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.

Finding God in the Aftermath of the Presidential Election

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM

Tuesday night, Nov. 8, I stayed awake past midnight, anxious to find out the results of the Presidential Election. Finally, I rested my weary head on a pillow. “O God where are you in the midst of all this?” I sighed. “And what do you want me to do?”

I got an answer a few days later when, out of the blue, an image and a story popped into my mind. That image was one of Giotto’s frescos in the Upper Church of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. The fresco tells a story. St. Francis was passing by the city of Arezzo, which was in a grip of an intense conflict. According to the story written by St. Bonaventure, “St. Francis saw a multitude of demons rejoicing over the city and instigating the angry citizens to destroy each other.” The people were deeply divided along economic, social, and political fault lines. Many felt disempowered. That disempowerment, in turn, gave rise to fear, resentment and hatred. It bred mistrust, mutual demonization, and even violence.

In response to that scene, St. Francis sent Br. Sylvester as his herald to preach a message of peace. On the fresco, you see Br. Sylvester standing in front of the city of Arezzo while St. Francis, down on his knees, is in a deep contemplative prayer. As a result of the intervention of the two friars, “the tumult in the city was appeased, and all the citizens, in great tranquility, began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city, so that they might be duly observed. Thus, the fierce pride of the demons, which had enslaved the miserable city, was overcome by the wisdom of the poor. The humility of Francis restored it to peace and safety.” The fresco depicts the demons fleeing Arezzo.

In this post-election season in America, there are – and I’m speaking figuratively – demons hovering over our cities and the entire nation. They are the demons of fear, callousness, and incivility. Those demons incite intolerance, discrimination, personal, and systemic violence.

What can we do to follow the lead of the two medieval Franciscan friars who put evil to flight?

I’d like to offer three observations and suggestions:

  1. St. Francis and Br. Sylvester were contemplatives in action. Francis was, down on his knees, praying. Likewise, our efforts for justice and peace must go hand-in-hand with cultivating prayer and contemplation. Only by going deeper will we be able to draw on these inner resources. Only then will we have the power to deal with fear, anger and helplessness. Only then will we be able to let go of the rigid ideologies that shackle us and hinder us on our path toward the Kingdom of God.
  2. St. Francis   and Br. Sylvester didn’t flee from the conflict – they took personal risks and engaged that conflict with compassion, creativity, and courage. They brought opposing groups of Arezzo’s citizens into a civil discourse. Are we willing to follow their lead? As a response to the 2016 Presidential Election, Franciscan Action Network invites us to make this make this commitment to Civility in Dialogue:
  • Facilitate a forum for difficult discourse and acknowledge that dialogue can lead to new insight and mutual understanding.
  • Respect the dignity of all people, especially of those who hold an opposing view.
  • Audit yourself and utilize terms or a vocabulary of faith to unite or reconcile rather that divide conflicting positions.
  • Neutralize inflamed conversation by presuming that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith.
  • Collaborate with others and recognize that all human engagement is an opportunity to promote peace.
  • Identify common ground, such as similar values or concerns, and utilize this as a foundation to build upon.
  • Support efforts to clean up provocative language by calling policy makers to their sense of personal integrity.
  1. According to the biography of St. Francis, the devils fled the city of Arezzo when its citizens sat down together in a civil dialogue and “began to revise the statutes and regulations of the city.” The key point here is that an authentic dialogue leads to restorative justice. The 1971 World Synod of Bishops reminds us that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” The Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation ought to compel the ordinary Christians – men, women, youth, and children – to civic engagement, and not just during times of elections but throughout the year.

I hope that, just like St. Francis and Br. Sylvester, our faith communities will continue to inspire and empower people to live out a Gospel that is not truncated but, rather, is inclusive of civic engagement.

So, where is God in this tumultuous post-election period?

As typical of our God of surprises, he might be waiting to be found in your commitment to deeper prayer and contemplation, in your pledge to civility in dialogue, and in the tenacity with which you stay engaged in various community or advocacy efforts without giving in to despair or cynicism. I know it gets tough. But God believes in you.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM was born and grew up in Poland. After immigrating into the U.S. in 1988, he joined Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province and obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union. For the past eight years, he has been ministering at the St. Camillus multicultural parish in Silver Spring, M.D. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Franciscan Action Network and he is involved in the Archdiocese of Washington Care for Creation committee.


Going Deeper!

Catholics around the country are involved in efforts to transform their communities on a year-round basis. Learn what ongoing faithful citizenship looks like by visiting the WeAreSaltAndLight.org Success Stories page, where you can learn how faith communities are working on racial justice, predatory lending, immigration, caring for God’s creation, and more.

Get Out and Vote, Faithful Citizens!

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1We are in our last few days before the presidential elections. The previous months have been filled with speeches, debates and campaign ads. Our natural reaction, in the face of incivility and personal attacks by candidates from both parties, may be to feel tempted to withdraw from the political process altogether. But that’s not what we’re called to, as disciples of Jesus and as faithful citizens.

Sunday’s Scripture readings are perfectly timed, a breath of fresh air to remind us that God is the center of our existence; that his vision for us is one of hope; and that he loves us and cares about the difficulties and challenges we face.

In the first reading (2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14), we hear the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. They receive strength and courage in the midst of an unimaginable challenge. In the second reading, Paul likewise seeks to “encourage” and “strengthen” the Thessalonians (2:17), exhorting them to embrace “the endurance of Christ” (3:5). In the Gospel reading, Luke reaffirms the applicability of faith to the serious issues and challenges that we face, for “he is not God of the dead, but of the living” (20:38).

In the face of challenge and discouragement, we are invited to receive strength and encouragement from God. We remember that God loves us and is present and active in our lives, and in the challenges we face as individuals and as a society.

This love requires a response. The U.S. Catholic bishops write in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, quoting Pope Francis and the Gospel of Mark, “Love compels us ‘to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15)’” (Evangelii Gaudium [Joy of the Gospel], no. 181).

For Pope Francis, being people of faith means that we recognize and experience the “inseparable bond between our acceptance of the message of salvation and genuine fraternal love . . . God’s word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: ‘As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40)” (Evangelii Gaudium [Joy of the Gospel], no. 179). Receiving God’s love requires that we extend love to our brothers and sisters, whom God loves.

What an appropriate reminder for us as we approach the elections.

In their statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops highlight a number of pressing issues that affect our neighbors (nos. 64-92). Some of these include:

  • Addressing abortion and other threats to life and dignity, such as euthanasia, the use of the death penalty, and imprudent resort to war;
  • Protecting the fundamental understanding of marriage as the life-long and faithful union of one man and one woman and as the central institution of society;
  • Achieving comprehensive immigration reform;
  • Caring for God’s creation, our common home;
  • Helping families and children overcome poverty;
  • Providing healthcare while respecting human life, human dignity and religious freedom; and
  • Establishing and complying with moral limits on the use of military force.

As Catholics, we believe that “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 13).

By voting, we can put love for God and neighbor into action by caring for the needs of those who are most vulnerable in our society: the unborn, the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the homeless, and the immigrant. They need us to act on their behalf.

Put your faith in action by voting this Tuesday.

But also remember that Catholics’ responsibility to be involved in political life does not end after the elections. You can be involved by serving those in need, advocating on their behalf, working to change unjust policies, or even running for office yourself. This is what faithful citizenship is all about!


Going Deeper

 Visit FaithfulCitizenship.org for Part 1 and Part 2 summaries of the bishops’ statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, a Faithful Citizenship 101 video, and additional materials in English and Spanish.

Voting: One Way to Oppose Injustice

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Omar Gutierrez, manager of the Office of Missions and Justice, Archdiocese of Omaha

Recently, I was speaking with a friend who is involved with politics. We were talking about the election, and he told me one of his biggest frustrations is the low level of participation.

Our conversation reminded me about St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, otherwise known as Edith Stein (1891-1942). Remarkably intelligent, Edith earned a doctorate in philosophy and a university position at a young age. One night, while visiting friends, she found herself in their library and picked out a book from the shelf. She sat and didn’t put it down until the early hours of the next morning. When done, she said out loud, “This is truth.”

The year was 1921. The book was “Book of My Life” by St. Teresa of Avila. And the next year Edith came into the Catholic Church, eventually entering the Carmelite order and taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was of Jewish heritage, however, so she was eventually arrested by the Nazis and sent to her death in Auschwitz in 1942.

So that’s Teresa Benedicta. Now for the reason I remembered her after my conversation with my friend. Once, the nuns in her convent were voicing their frustrations over whom to vote for in the upcoming election. Why vote, they said, when everything is so obviously rigged in favor of the Nazis? What does our vote matter?

St. Teresa Benedicta, who was sitting close by, put her work down and chided her sisters. They must vote, she said, because every opportunity must be taken to voice opposition to injustice. Not to vote meant being silent, and silence becomes approval of injustice.

I thought of this scene because many people today find themselves busy, pulled in so many different directions. But so many people today are deeply concerned about our future. In the last few months, a consistent two-thirds of the nation has said that our country is going in the wrong direction. So many are hurting.

We may be tempted to say in the face of it all, “What’s the point in voting?” But when we are tempted, or when we hear others say it, let’s remember St. Teresa Benedicta’s lesson for us. Not voting means being silent in the face of injustice. Not voting bars us from the opportunity to voice our opposition to injustice and show solidarity with the unborn and the single mom who is struggling.

What’s more, we’re called to do more than vote. Prayer and fasting also are important in the democratic process. We believe in things visible and invisible after all. So let us pray and fast for our nation, for our leaders and our fellow citizens.

Finally, some may be called to run for office. We need Catholics willing to run for office and shape a better future for us all. If you feel called by the Lord, answer that call and he will give you strength.

Let me close by just saying that I pray everyone reading this column votes. If you are in the habit of voting, make sure you encourage your family members and friends to vote. It’s our responsibility and it’s our opportunity to really make a difference. Because if Christianity teaches us anything, it should teach us time and again the difference one voice can make.

St. Teresa Benedicta discovered that so many years ago in that book and we can, too, as we step in the booths to vote.

Omar Gutierrez is manager of the Office of Missions and Justice in the Archdiocese of Omaha. This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Catholic Voice Online.


Going Deeper

Catholics around the country are involved in non-partisan efforts to help get out the vote in their communities. Read about one effort here.

“It shall be a Jubilee for You”: Civic Engagement in the Year of Mercy

“‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, … [He] has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Is 61:1-2) … I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year”.

Pope Francis quoted this passage from Isaiah, (proclaimed by Christ at the beginning of his ministry), to formally declare the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Isaiah speaks of his call to participate in the Divine work of creating a more just world. His joyous call is our call as well. There are as many ways to be missionaries of mercy as there are people, but I propose yet another way – a way vibrantly lived out by St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Philadelphia, namely, that of civic participation.

St. Vincent de Paul parishioners prepare for voter engagement work

St. Vincent de Paul parishioners prepare for voter engagement work

The parish is a member congregation of the interfaith community organizing group, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER).  POWER, which is funded in part by a Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant, will have more than 20 of its congregations participate in Get Out the Vote initiatives. This non-partisan effort will start internally. They aim to ensure that 100% of the members of each participating congregation are registered to vote. The congregations will then go forth into their communities with voter registration forms in hand. Members will participate in door-knocking campaigns, and be trained to assist citizens in the voter registration process.

What does voting have to do with mercy? Mary Laver, a lay leader at St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Outreach coordinator for POWER, and co-author of the PICO Year of Encounter program, says that the answer lies in Catholic social teaching’s (CST) emphasis on the necessity of participation. Our civic participation is an “extension of the belief that Catholics have in the dignity of the human person” Laver says. She believes that Christ’s call of mercy in Matthew 25, (the call to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and company to the prisoner), points beyond these immediate needs to the “need for every person to be a tangible part of how society is run…” and ultimately “to the need for mercy and justice.”

CST proclaims that it is our duty and basic human right to participate in society for the advancement of the common good. David Koppisch, associate director of POWER Philadelphia, says that the spirit of Get Out the Vote campaigns, and consequently the spirit of merciful participation, should continue beyond election day. POWER groups, particularly St. Vincent De Paul, work to keep voters engaged on social justice issues year round. After helping people feel included in the civic process by encouraging them to vote, POWER congregations then encourage them to be ‘year-round prophets’ by speaking out about injustices in our communities between elections. In 2014, they worked to pass a ballot referendum that would provide just wages to airport subcontractors, most of whom were living in poverty. Bringing good tidings to the afflicted. POWER organizations are also working to ensure that public schools in Pennsylvania that serve our poorest children get the resources they need.

This year, may we view our right to civic participation as an opportunity to be instruments of mercy.

marsha forsonMarsha Forson was a summer intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Going Deeper!

You too can help your faith community form consciences and participate in political life! FaithfulCitizenship.org includes dozens of resources in English and Spanish, including bulletin announcements and inserts, a Faithful Citizenship 101 video, a voter registration guide, tips for conducting a candidate forum, and guidelines for appropriate, non-partisan political activity.

Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).

In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.

But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).

How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).

Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.

We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”

When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”

When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”

As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.

In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.

Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:

  • We should begin with respect.
  • We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
  • We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
  • We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
  • We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
  • We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
  • We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.

 

If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.

Increase our faith!


Going Deeper

As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

Our Dual Role as Disciples and Americans: the Call to Participate

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1Today’s readings and the celebration of Independence Day tomorrow remind us of our dual role as disciples of Christ, and as Americans, and the call to participate in public life as an important way of assisting God’s work to transform the world around us.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah (66:10-14c) reflects on the long suffering experienced by God’s people during their time in exile, and describes God’s vision of comfort, restoration, and peace. In what ways do Isaiah’s words of longing resonate with us as we seek to free our communities and world from the oppression of poverty, war, and other violations of human life and dignity?

Yet, the Psalmist reminds us, “Say to God, ‘How tremendous are your deeds!’” (66:3) and Paul proclaims that “new creation” is possible for all in Christ Jesus (Galatians 6:15). We might ask ourselves: how are we called to be part of God’s tremendous deeds as he seeks to transform all of us—including the broken systems and structures that lead to suffering in our world today?

Like the seventy-two disciples sent by Jesus in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20), we are sent on a mission. Pope Francis reminds us:

An authentic faith . . . always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, it hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,” the Church, “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice” (Joy of the Gospel, no. 183).

In their statement on political responsibility, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops point to Pope Francis’ words to remind us that working to transform the world around us is part of “our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (no. 13).

An important way to do this is through our participation in the public square. The bishops give a number of examples of how we can participate:

  • “running for office”
  • “working within political parties”
  • “communicating [our] concerns and positions to elected officials”
  • “joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks [and] state Catholic conference initiatives”
  • “joining…community organizations,” and
  • “other efforts to apply authentic moral teaching in the public square” (no. 16)

This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate our dual roles—as disciples of Christ, and as Americans. Then let’s work to change the world.

Going Deeper

At FaithfulCitizenship.org, you can read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and access resources to help your faith community participate, including videos, bulletin inserts, do’s and don’ts during election season, and more.

As we conclude the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21-July 4), reflect on the inspiring public witness of numerous saints and martyrs, including Blsd. Oscar Romero, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Maximillian Kolbe, Ven. Henriette Delille, and others.