast for everyone.

The bishop’s pastoral letter addresses the complexities of our food system but it is also a profoundly hopeful document. “We know these are not easy times, but as believers we have hope for the days ahead: We have the capacity to overcome hunger in our nation and around the world,” the letter said.

Through Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters campaigns, churches across the country advocate to end hunger by putting food and agriculture into focus. These annual policy advocacy campaigns remind us that God intended for all to be fed.

This Thanksgiving, let us remember that ending hunger in our lifetime will only be a reality if we act with faith and hope at all the sacred tables in our lives.

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.


Going Deeper!

Read about how parishes in the Archdiocese of New York are together advocating to end child hunger. You can hear more about this creative effort by participating in our live event on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m., which will feature this and other stories of acting together as communities of salt and light.

Hold The Onions, Please! Remembering Dorothy Day, Servant of God, On Her Birthday

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Milwaukee Journal)

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Milwaukee Journal)

Catholic Worker cooks have to be creative in the kitchen. They prepare large meals on small budgets and donated food items. Mystery soup is a regular specialty. My habit was to perform “veggie triage” on every lonely vegetable from the fridge, add spices, and create savory stir-fries. It is reported that Dorothy Day drew the line on creative cooking, however, the day a volunteer put onions in the fruit salad.[1]

Making a meal from random ingredients is only one essential Catholic Worker skill. But finding a place for seemingly mismatched people, things, and ideas is a hallmark of Dorothy Day’s life and legacy. In her early years, Day struggled with how to reconcile her social activism with her blossoming Catholic faith. Her activist and Catholic role models seemed worlds apart. When she met Peter Maurin, a French-born Catholic philosopher, she came to understand how her worlds could be united. The Catholic Worker movement was born.

Dorothy Day’s writings and her activism are often called “radical.” She supported labor movements, staunchly opposed war, and ran houses of hospitality for the poor on a wing and a prayer. Let us remember, however, that “radical” means going to the root.

When I was in college, Catholic Workers from Worcester, MA, drew me to the movement. They taught me that the root of opposition to abortion should be respecting and supporting life in all stages. This consistent life ethic, although not created by Catholic Workers, is another example of uniting issues in a way that many consider nonsensical in our society.

For Day and Maurin, Catholic radicalism was simply a call for every person to take up the Works of Mercy and follow Jesus’ instruction to do to the least what we would do to him. Pope Francis, in his address to the United States Congress in September 2015, recognized that Day’s “social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

While I still remember how to “triage” vegetables, these days you will find me balancing the demands of Religious Education Coordinator at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Washington, DC. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the 4th grade about Dorothy Day. Their faith and curiosities are a joy. We had fun trying out the Catholic Worker skill of creating beautiful things from random donations. Using paper squares to represent donated, mismatched tiles, students created floor designs for their pretend Catholic Worker kitchens.

Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood has been approved by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops. As we remember her today, the anniversary of her birth, let us ask how we can find more room in our lives for seemingly misfit people, things, and ideas in the name of Jesus and the good news of the Gospel. Following Dorothy’s good sense…skip the onions in the fruit salad!

sarver-cinnamon-dorothy-day-blog-nov-2016-photo-5Cinnamon Sarver has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. She has worked in Catholic education for many years and is available to host seminars on Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, the Eucharist, and other topics in Catholic Social Teaching. 

 

[1] As reported by Jim Forest, cited  in http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2011/day-biography-offers-insights-into-life-of-catholic-worker-co-founder.cfm


Going Deeper!

Learn about the timeline of Dorothy Day’s life and the process of her sainthood cause.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Two Powerful Books You Need for Early Formation

the covers of two children's booksLunches are packed, backpacks are strapped on tight, and yellow school buses are making their rounds.  The school year has begun!

Religious education programs are also back in full swing at our parishes. And families, back from summer camps and vacations, are settling into the normal routine of fall. At the same time, Pope Francis’ visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families is just around the corner.

What do all of these have in common? They are each a special opportunity to reflect on the formation and education of children.

This formation and education begins, of course, at home, where parents, the “first educators of their children,” teach them moral values and love for God and neighbor (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1653 and 2207).  We can’t start too early.

This fall, as we look for ways to catechize children about discipleship and the call to mission—themes that will most certainly feature prominently in Pope Francis’ messages during his visit—the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development has two great resources to help.

Green Street Park (grades K-2) and Drop by Drop (grades 2-4) tell stories about how children, inspired by their faith, put two feet of love in action in their local and global communities.

Here you can read:

Finally, here is a review by an 8-year-old!

handwritten review of Drop by Drop by 8 year oldDrop by Drop Review

In my opinion Drop by Drop is a very good book, now here is why: First of all I loved Drop by Drop, because there was a prayer in the front of the book! The story made me feel sad because the girl Sylvie had to get water that was 3 miles away and she could not go to school like me! I think other kids should read this book because they will learn how to help kids around the world!”

 


Find out more ways to respond to Pope Francis’ call during his visit to the United States! Sign up now for JPHD’s Papal Visit alerts on Sept. 21-28. The daily emails will include updates, resources, and ways you can act on the Holy Father’s call. The alerts will also highlight sharable content from JPHD Facebook and Twitter pages.

Want an awesome new children’s book to read to your child?

Merged Books

For years, the US Catholic bishops have used a “two feet” model to explain how Jesus’ disciples are called to put God’s love into action to address the problems that face our local and global communities. The “two feet” are charitable works and social justice

Charitable works describe those immediate actions we can take to address the needs of families and individuals in short-term ways, like serving at a soup kitchen or donating money to emergency relief efforts. Social justice addresses the root causes of problems, with the aim of making long-term change that will affect many people. Fixing flawed laws or policies, and promoting economic development are examples of social justice. Both “feet” are complementary and necessary.

This concept can be tough to teach to adults, let alone children! But it just got easier with two new children’s storybooks published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in partnership with Loyola Press:

Green Street Park is a story about a boy named Philip, who lives on Green Street. He loves his neighborhood, but the park he and his friends play at is in rough shape. When Philip and his friends complain about the park, their teacher, Sr. Mary Clare, challenges them to follow the example of St. Francis and care for creation in their own backyard. They clean up trash and they also work to engage their parents and community—even the mayor—in “fixing” the park. The end result? A safe, clean place to play and a community garden that produces healthy food for neighborhood families and the parish soup kitchen.

In Drop by Drop, Sr. Mary Jerome’s class has a visit from her nephew, Mr. Mike, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa. Mr. Mike shares about his friend, Sylvie, a little girl who could not go to school because it took several hours each day for her and her sisters to walk to a river and collect clean water for their family. CRS and the community implement a water project, and this means Sylvie can finally go to school. The students listening to Mr. Mike’s story decide to help through a creative project of their own.

As a parent, I’m excited about these two new books because they are such a great tool in helping children learn about our call, as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the problems that affect our neighborhoods and world. They explore real issues that children in the U.S. and around the world face, and spark imagination about how children can be involved in creative charitable works and social justice solutions.

Loyola Press has created a beautiful reflection guide to help children (and their parents) pray with the books, as well as downloadable worksheets for educators.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing these super new books with children in your lives. This week (April 20-24, 2015), in honor of Earth Day and both books’ focus on caring for creation, you can also visit USCCB Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to participate in a contest. You might even win a free copy of one of the books!

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Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.