This story was first published in the Fall 2018 edition of JUST Words.
Passions for justice
Among my Springfield Dominican Sisters there are many varied passions for justice. A quick review of the community directory brings to mind certain sisters who are passionate about or ministerialy engaged with the following concerns:
- immigration reform
- access to mental healthcare
- economic justice
- global climate change and other environmental concerns
- human trafficking
- education reform
- accessible healthcare
- criminal justice reform
- concern for the unborn
- nuclear disarmament
- persecution of religious minorities
- workers’ rights
- protection of vulnerable and marginalized people
- housing justice
- the impact of U.S. foreign policy on Iraq
- drug-trafficking, gambling
- justice for the native people of our land
…you get the idea.
In some sense, it’s not as important which of the world’s many injustices we work to change—all are related. They all matter.
Seeing the Common Good
What is important is our individual and collective ability to see the common good, to connect to the world’s suffering and injustice with empathy and compassion, and to sustain a practice of faith that stretches us beyond the boundaries of our private concerns.
We are called by the Gospel to move to the margins, beyond the centers of power. We are called to that place where Jesus put himself and sends his disciples to seek the common good.
The “Salamanca Congress”
In the fall of 2016, near the close of the Dominican Family’s observance of the 800th anniversary of Dominic de Guzman’s founding of the Order of Preachers, 200 Dominican friars, sisters, laity, nuns, priest associates and youth, ministering in 50 countries in all corners of the world, gathered at St. Stephen’s, the Dominican priory in Salamanca, Spain.
They were there to reflect on how to renew the preaching mission of the Order through the promotion and defense of human rights.
The final statement of the “Salamanca Congress” placed concern for people and creation at the very foundation of any Gospel-based program of justice. “There cannot be a flourishing human species, exercising human rights, if Earth’s eco-systems are depleted and unprotected,” the statement said. “This broad respect for the whole of Creation gives flesh to the Church’s understanding of the ‘common good.’”
Following Jesus, then, means engaging an ever-expanding understanding of what is common and what is good: the rights of Earth and the rights of Earth’s people.
Our “Big Blue Marble”
A major shift of human consciousness in this regard occurred when NASA released the first-ever photograph of the “Big Blue Marble”—our planet—as seen from Apollo 17.
The photo has become an icon of evolving human consciousness that can move us toward the common good. It has become a valuable touchstone. Our “Big Blue Marble” is a beautiful place to focus our attention as we explore how to connect with the deep intuition it evokes in us.
This beautiful place we call home is the place we’ve been given to serve and care for one another “until death do us part.”
Do we know where we are?
Eugene Cernan was on Apollo 17, one of three human beings to see that amazing sight on December 7, 1972. Decades later he told a reporter that as he gazed at Earth from 18,000 miles away he asked himself: "Do you know where you are at this point in time and space, and in reality, and in existence?”
Do we know where we are? Do we understand what we see? Do we know what it is we need to do to sustain the gift we’ve been given?
The post-resurrection Christians found themselves in a similar state of heightened consciousness. “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles,” The Acts of the Apostles Acts tells us, because they “devoted themselves to the communal life” and “all who believed had all things in common.”
Today’s human family might find itself in this same hyper-conscious state at moments of national or global disaster. We rush aid to the sites of earthquakes, floods, famine, and wars—we feel our oneness at times like these. But those connections are difficult to sustain for long and are easily rent asunder by partisan politics and fear.
How do we get connected, stay connected, and live in a way that allows us to sustain real change for the life of the world?
The Salamanca Congress outlined a practical approach to seeking the common good in accord with the gospel. The centerpiece of their thought is the “Salamanca process.”
It’s based on study, dialogue, prayer, and action undertaken by 16th Century Dominican missionaries and scholars to change the oppressive systems enslaving the peoples of the Americas.
This cycle of praxis (what we actually do, as opposed to what we say or think), contemplation, study, analysis, and back to praxis—putting into action the best response to a pastoral or social need—created a sustainable cycle for bringing the Gospel to bear on the most pressing issue facing our 16th Century Dominican brothers—the genocidal enslavement of people.
Connecting human hearts
That model worked for them—and will work for us—for one reason, I believe. It connects human hearts to the stories of real people affected by unjust policy. For this reason, it is an effective way to make the sustainable change required before we annihilate ourselves in the service of short-sight narcissistic desires.
Why? Because, as the Jesuit Nicholas King wrote in Calling People of Goodwill: The Bible and the Common Good, “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good...for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbours.”
Study, pray, do, analyze, repeat
See if you can use the method the early Dominicans used to make change in the world! Download a PDF version here.
- Pray these words of Jesus: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (Jn:17:20-21)
- Write down one question you have about an injustice in your neighborhood, city, state, nation and on the planet. For example: Are the sidewalks curb cuts in your neighborhood safe for persons with disabilities? Does your city have a plan for renewable energy? Does your state adequately fund childcare for single working parents? How do unjust economic systems impact the health of Planet Earth?
- Find the answers to your questions. If you are really brave, you’ll try to discover the answer by finding a person who can share his or her experience with you. Have a conversation with the woman in the electric cart you pass every morning on the way to work. What is her experience of traveling the city? Is your office groundskeeper home to put his 6-year-old to bed at night, or is he working a second job to pay for daycare? Have you talked to your sister-in-law on the coast about the impact of global warming on her home insurance costs? Why is there a Burmese woman at the strip mall to do your nails? What global forces displaced her from her home?
- Make a plan to make a difference. Maybe just pick the most compelling issue. Connect with others who feel the same way. Study, pray, do, analyze. Repeat.