By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
Social justice, “This is the fasting I want, releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke.”
Charity, “Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is. 58:6-7)
This passage of Isaiah opens up the spirit of Lent. It also resonates in the Gospels. It is what drives the two shoes, the marching feet of the official church to address the conditions of the world, whether natural disasters, wars, disease, whatever. It is not about slogans or talking points, it is about doing.
Matthew Burkhart of Catholic Relief Services used the two shoes model of social justice and charity as our means to effect change. Charity we are familiar with, running soup kitchens, clothing centers, but the social justice part, advocacy to change policy, is less familiar, but we can learn it and do it effectively.
This is a paraphrase of the message we received at the Catholic Day at the Capitol. St. Peter’s hall was filled with dedicated parishioners from the Delta to the Coast, representing many causes. We had dreamers from Our Lady of Fatima in Biloxi, who are seeking justice to regularize their immigration status. Now young men and women, they were brought here as small children, and know no other place as home. They could be deported to the country of their parents, but this is a foreign country to them. We had dedicated people in prison ministry who want to fire up other people to join them, you know, “When I was in prison, did you visit me?”
This session, our Catholic Charities’ Poverty Task Force, decided to focus on mental health and child welfare. Warren Yoder, of Public Policy Center, has for 30 plus years struggling to humanize state laws that impact predominantly the poor and people of color, opened up the “Olivia Y” lawsuit that is threatening to put the entire state child welfare system under federal receivership.
We heard the horror stories of unqualified foster homes, children dying in care, huge unmanageable caseloads, not enough trained workers, etc, etc. No meaningful resolution in sight. We heard Amy Turner and Valerie McClellan of Therapeutic Foster Care and the Solomon Counseling Center speak of the progress broken families are making, but at a most critical time, could be left in limbo, when grant runs out. Money is a huge factor in solving these and other problems.
Warren ended his remarks with a powerful statement of hope, hope that energizes, not weakens, but pushes the cause forward.
When we as Catholics go and meet with legislators we do it from a profound moral position
We heard Father Fred Kammer, SJ, talk about taxation. One major point, taxes should first meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the common good. Human rights must be respected including economic rights.
We must understand that as Catholics we have the largest, most effective means to reach out to the poor and vulnerable. We must be their voice and attempt to make our principles of social justice be reflected in legislation. We need to educate our legislators, and we need to motivate them to put the needs of the weaker members of our state first. As Catholics we have the tools to counter the tired arguments that blame the poor and re-victimize victims.
At the press conference on the Capitol steps, Bishop Morin expressed our point of view well.
We can carry this day with us by forming study groups to look at bills against the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, namely how does such a bill impact the poor and vulnerable? Does it label them or punish them?
We can write letters to the editor. We can visit the Capitol on our own or with others and follow bills. Staff is there to answer basic questions and help you contact legislators. Learn who your own legislators are, and talk to them. Most of all, keep reading more of Catholic Social Justice.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)
Catholic Day at the Capitol just the start of work