Those who work for justice help us live law of love
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
ONE OF THE BENEFITS of belonging to the Catholic Church is the mere fact of being one of the company of millions trying to "make it" in the ultimate sense, and knowing that it is as much of a struggle for most other ordinary folks as it is for you. There is great comfort in hearing, time after time, that regardless of what we do, we can't earn salvation; it is a gift to us from a loving God who understands our shortcomings and doesn't hold them against us. What our God asks of us in return is our faith in him, our charity toward one another and our hope for union with him and for the ultimate transformation of his creation.
It is also clear in our Catholic tradition that we are to collaborate in that transformation by living the Gospel insofar as we can. And that's where a second benefit of belonging to the Catholic Church comes in, as I see it.
There always are, if we care to notice them, people among us who live out the Gospel in exceptional ways, proving to the less heroic of us that it can be done and, in a real sense, doing it for us to the extent that we support them in what they do.
Some of these exemplars will sometimes strike us as extreme, just as Jesus struck the solid citizens of his day as extreme. They may make us uncomfortable. We may even disagree vehemently with their methods and their symbolism. For example, many of us are scandalized when we read about priests and nuns trespassing on federal property, beating on a B52 with hammers and pouring vials of their own blood on these long-range bombers. And, being scandalized, we would not dream of doing such a thing ourselves.
Don't get me wrong. I am among those who think that one can reasonably debate the effectiveness of such activity, and I probably would not take part in it. But, as a Bishop friend once said of one of his priests who got arrested for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic, "I disagree with his methods, but I have to respect his conscience."
But there are among us those who live out the Gospel in less spectacular but no less heroic ways.
Their heroism lies not so much in the performance of extreme or extraordinary acts as it does in dedication and perseverance; in acts of charity toward those who cannot help themselves and in acts of hope that others will join them in bringing about a more just economic and political order.
We are fortunate in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to have many such people. I will not try to list all that I can think of for fear of missing many others. But you know the kinds of people I am talking about. They are the ones who learn of a need and do something about it. They may organize an effort to provide needy schoolchildren with shoes or school supplies. They may become acutely aware of the horrible suffering visited on children and other innocent victims by a policy such as the sanctions against Iraq, and engage in a public fast to rally public opinion against it. They may see people in our own city going hungry and launch a major project and organization such as Harvesters to connect hungry people with surplus food which would otherwise go to waste and to enable the rest of us to contribute to the effort.
The examples could go on and, as I said before, all of us could name names. One such name would be the late Mary Alice Guilfoil, director of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Office and Benedictine nun. She and her co-workers at the Peace and Justice office - JoCele McEnany and Barbara Jennings, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet - are examples of the kind of persistence and dedication to Gospel values that always seem to be present in the Catholic Church, not necessarily spectacular but steady, like a beacon light on a craggy cliff that helps us correct our course in a storm.
The work of peace and justice, Mary Alice once wrote "is often unpopular and usually not too well organized!" And yet, while the machinery for pursuing the work may not have been the most powerful or the most well-oiled, you always knew that as a need or an injustice arose, Mary Alice and her co-workers would find a way to address it and to shake you out of your complacency to take notice of it and join in the effort in some small way.
One of the functions of contemplative orders, we are told, is to pray to the Lord. Their prayers benefit not only themselves but the whole Church as well as the whole world. Along with prayer, action for social justice is equally a foundation block of our faith, representing as it does our effort to obey the command of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you."
That command to the apostles, along with the commission to "go make disciples of all nations," Mary Alice wrote, "is possible to them, and us, because Jesus chose them and loved them," as he chooses and loves each one of us.
Like the contemplatives who pray, those who carry out the work of making disciples through evangelization, and of loving others through their work for justice, do so for all the rest of us. They show us by example what can be done and enable us to take part in it in our own way. I thank God for such people and for a Church that forms and sustains them.