Benedictines for Peace and Social Justice
Meeting someone can become an opportunity to welcome a new understanding of one’s self. Sharing experiences influences opinions, challenges beliefs and, often, broadens one’s sense of belonging as everyone is woven into the new situation. In the midst of societal expansions, many people are too often presuming differences rather than commonalities. The desire to speak presumes a common language, both spoken and written. Language is an expression of one’s self that we are born into. Learning a new language is difficult for many people. The ability to communicate impacts how we receive each other. Cultural backgrounds are being threaded into new experiences, or muted if not denied in the moment, as the need to learn the language’s usage demands attention. Embracing local customs often surpass families’ needed orientations in the midst of laying aside their rooted life experiences.
Realizing drastic change in short periods of time is not a new concept for people that have been impacted by violence and natural disasters throughout the world. Embracing the experience of welcoming people as immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees can be helpful as they face up-rootedness as an unavoidable consequence of homelessness. Understanding through mutual experience and responding to the needs of the other might be a new challenge for those called upon to welcome the stranger simply because it’s changing what was presumed would always be as it has been in their neighborhoods and cities.
Learning each other’s sense of heritage, faith traditions and cultural influences is offered as an enriching experience for the community as a whole.
“To understand people of another culture, with different beliefs, we must listen to them in their own voice, learning their language, reading and understanding their texts,” states Father Columba Stewart, OSB, as he reflects on the importance of preserving life and heritage of our global community. The work of preservation has gone on for centuries in families, communities and faith traditions. Technology and the availability of professionals to document nations’ histories and cultures is securing information tangled in war-torn areas of the world.
Encouraging people to preserve their life experiences as they are incorporated into new situations is an awareness of welcoming, a realization of commonalities and differences that can become an enriching understanding of community. It is an invitation to learn and to share the respect of another’s beliefs and experiences.
Father Stewart continues, “Equally endangered are the stores of wisdom contained in the manuscripts of the world, targeted by those fearful of difference or threatened by imaginations broader than their own. The wisdom contained in them is eroded by the forgetting that besets a diaspora community severed from its roots, resettled in a strange place and often undergoing the slow but inexorable loss of its language and distinctive ways.”
Humanity’s stories are teachers and challenges. Preserving goodness that lives in the hearts of all those we encounter on the journey is beyond our wars of words and destruction of societies and nations. We are the future in this moment.
In the midst of silence, the sisters at Saint Benedict’s Monastery and Saint Scholastica Convent welcomed the weavings of a year’s ending and a new year’s beginning into a shared day of silent recollection on December 31. Both silence and the Word, an awareness of the Gospels’ presence, welcomed sisters, oblates and guests into the sacredness of prayer’s invitation. The sisters’ welcoming presence to join them in prayer can be realized as a stabilizing sense of grounding into each day throughout the year. Prayer and petitioners’ deepest desires are brought into the dawning hope of the monastery’s ritualized communion within a global faith community.
At first glance, prolonged silence, an experience in the midst of motion, obligation and circumstance frankly doesn’t seem to be an option in the lives of many people. Saint Benedict offers silence as an invitation in the moment, reflected upon throughout the day. Realization of one’s breath can become silence of refreshment that stirs the spirit’s desire to realize Christ’s presence in both circumstances and people throughout the day.
“In his vision, Saint Benedict’s basic motive for silence is the creation of an attitude and capacity for expectant listening in the heart. … Commentators on the Rule of St. Benedict readily agree that for him, the value of silence is not in renouncing speech as a form of mortification, but rather in its positive value of preserving a spirit of prayer,” Sister Ephrem Hollermann noted during a recent conference at the monastery. “It is abundantly clear from the Prologue of the Rule that listening to the creative, transforming Word of God is central to Benedict’s whole venture. It is to this end that he introduces silence in the spirit of true discipleship. The true disciples recognized by Jesus were those who sought to ‘hear the Word of God and put it into practice’ (Luke 8:21, 11:28).”
Our awareness of the voices crying out in the wilderness lies muffled behind self-created walls of mistrust and individualism that are taking over multiple media sources, streaming into the simplest of conversations, challenging beliefs and professed faiths. Are we listening to ourselves, realizing a contradiction of what we profess we believe and our chosen actions? Prepare the way of the Lord.
The cries of some are obvious, or maybe not. Children confused by their relatives’ judgmental conversations as they talk about families not having money enough to pay for school lunches; the many people moving into neighborhoods without language and understanding of the cultural demands that are seemingly unwelcomed; and the acceptance of people in authority creating a cycle of judgement are serving only to silence a future of hope and a sense of belonging in the youth of today. How are we realizing the way of the Lord?
Intentionally listening to what we pray, peace embodied in ritual: the “Our Father,” the kiss of peace at the Eucharist, the greeting of guests are rooted in our life experiences. These prayers are invitations of affirming our faith, challenging our actions as we return to listening from within, taking the time to reflect on how we choose to live.
In 2017, filmmakers Stephen Apkon and Marcina Hale created the documentary, “Disturbing the Peace: Creating a New Story for Conflict Resolution.” Along with former Israeli and Palestinian combatants-turned-peacemakers, they were able to document the realities of the people on both sides of the borders. They dared to begin a discussion, realizing the commonalities of their desire to raise the next generations in peace were being overshadowed by their normative sense of destructive loyalty. The stark process of their laborious desires for change are paralleling examples of nonjudgmental conversations, inviting reflection on local levels. The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., hosted a conversation with participants of the documentary, giving light to both their process of self-awareness and intentional life changes. The outcomes of the conversations in the midst of hopeful futures for their children will be judged by history. Their process is an ongoing choice, influenced by thoughtless actions.
The voices crying out are to be heard, once realized. In our homes and throughout the world community, the cries are an invitation to live consciously. Listening, first from within, then reflecting God’s presence as makers of peace, we are preparing the way of the Lord.
Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message, “Peace as a journey of hope: Dialogue, reconciliation, and ecological conversion,” deviates from the single-theme address that is typical on the Solemnity of Mary. The pope addresses nuclear issues in the first two points, followed by global economic injustice in the third point and the ecological crisis in the fourth. The fifth is dedicated to the need for hope and to build a culture of “fraternal encounter.”
Opening the fourth point on ecological issues, the pontiff quotes from a point in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” in which he said humanity has not been “faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and serve.” Each theme, globally referenced, addresses our personal responsibilities as citizens of our global community.
“Faced with the consequences of our hostility towards others, our lack of respect for our common home or our abusive exploitation of natural resources—seen only as a source of immediate profit, regardless of local communities, the common good and nature itself—we are in need of an ecological conversion,” Francis continues in the peace message. “We need to change the way we think and see things, and to become more open to encountering others and accepting the gift of creation, which reflects the beauty and wisdom of its Creator.”
Realizing commonalities can be the simplest way to understanding each other enough to begin the journey of active listening. Hearing one another’s experience takes us beyond imposing our limited awarenesses on the other. How often do I seek out someone that doesn’t fit into my checklist of accepted behavior and beliefs to begin a conversation of understanding and acceptance—at home, work, at the local coffee shop, within my faith community?
The 12 Neighbors Project asks the most important question of our time: “What does it really mean to love your neighbor?” The project’s online series “12 Neighbors” is a documentary film series for individuals and small groups that asks, “Who is My Neighbor?” The experience as an individual or group participant encourages discussion, realizing appropriate action in local communities, and then organization of action together. The films challenge perspectives on poverty, marginalization and effecting real change.
“As a nation, we share many blessings and strengths, including a tradition of religious freedom and political participation. However, as a people, we face serious challenges that are both political and moral. This has always been so and as Catholics we are called to participate in public life in a manner consistent with the mission of our Lord, a mission that he has called us to share,” begins the U.S. Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The document’s 92 points are arranged in three sections: The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life; Applying Catholic Teaching to Major Issues: A Summary of Policy Positions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Goals for Political Life: Challenges for Citizens, Candidates, and Public Officials.
The document mentioned, available in both English and Spanish, offers foundational understanding and beliefs of the Catholic Church. It can be both a helpful and challenging source of information as we prepared for 2020 elections. References to Church and biblical documents are noted throughout the texts.
Preparation for state and national elections is the responsibility of each citizen, realizing that our politicians need to be representative of us—we are the reality and reflection of our nation when we vote. Local and national discussions “begin at home” for much of the nation. Entering into productive conversations depends on our willingness to educate ourselves and listen to each other throughout the process of preparing for and participating in the election process. Numerous sources of information are available on the internet, within the resources section of our website and throughout civic and faith-based organizations.
Grounding oneself in their faith tradition is a centering source of energy, a means of reflecting a peaceable presence in the world. Lectio divina, a prayer form often realized as a Benedictine tradition, is one such source of grounding into each new day. In Lectio Divina of the Gospels for the Liturgical Year 2019-2020, the reader uses the traditional process of reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation as a daily, weekly discipline. As the new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, we are invited to focus on the Sunday Gospel reading, exploring the sacred texts with greater attention, welcoming the Word to permeate one’s mind and imagination more deeply. Each week’s lectio divina includes dedicated space for writing out reflections, thoughts and prayers in the book.
“Throughout the Christian tradition, readers are similarly called upon to ‘listen to’ the sacred text, that is to say, to receive it obediently, as though it were spoken to one directly and personally. One has then to engage the text in prayer and apply it in action,” notes Duncan Robertson, author of “Lectio Divina: The Medieval Experience of Reading.”
Catholic Social Teachings
Drawn from this rich scriptural tradition, Catholic theology has always promoted an ethic that is rooted in natural law and God’s revelation. As Catholic social teaching on migration developed, five fundamental principles have emerged to help guide the thinking of Catholics on migration:
I. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.
II. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.
When war, natural disaster, famine or crushing poverty causes mass migration, the lands that receive these displaced people may feel threatened, with the citizens of the host nation fearing that newcomers will take scarce jobs, land and resources. As the Gospels make clear, it is God’s will that the abundance of the earth be shared in love by all of His people, reflecting on this spiritual imperative.
III. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which can protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.
IV. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.
V. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often, they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.
“Listen carefully and attend with the ear of your heart.” Loosely quoted, Saint Benedict invites, challenges, maybe even demands the faithful to become listeners. To realize we are called to listen, and to hear, there is a difference—first from within. One of the many ways to enter into the journey is to read and reflect. Then the conversation begins.
America, The Jesuit Review
Catholic Charities USA
Catholic News Agency
Central Minnesota Adult Basic Education
Federation of Saint Benedict
Georgetown University, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs
Global Sisters Report
Joint Religious Legislation Coalition
Jubilee, USA Network
Justice for Immigrants
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
League of Women Voters of Minnesota
Minnesota Catholic Conference, Human Trafficking
Moms Demand Action
National Catholic Reporter
National Human Trafficking Hotline, Minnesota
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Pax Christi International
The United Nations Refugee Agency/USA
United We Dream
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
U.S. Government – Voting and Elections
World Peace International