Like most things natural, biological, and liturgical, there are definitive seasons to the Church’s work for Justice and Peace…. we have just this month come off a time that we affectionately call our “busy season”…from January through March, our Office – like most offices across the nation like our own whose responsibility it is to promote Catholic social teaching and advocacy for the inherent dignity of every human person – is abuzz with activity: whether its scheduling and preparing for meetings in Washington and Albany to bring the concerns of our Bishops to those whose position requires them – or ought to require them – to be concerned about the most vulnerable among us, or soliciting parishioners to participate in events such as the annual Public Policy Forum held in early March in Albany giving them the opportunity to give voice to their values, or answering the many inquiries regarding these events that we receive, or coordinating the transportation that brings our participants to and, especially … hopefully, back from these events – the early, dark, cold months of the winter pass by here like a whirl-a-gig, occupying our hands, our hearts, and our minds so totally that we almost don’t notice April’s soft rains and blessedly lengthening days until we emerge at the other side of this flurry of activity. (As the son of a Certified Public Accountant, it doesn’t escape my notice that the “Social Justice” busy season loosely corresponds to the “Tax” busy season…not sure why that odd juxtaposition occurs…but grateful that ours ends just a bit sooner – and hopefully not as painfully for those involved!)
The events of the past few months have not only been moving startlingly fast in “micro-sense” within Catholic social justice circles, but also of course in a “macro-sense” worldwide as well. I needn’t recount events in detail here, but since this past January, we inhabitants of this planet that we call the Earth have experienced: youth-inspired revolution and roiling turmoil across the Middle East and Northern Africa fueled by digitally generated clarion calls for democracy and dignity, economic dislocation across the globe and government stalemates and showdowns at home, disaster upon disaster in Japan, and – for we Americans – a third theatre of military action within which our country is involved in a Muslim-majority country – this time Libya. The pace of change and challenge has been so astonishingly fast that its difficult to stay on top of any one of these given situations…let alone giving each the attention that they deserve. On a personal level too, the events of the past few months have been filled with difficult goodbyes: in early March, I lost my beloved Godmother after several weeks of her hospitalization, and a good friend – whom I have blogged about in previous posts – completed his studies here in the United States and returned to his home to what I am sure in many ways he will find is a changed Middle East.
I began this post discussing the vicissitudes of early 2011 not so much as a way of excusing away the fact that I haven’t written a post in a while (something for which I humbly ask indulgence) but instead as an explanation: for you see – through the wonders of modern technology – I have received several gracious messages in my personal Facebook account, supportive of some previous things written as well as urging me to keep up my commitment to writing. (Such is the reach and power of Facebook – as I’m sure the former leadership of Egypt could tell you!) While these messages in my Facebook in-box have not quite accomplished anything as revolutionary as toppling a government, their patient encouragement has shaken me out of my writer’s block and gotten me to sit down, put pen to paper, and jot down some thoughts…
Recalling the past few months has also got me reflecting on life and the successive changes that every life is composed of – life’s “seasons” if you will. Much of what has transpired worldwide is not remarkable individually in and of itself: it is instead the rate of these changes that I believe people have found so jarring. So much of life is about change and our reactions to it. As for “life’s seasons”, it certainly doesn’t escape me that I write this blog post during the liturgical season of Lent – a time that the Church asks us to set aside our “business as usual” and intentionally recall – through acts of personal sacrifice – the events in Jesus’ life that led up to His Crucifixion and death on the Cross of Calvary on Good Friday. Lent – as a period of self-sacrifice – lasts 6 weeks and corresponds to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the dessert to prepare for his public ministry. The Church – in encouraging us to prepare ourselves spiritually for the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord at the Easter, asks Catholics during this period to undertake personal acts of penance including increased prayer, alms-giving and fasting from both foods and festivities. Mindful however that 6 weeks of unbroken sacrifice could lead some to an un-Christlike dour disposition, the Church in her wisdom deemed the 4th Sunday of Lent Laetare Sunday – a day intended to remind the faithful of the joys of this life and– much like the rose colored candle that is lit in the Advent wreath on the 3rd Sunday of Advent – to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance, and remind them that even during times of trial and adversity, it is the Christian way to always maintain hope.
This past Sunday – Laetare Sunday 2011 – was the actual day that I sat down to draft this post; I did so right after I had returned from the magnificent Church of the Blessed Sacrament over on West 71st Street, only a few blocks west of Central Park in Manhattan. I was over at this parish at the invitation of its pastor, Msgr. Robert O’Connor and at the request of Catholic Relief Services, to give brief reflection after Communion at several of the Masses there on the good work of Catholic Relief Services on the day that the collection for CRS was taken up. Giving testimony on behalf of CRS was not difficult; some of you may recall that I had the honor this past September of traveling to the countries of Tanzania and Ethiopia with Catholic Relief Services to witness some of the life-saving work that the CRS staff and their partners do there day in/ day out, throughout the year, year after year. Much like Catholic Charities does here domestically, Catholic Relief Services acts as an agent of hope all over the world, making manifest Jesus’ commandment that we love – and help in a concrete way – the least of our brothers and sisters.
As I reflected further on the work that Catholic Relief Services does in some very difficult circumstances – and the total appropriateness of speaking in support of this organization on the Sunday in Lent when the Church tries to remind us of the necessity of maintaining hope even in the midst of adversity – I though some more of some of the situations that I reflected on briefly earlier in this post: of the multiple calamities that are still befalling the people of Japan, of the on-going struggles in the Middle East, of the difficulties encountered by the fledgling democracies of the world, of the three wars that our nation is now involved in, of the on-going public policy struggles to support the lives and dignity of the vulnerable in concrete ways both here and abroad, and even the challenges posed by the loss of loved ones through migration or death. Each of these situations present multiple – and in some situations, almost insurmountable – difficulties to those who are experiencing them. And yet, if we – the Catholic Christian community – take seriously the words of Jesus, it is our Christian responsibility, individually and collectively, to reach out and become agents of hope for those struggling with the vicissitudes of life. We all may be called to this struggle in different ways – whether it is through supporting organizations such as Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities who assist the vulnerable here and abroad, or through personally advocating on behalf of human life and dignity on a national, state or local level, or even through being a comforting listener to someone who has lost someone dear to them no matter the circumstance – but each of us as Christians are called to bring the Hope of Christ to the marginal and suffering, reminding them through our actions that no matter what the adversity, if we do the right thing – just as Lent is followed by Easter – love will prevail.