Finding Christ in All Children

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:35, 40

Laura Kelly Fanucci, MDiv

Laura Kelly Fanucci, MDiv

Toward the end of my graduate courses in theology, I took a class on ministry through the life cycle. During our class on welcoming young families in the parish, we watched a video of a speaker encouraging pews full of mothers that their work as a parent answered the call of Matthew’s Gospel to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the sick. Whenever they cared for their children—the least among us—they were caring for Christ himself.

When the video ended, my hand shot up. And with the confidence that one can only muster before having children, I declared that this so-called parenting expert had it wrong. The idea that Christ’s commandment to care for the poor and needy—the very criteria by which we will be judged at the end of times—could be satisfied by raising one’s own kids? It was a complete cop-out.

It was really about justice, I argued. It was really about solidarity. It was really about radical love for marginalized members of society.

It was not about dirty diapers and baby bottles and car pools and doctor’s visits.

If anything, I argued, Christian parents were called to teach their children what it meant to actually visit prisoners, to actually welcome strangers, to actually feed the starving. Anything less was simply the watering down of Christ’s call.

Years later, I can tell you with just as much confidence that I only had it half-right.

I still believe that parents have a duty to raise their children to care for those in poverty and need. I still maintain that the watering down of the Gospel is an alarming trend for those of us who live in relative comfort and wealth. I still argue that Christ’s call in Matthew’s Gospel is about radical love and charity and service— a disturbing reminder for we who squirm in the pews and wonder if our lives will set us on the right or the left side on judgment day.

But what I have learned in the years since I became a parent is this truth. Continue reading

We must build new bridges

At his Mass of Installation on April 15, 2015, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, spoke about the need to build new bridges—a call that is particularly relevant as we pray for healing in Baltimore, Ferguson, and many other communities.

“The Book of Genesis points to the beauty of God’s design for humanity – the dignity of the human person made in the image of God, the unity of the human family, and the gift of the created order as the legacy of all. Yet the world we experience in so many ways shatters these fundamental elements of the divine plan, leaving us broken and separated, alienated and factionalized. A ministry of accompaniment rooted in the Gospel must reach out to society to repair these fractures, and must constantly build new bridges to recreate the unity of the human family and protect human dignity as God has intended.”

Read Bishop McElroy’s full homily.

Anger and Reverence

Kerry Alys Robinson

Kerry Alys Robinson

On March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day, I was invited by the archbishop celebrant to reflect on the scriptural readings for the third Sunday in Lent in the beautiful Chiesa di Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia in the heart of the Vatican. It is believed to be the first time a woman has ever had this privilege during the Sunday liturgy at the Vatican. The Gospel passage is John 2:13-25. The Mass began the Voices of Faith celebration of women’s contributions to the Church and world. 

All of our lives we are invited into a deeper relationship with Jesus, the better to live lives as Christians. We are called to hear his words and observe his actions in order to emulate him in our own lives. And what do we know about Jesus? He is the radical peacemaker. He tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to lay down our lives for others.

So in today’s Gospel it is shocking to see Jesus angry. Anger is such a deeply human emotion and yet because it is Jesus, we know that there is also a divine anger at hand here. It gives us permission to be angry.

Why is Jesus angry in this Gospel passage? He is angry because what is holy, what is a sacred place, is not being reverenced. He is angry because the people present lack all reverence for what is holy in their midst.

When we think of our lives today – March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day – when are we angry? Where is there a lack of reverence for what God deems as holy? Where do we lack reverence? And what could be more holy in God’s eyes than all of creation, the earth, humankind?

We are called in this Gospel today and every day to never be apathetic, to always be angry when we see that what is holy is compromised. We are called to be angry when the dignity of people is compromised. We are called to be angry when there is sexism in the world or in the Church. We are called to be angry when our sisters and brothers live in extreme poverty, the result of unjust structures that we can remedy. It should make us furious that women and children- the most vulnerable- are disproportionately affected by poverty, war, violence, disease. We should be angry when whole generations are being raised in refugee camps. We should be angry when children do not have access to education, or food, or water, or healthcare. We should be angry when sexual abuse and violence is still so prevalent in every part of the world, and kerrypreachingthat rape is a weapon of war. We should be angry when young girls are kidnapped and sold into slavery. We should be angry that in 2015 human trafficking is a very real, collective sin.

Our invitation today is to claim that anger, and in emulating Christ, to turn that anger into opportunities for action to reverence what God holds dear, what God sees as holy and sacred. And that is surely the very lives of people. Today in a preferential way let us uphold and promote the dignity and full participation of all women and girls in the world and in the Church.

Come to the table of the Eucharist and pray for the grace to never be apathetic when what is sacred is being desecrated. Pray for the grace to always have the strength and sustenance to reverence what God sees as holy and, as Christ did, to act on that with the whole of your life.

Kerry Alys Robinson is the executive director of the Leadership Roundtable and a former consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

CCHD: Living the Message of Christ on the Margins

Bruenig

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Isaiah 42 tells us how we will know the Messiah:

He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow dim or be bruised until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

In fulfilling this prophecy, Jesus Christ confronts us with the boldness of his example: what does it mean to support the bruised and smoldering, and to work tirelessly for justice?

It means, in part, directing our help to the most vulnerable members of society. In 2013, roughly 45 million Americans lived in poverty, close to 15 million of them children. For newcomers to the United States, poverty rates are often higher than those among the native-born population. People who are struggling live all around us, in every city and state, with a broad range of needs corresponding to income, age, health, and immigration status – and Christ’s example directs us to reach out to them all.

But because the needs of our suffering neighbors are diverse, so too must be our methods of outreach. There is the policy approach: for example, in 2013, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty. Despite its success in keeping struggling families food secure, SNAP has repeatedly come under fire by politicians hoping to make gainful cuts to social spending. So the CCHD’s commitment to providing clear and accurate information about the function of SNAP and other programs aimed at supporting poor families is an incredibly valuable tool for inviting Catholics into public advocacy for the good of our suffering neighbors.

It is somewhat more challenging to measure the impact of local and grassroots organizations helping people in need, in part because the forms aid can take are very diverse. But community-built support systems are absolutely indispensible to the health of society, and can oftentimes respond to needs that large-scale government programs would have more difficulty addressing. The CCHD’s mission to locate and fund ground-level aid groups is the subsidiarity-based counterpart to its solidarity-based advocacy for SNAP, and its goals are just as necessary.

Consider, for example, Parent Voices Oakland, an Oakland-based advocacy group seeking effective childcare solutions for working parents. A CCHD grantee this year, Parent Voices Oakland aims to respond to a problem recently profiled in the Pacific Standard – that is, the rise of round-the-clock daycare due to the increasing work loads of parents in the labor market. But childcare, especially for parents who work very long hours, is not necessarily affordable, reliable, or obviously safe, and for working families all three of those qualities are absolutely necessary. Parent Voices Oakland hopes to establish community-based childcare choices as well as eventually make childcare available to all parents regardless of income or current access. Like the CCHD’s model, Parent Voices considers all options, from state programs to community organizations, and in doing so makes the most of the rich tapestry of support working parents are due.

This model of help – which utilizes the talents and knowledge of low-income families and their communities as well as their organizing potential – recognizes the full value of the people who have asserted their need, and gives us some insight into what a Church on the Margins might look like. It will be prophetic in its mission, and like the Messiah, it will place first the well-being of those who are weak, suffering, and vulnerable. But it will not just support top-down distributions of resources. It will walk with the suffering as they make their own way forward, bringing forth outside help when needed, and supporting already-present community resources for change when they are available.

The CCHD, in other words, is an avenue through which we can live the message of Christ on the margins, where so many reeds are bruised and wicks are close to burning out. Like the Messiah’s mission on earth, the goal is justice – and where justice is needed, tireless work is required. For those of us watching trends in inequality and economic pressure on families with despair, this is the work that must be done.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is from Fort Worth, Texas. She writes about Christian ethics, poverty and political theology for Salon, The Atlantic and The Week. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and obtained her MPhil in Christian theology from the University of Cambridge. She is currently a doctoral student at Brown University.

Can one person make a difference? On labor issues, absolutely.

Discussing the state of labor and workers in America is a challenge. There is so much to say and little space in which to say it. Such is the case with solutions—the challenges that workers, their families and our economy face are significant, and often discouraging and overwhelming. They lead us to ask the question: Can one person make a difference?

I say absolutely. It begins at the core of our teaching—human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We are called to protect and affirm that dignity always.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reflects on this in the context of “an economy of exclusion”:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading (no. 53).

We live in a society preoccupied with things, consumed with consuming, cajoled and prodded into buying this new product, getting that service done. But deeply embedded in those everyday consumer decisions are profound human consequences.

How often do we pause to consider the dignity of the human on the other side of those choices? Do we ever really stop and ponder the worker who made this thing we desire so strongly? It is easy to protect and affirm the human dignity of the people we can see, hear, and interact with; less so when it is a worker thousands of miles away, or hidden in a rural warehouse or laboring to clean as we rest.

We get discount clothes, but do we give a thought to whether workers in the factories and old textile towns who manufacture (or used to manufacture) them work in safe conditions and are paid just wages?

We get affordable, fresh produce, but do we give a thought to the migrant workers who toil in the fields, the exhausted Earth, or the small family farms that used to feed our country but can no longer compete?

Caregivers and domestic workers, the majority of whom are female and immigrant, work for poverty-level wages to care for the most vulnerable among us–our young and elderly. Do we give a thought to their circumstances, or whether and how the lack of quality care for the old and the young opens the door to the same attitudes that see no grave moral wrong in abortion and assisted suicide?

Pope Francis’ words should stir and challenge us. An economy of inclusion that alleviates poverty and creates decent work demands that we appreciate the human consequences of our decisions.

It is not easy to ask these questions, but our faith requires it. Now, everybody’s circumstances are different, and not all of us can act to the same degree. However, it is important to ask these questions, and make life- and dignity-affirming choices whenever we can. In the words of St. John Paul II:

It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments (Centesimus Annus, no. 36).

May God grant us all wisdom, charitable hearts and vision to see the needs of our sisters and brothers in the decisions we make each day.

Tom MulloyTom Mulloy is a policy advisor in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development

 

Go deeper:
Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working on labor issues.
Check out the bishops’ recent Labor Day Statement.