“If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” –Mon. Oscar Romero
This prophecy of Oscar Romero came true. He was killed for speaking out on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. He did rise again in his people.
On five different occasions, I brought a group of high school juniors to El Salvador for a ten-day justice education trip. We sat at the feet of Salvadoran people and learned about Romero’s death, the twelve-year civil war that followed, and the role the United States played in that war. We stood on the alter, right where Romero was shot. We went to his tomb to pay tribute, and we ran our fingertips over his name etched in stone alongside all the others killed during the war. We acknowledged his death, but we were also surrounded by his spirit everywhere we went. I have never felt anything quite like it. In the rural villages they sing his praises. In the city his face is painted in mural after mural. People want to share what they know about him. He lives on in the continued justice work being done, in the hope of the people. He is their champion, their saint, and in the heartbeat of the people, his spirit is alive and well.
Romero’s story is one that gives me so much hope. He was an intellectual, a well trained lover of liturgy. The higher ups thought he would be moldable and obedient to them. They were wrong. Instead, Romero answered the call to go and see his people. What he saw converted his heart. He did not tell the poor people of El Salvador that they should live gracefully in poverty and love the Lord. Instead, he accused the unjust political and economic systems for their suffering and demanded change. He refused the large dwelling for the Archbishop in the capital and lived in a humble, small room. He preached truth to power, and received death threats immediately. He became a pastor of the people.
On May 23rd, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified. This is a move that also gives me hope. El Salvador’s history is full of repressed truth, secret buried bodies, and the wealthy taking charge of the country’s narrative. Pope Francis is allowing the truth to breathe, to have its turn. Romero was killed for his beautiful faith and his advocacy for the poor.
Mon. Oscar Romero reminded us that violence and repression is never the answer. He warned us that a system where a few hold too much power and have too many resources while others want is not sustainable. It seems that now is the perfect time to celebrate the life and teachings of Romero so that we too may live into a world that is more equitable and free.
“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms, and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”
Joy of the Gospel #204
In 2000 at the United Nations, 192 nations committed to 8 Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015. It took only 10 years to achieve the first goal — to cut in half the number of people living on $1.25 a day. Today 90% of the children in our world complete primary school, both girls and boys (goal 2). More than 2.3 billion people had safe drinking water by 2012.
In fact, the success of the MDGs shows more is possible. The United Nations is working on Sustainable Development Goals to focus and further the work of a sustainable future for all.
“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Joy of the Gospel #187).
What is a way you work to include people in poverty in our economy?
“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” – Matthew 25.35
Today is World Food Day. World farmers produce enough food for Earth’s more than six billion people, but nearly 870 million people struggle to survive on less than a $1.25 a day with little access to Earth’s abundance.
“Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
In Sunday’s gospel Jesus confronts a worldview about who images God–Caesar or the human person. Jesus insists we cannot keep separate our obligations to God and those to government. God blesses and calls us to integrate the spheres of our lives and image the One who made us.
Christians image God by helping people who are poor, caring for the abused and sick, visiting the imprisoned, grieving with those who mourn, and listening attentively to those who ache. Our advocacy for just and compassionate government policies toward the poor, toward health care, education, and immigration are examples of how we carry the image of God into the civil sphere.
How do you see God imaged in yourself?
Sunday Scripture Readings: Isaiah 45.1,4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5; Matthew 22.15-21
At the end of July, Pope Francis did an interview with “Viva” in Argentina. From that interview, Catholic News Service then published a story about Pope Francis’ top ten tips toward happiness. In very Pope Francis style, there were profound in their simplicity. They were relational and down to earth and refreshing. They also clearly drew on the seven tenants of Catholic Social Teaching.
He encouraged things like fighting becoming egocentric through generosity. “Live and let live.” Letting go of negativity in the name of becoming healthy made the list. By ending being negative about other people, showing our own low self-esteem, we can find more happiness. Moving through life calmly, “with kindness and humility,” like a pool of water. Other tips included combating the stress of consumerism by celebrating leisure with art, playing with your family, turning off the TV and choosing literature. He highlighted the Sabbath by urging Sunday to be a day for family, a holiday. He held up the dignity of work by urging us to create good jobs for young people. Young people need opportunity and labor to give them hope. Love of nature, for the Pope, is tied to happiness. He said, “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'” In this time of war, we must work for peace. He does not mean being quiet, but being proactive and dynamic in our work for peace. “The call for peace must be shouted.” And finally, he stated strongly “But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes.” Instead, the Pope calls for respecting others’ beliefs, witnessing, communicating and making dialogue that attracts.
Since the interview, the Catholic News Service write up has gotten some serious traction. I overheard a conversation about the Pope where one young person said to the other, “Wow, that man is a serious force for PR in the Catholic Church right now.” A recent college graduate said to me, “How about that Franny huh? You know, if he asked me to come back to the Catholic Church, I think I would.” Pope Francis is speaking truth from his position of power in a way that people are ready for and open to receiving. Young people who were kids during 9/11 are now coming of age to see fighting all over the world in places like Gaza and Nigeria, often in the name of religion. So when the Pope calls for an end to proselytism and a recommitment to shouting for peace, young people, who are often skeptical of the hypocrisy and violence tied to organized religion, perk up a bit. These are the same young people struggling to find meaningful work after the recession as college tuition skyrockets. They are the same young people who started know about bullying over social media and have to navigate screen time and bombardment of marketing messages through media. What Pope Francis is saying is striking a cord and resonating and seeming to make a whole lot of sense to people young and old alike.
In his relevance, he is living exactly what he said about proselytism. He is creating curiosity and witnessing to others with his words and actions. He is encouraging dialogue and making himself approachable and attractive as the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. The way he is posturing himself with power is inviting others to relax, lean in and listen a little closer. I have seen less defensiveness about and combativeness toward the Catholic Church since he became Pope. In a time of serious religious strife around the world, we may do well to take his ten tips toward happiness quite seriously.
My work as a writer, editor and church worker have all put me in conversation with friends in Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Muslim and Jewish communities who are all wondering about the future of spiritual life in the United States. In many of these US circles, attendance at worship is down, especially among young people, and religious professionals are asking some hard questions. When Good Ground Press invited me to blog at Keeping Faith Today, they simply said, “Write about what it means to be a faithful person today. Talk about it all– the joys, controversies, and challenges.” It is rewarding work to be a part of the conversation across denominational lines.
Some exciting new models are coming out of the hard questions that religious professionals are asking about the future of the church. One trend I am seeing is churches and nonprofits being open and willing to work with for profit companies in new partnerships. The examples that are working are those where the partnership is savvy, relevant, and symbiotic. Here is an interesting example brought to my attention by Adam Copeland, a Presbyterian friend working at a Lutheran College with faith, leadership and new media, on one of his blog posts:
Via Kickstarter, Broad Street Ministry is seeking to partner with Federal Donuts to create Rooster Soup Company:
We want to use high-quality chicken backs & bones that would go to waste…
… to make delicious soup to sell
… and donate 100% of our profits to [Broad Street Ministry] dedicated to helping those in need.
Let’s break this down a bit. Broad Street Ministry is a forward thinking church in Philadelphia that does a lot more than worship. Federal Donuts is a for profit donut and chicken shop in Philadelphia. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform often used by artists and entrepreneurs looking for start up funds to launch the next great idea. Very few churches and religious nonprofits have used Kickstarter thus far, but visionaries at Broad Street are giving it a try. So we have a church partnering with a for profit and using a crowd-funding platform to build a new model. The pieces are all there. Federal Donuts is in because if this launches, they will not have to pay to have their backs and bones disposed of. Broad Street Ministry is in because all the proceeds from Rooster Soup Company will go back to Broad Street to fund programming. And in theory every day people like you and I are in and decide to support them by funding their start-up costs because we are fans of donuts, chicken, soup, less wasted food, more good ministry and smart partnerships like this one.
Young people want to see churches doing relevant work in their communities. Here is an example of a church willing to be in the community not only addressing the hunger in Philadelphia with its ministry, but also being willing to work with for profit companies in the community to create partnerships where everyone benefits. These partnerships are popping up in cities all over the US, driven by innovative leaders with a pulse on issues that need addressing via street-smart means. Check out this Kickstarter campaign and keep your eyes open in your community for new models of church partnership.
It was just over two years ago that my sister invited me to a fundraiser for the KGSA Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities whose mission is to engage globally by providing resources and advocacy to support the needs of local communities. Knowing my interest in education and empowerment for young women, she told me that the current focus of the KGSA Foundation was a partnership with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), a free, community-run, all-girls secondary school in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
In response to her request, I launched into the sort of hemming and hawing that I usually reserve for telemarketers: “I don’t know if we can afford to give to their cause right now, I hate to take a night away from the kids, I can’t bear to leave my warm house on a Thursday evening in the middle of a Minnesota December.” Having already met the founder of the KGSA Foundation, a charismatic young man in his middle twenties who graduated from our high school alma mater, my sister challenged me to show up and not be moved by the work this group was doing.
So with an attitude of “I’ll show her,” I arrived at the event. And despite not wanting to give my sister the satisfaction of being right, I found myself moved. I was taken in by the story of Abdul, a Kiberan man who was disturbed enough by the lack of options for the young women in his community (many young women either marry at a desperately young age or end up turning to prostitution to support themselves) that he started first a soccer program, to get the girls off the streets, and then a secondary school, so these girls could raise their prospects for the future. I was taken in by the story of Ryan, the KGSA Foundation executive director, who had met Abdul in a bar while on a study abroad program in Kibera and decided to dedicate his post-college years to supporting Abdul’s work. Taken in by these stories, my heart was more open to the appeal that followed. However, I knew that our family would only be able to give a little financially… and then I heard Ryan say that they were looking for interested volunteers to serve on the first board of directors for the Foundation.
Hearing this petition for help, I realized that it was the sort of thing I had not even known I had been looking for. I was in between jobs. I had put off any sort of volunteer work for the past four years of birthing and raising my two sons. Tired of feeling so overwhelmed by the world’s problems, I wanted a tangible way to live my desire for social justice in the world. I e-mailed Ryan the next day and was on the board of directors within a few weeks, lending my writing skills to the Foundation’s grant writing efforts.
In this week’s Gospel from Matthew 5, Jesus tells their disciples that they are a light for the world and that they must allow their light to shine before others in the form of their good deeds. And just in case we modern readers are not sure what these deeds would look like, the lectionary gives us a first reading from Isaiah that makes it plain: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
That evening at the fundraiser I had so strongly resisted attending, I felt my light being called forth and I was at a point in my life where I could hear and respond to the call. We all have gifts that we can share with the world; we all encounter opportunities, big and small, to let our light shine in the world through our deeds. In your own life, when have you felt called to let your light shine? To what are you being called right now, whether you have been aware of it or not?
This excerpt from Sunday By Sunday for November 17 seems especially apt following the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan:
“In the face of war, earthquakes, famines, plagues – the regular stuff of today’s headlines – Jesus recommends patient endurance. He has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone besides themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away wreckage. The courage of soldiers and marathon survivors inspires us as they learn to use prosthetic arms and legs.
Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgive, include, speak the truth, listen, learn, build, rejoice, have compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand.” – Joan Mitchell, CSJ
Here is a list of ways to help the survivors of Haiyan – add other suggestions in the comments.