With all the furor over Kathy Saile’s appointment abating somewhat, I want to carefully address a topic that was raised in the midst of the debate. Over and over, people commented “Oh, she is just one of those peace and justice types”. Now I know in my gut exactly what they mean, but I have a very hard time articulating it. There is nothing wrong with being an activist for social justice. I keep a list of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy taped to the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards to remind me several times a day how I am supposed to serve others. Then why do so many “peace and justice” ministries set my teeth on edge?
I think my discomfort begins when “peace and justice” ministries become focused on serving man and forget about serving God. They stand with their accusing fingers pointed at government agencies and shout, “You need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless!” They sneer at those who spend time before the Blessed Sacrament or pray a Rosary because they are “just praying” and not out there “doing something”. They do not see the Mass as a community of believers looking “East” towards Christ. Instead they focus on each other. Christ’s presence is an afterthought. The Mass becomes a pep rally for action or a political statement rather than an encounter with the True Presence.
The best Mass I was ever at was held at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The presider did just that—presided, kind of like an orchestra conductor. The setting was extraordinarily powerful!" Kathy Saile, Phoenix, Arizona
The truth of the matter is, I am called as an individual to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless because I see Christ in the “least of my brethren”. I don’t do these things because I am such a wonderfully nice person. I do them because I am a servant of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In order to serve Him, I have to know Him. I get to know Him through prayer and through the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict XVI stated this very clearly in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:
36. When we consider the immensity of others' needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven towards an ideology that would aim at doing what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem. Or we can be tempted to give in to inertia, since it would seem that in any event nothing can be accomplished. At such times, a living relationship with Christ is decisive if we are to keep on the right path, without falling into an arrogant contempt for man, something not only unconstructive but actually destructive, or surrendering to a resignation which would prevent us from being guided by love in the service of others. Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed. People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone. Piety does not undermine the struggle against the poverty of our neighbours, however extreme. In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service. In her letter for Lent 1996, Blessed Teresa wrote to her lay co-workers: “We need this deep connection with God in our daily life. How can we obtain it? By prayer”.
37. It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be able to change God's plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defence of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?
I hope the Bishops keep this in mind as they plan their domestic agenda. Our charitable works should be different in character than those of a secular social services agency. We must feed both physical and spiritual hunger. Again I refer them to the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
35. This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).
Therefore, the primary work of our bishops should not be political action. Rather, it should be pastoral. Our bishops must lead their flocks to Christ through prayer and the Sacraments. Once we really know Him and love Him and center our lives around Him, we can faithfully serve Him when we meet Him in the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the lonely and the disenfranchised. “The love of Christ urges us on.”