Reflections by Fr. Eduardo Samaniego, S.J.

 
 

My Passion for Justice

October 2015

 

When we die, a stone will be put on our tomb. Below our name will be two dates: Our date of birth and our date of death. In between is a dash, which stands for our life.  It represents all the time that we lived on this earth.
 

And now only those who love us know its worth.

Material things do not matter: the cars...the house...the cash.

What matters? How we lived and loved between the two dates.

(Paraphrased from: "The Dash", by Linda Ellis, Simple Truths, 2005, pg. 38)


Christ's mission was to do the will of the Father and complete his work, to show how much we're loved and forgiven, by sending Jesus to live, love, and die. Our mission is to do the will of the one who sends us, Jesus, and to complete his work. Christ's whole dash was a dash of love. For those of us who aren't Christian, we all have she-roes and heroes whose dash we have admired and seek to emulate. Since cooks use the term "dash," as a measure, does our life have a dash of love in it, or not?
 

Pope Francis wants all of us to be missionaries. As missionaries we're called to make something of our dash. When our dash takes on the flavor of God, then our dash lays on top of God's. When our lives give testimony to God's action in our life, then we are modeling for the people of God how to witness. They want what we can give them: peace of mind, a passion for God's Word and will, and the courage to act on it. Do our lives witness to God's thirst for us?
 

As a Jesuit I am called to promote a faith-that-does-justice. Justice in the Bible does not mean what it does politically here in the USA. Here it means fairness or equality. In the Bible it means "right relationship." The just question, the question that leads to mercy, is: "Is it right to do what I am about to do?" It is not about doing things right! It is about doing the right thing. Ask a mother of six which child she loves the most, and, if she be wise, she will answer: "The one who needs me the most right now." So, who needs us the most right now, here on earth?
 

I've been with people who suffer, who are considered "have-nots" in this world. I am into advocating for assistance from the "haves" of this world, using our holy writings to help me advocate for justice, for doing what is right.
 

To be a socially-just person, church, or nation, we need three components, like the three points on a triangle. One is direct-service, like in Isaiah 58 or Matthew 25, which hold up feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick or imprisoned. The second is advocacy, is giving a voice to the voiceless and a defense to the defenseless. This is what community organizations like the Interfaith Council and PICO do. And the third point is empowerment, which is clearly explained by the difference between giving a person a fish, or showing them how to fish. One feeds them for the moment, the other feeds them for life.
 

My passion for justice is directly proportional to the passion God has for justice in our sacred writings. How can we claim to be Jew, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Hindu,  a Buddhist or a member of other religious traditions, and not be concerned for the welfare of our fellow humans? Our writings are linked inextricably to justice and its practice.

(Fr. Eduardo is the author of If You Preach It, They Will Come and joined LIS this last summer.)    

 
 

Easter and the Year of Mercy

April 2016

 

Ever since Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy, I have prayed and reflected on what it can mean for me and for the work of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality.  I have always been a stalwart voice and defender of the victims of injustice, working in many community organizations, Catholic and Inter-faith, helping make ours a kinder, more compassionate world.
 

The Pope's invitation made me realize that all the work we did for Social Justice always seemed to have something missing. We had many a victory, getting laws and policies passed both locally and nationally, but I always noticed that the attitudes of the people who have the power and authority to make changes needed for a safer, kinder society, did not change at all.  What we accomplished in our struggle for justice was either legal or politically-correct speaking and acting, but there has been little or no inner conversion in the hearts and attitudes of those who can effect real change in the political and social arenas.
 

Look at how our Presidential candidates are debating, campaigning, and treating each other. It has spilled over into the millions of Americans who have embraced the opposite of the poem on the Statue of Liberty, "The New Colossus." We are becoming elite isolationists.
 

The hearts and souls of people are giving in to fear.  Much injustice has been done in the name of fear.  I have learned in my 25+ years as a priest, and 35+ years as a Jesuit, that fear is an acronym: F-E-A-R is False Evidence Accepted as Real. Its opposite is trust. Christ asks us to trust and to serve Emmanuel, God-with-us, by serving the least in the kin-dom as Jesus did. We have the formula for this type of service: The Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. "This I seek: to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God." (Micah 6:8)

 

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt 5:7). So I am asking us all in this Easter Season to reflect on changing the term "Social-Justice" to "Social-Mercy." Let us not confront injustice with the coercive language of American justice, which means equality or fairness, but rather let us strive for the "right-relationship" of Biblical Justice. Let us use the inviting nature of the language of Mercy, which begs those in power and authority to think first about the common good of all, which allows the poor and downtrodden to live in dignity.We need to think of Catholic Social Teaching as two concentric circles. The inner circle has two names in it: God and Human-Dignity (for we are all made in God's image and likeness). The outer circle has all the themes of our Church's Encyclicals: Respect for Life, Family/Community Participation, Rights/Duties, the Common Good, Option for the Poor, Work/Workers, Solidarity, and Stewardship. Mercy takes on each of these themes, ever-aware that, to be merciful-apostles, we must always start and end with God and our human-dignity.

 
May we be as merciful with others as God has been and will be with us!

 

 

Caring for Creation:  A Call to Ecological Mercy (Version 1)

May 2016

 

 

Do you know why we celebrate Mother’s Day? We can thank Julia Ward Howe, who in 1870 wrote the following poem.

 

Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or tears! Say firmly, “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

 

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet 1st, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God –


In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

 

Her challenge is as applicable today as it was 146 years ago. If her poem/letter could effect the change in our national calendar to include honoring our mothers, so may an effective change come today in our Pope Francis’ call to care, just as earnestly, for our Mother, the Earth. To quote from Laudato Sí, let us be comforted:

 

1. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

 

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we’ve inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We’ve come to see ourselves as (Mother Earth’s) lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This’s why the earth…, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

(Adapted from Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí, Encyclical on the Environment, paragraph’s 1 & 2)

 

Pope Francis, in his encyclical, quotes previous popes to make his point and to challenge us to learn, grow, and act. Quoting John Paul II,

“Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system.”” [8] JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 559.

 

Quoting Pope Benedict: “(He) urged us to realize that creation is harmed ‘where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property, and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.’” [13] Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone (6 August 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 634.

         

This reminds me of a story:

 

A rabbi is visited by his 3 best students, who want to know what he meant by the spirit of the law. He takes them over to the window in his office, and asks them what they see. One says, “I see the trees, the grass and the sky.” He answered, “That’s right, they are there.” The 2nd says, “I see the lake and the reflections of the clouds.” “Yes, they’re there.” And the 3rd says, “I see a couple kissing.” “Yes, they are there!”

 

He walks them over to a closet, where there is a full-length mirror. He asks again, “What do you see?” The 3 laugh! One speaks up, “I see myself.” The rabbi says, “Isn’t it interesting. Both a window and a mirror are made of glass. But the moment one is lined by silver, you stop seeing out and you only see yourself.”

         

How interesting that the conclusion of the story is the same as Pope Benedict, his predecessor’s address to priests. Pope Francis wants us all to understand that following Christ involves loving God, above all else, and loving all God’s creation, including us, as we have been loved.

 

He says of Francis of Assisi: “St. Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He’s the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself.” (Ibid, Laudato Sí)

 

In struggling for justice all my Jesuit life, I’ve concluded that, in our country, we need to replace the word “justice” with “mercy” in this Year of Mercy. Why? Because justice to most Americans means fairness or equality! Biblical justice means “right relationship.” It does not seek doing things right! It seeks doing the right thing. Mercy, too, invites us to do the right thing. It implies asking the powerful to use their authority to make changes, because they are the right thing to do. They may not be the most profit-able, but they are the most prophet-able thing to do.

 

Prophets comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To be a true Christian, one who recognizes our Baptismal anointing and lives it, is to be a prophet, to speak the truth to those in power with authority.

 

We need to ask the country and our Church to reflect on what we have done for our Mother, the earth, what we are doing for our Mother, the earth, and what we will do for our Mother, the earth.

 

To answer them is to live the Beatitudes: let us remember: “blessed are we the merciful, for we shall obtain mercy, and blessed are we the meek and the peacemaker, for we shall see God and be called children of God. And blessed are we who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, for caring for creation. May we rejoice and be glad, for ours is the kindom of heaven.

 

 

Caring for Creation:  A Call to Ecological Mercy (Version 2)

 

We Jesuits know we’re sinners, who, through God’s mercy, have been forgiven and called, just as we are, to promote a faith-that-does-justice. Now, U.S. justice means “fairness” or “equality,” and not Biblical Justice, or right-relationship. To ask the Biblically-just-question is to ask: “Is it right that…or is it right to…?” It strives not to do what’s right, but the right thing. For a Christian, the right thing is the loving thing.

 

So we need to ask, “Is it right to pollute the air, our water, or our Mother Earth?” Like Cain asked God when caught having killed Abel: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” we ask, “Am I creation’s keeper?” God’s answer: “if your brother is a fellow human or creation itself, “Yes.”

                                                                                                                                            

1. St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as (Mother Earth’s) lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This’s why the earth…, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

(Adapted from Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí, Encyclical on the Environment, paragraph’s 1 & 2)

                                                                                                                                     

“Henry David Thoreau foreshadowed our current ecological crisis, saying our “entitlement mentality” could have apocalyptic consequences when he wrote:  “If one walks in the woods for love of it half of each day, one is in danger of being regarded a loafer. But if one spends one’s days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, one is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

(Adapted & paraphrased in an article by Dr. Robin Meyers, Pastor, Mayflower Congregational Church, Okl. City)

 

He reminds me of Dom Helder Camara, who said, “If I feed the hungry, I am called a saint. If I ask: ‘why is there hunger or poverty,’ I am labelled a communist.” So, although it’s presumptuous of me to say so, I want to stand before you in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau and Dom Helder Camara, by standing with Dr. Robin Meyers, pastor/writer:

“to remind us that of all (their) keenest insights, (their) true genius was to understand that the way a nation loses its soul is when her people, amused and distracted (kept busy with trivia and fed patriotic propaganda), come slowly, but surely to accept the unacceptable…

         

It was Thoreau, after all, who gave us the essential definition of civil-disobedience, whose lessons were an inspiration to Gandhi: “If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.” And when he went to jail rather than … recognize the authority of, the state “which buys and sells (people) like cattle, at the door of its senate house,” he was visited by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who … said to Thoreau, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau responded, “Waldo, the question is: what are you doing out there?” (ibid)

 

I have struggled for justice all my Jesuit life. I have concluded that, in our country, we need to replace the word “justice” with “mercy” in this Year of Mercy. Mercy implies asking the powerful to use their authority to make changes, and to make them because they are the right thing to do. They may not be the profit-able thing to do, but they are the most prophet-able thing to do.

 

Prophets comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To be a true Christian, one who recognizes our Baptismal anointing, is to be a prophet, speaking the truth to people in power, to those in authority.

 

To be prophetic in a country that has ceased listening to the Gospel message of Jesus, the Christ, is to risk being ridiculed or killed. I’d like to call us, Church and Nation, to be prophetic leaders in a world-gone-mad. There are 14 indicators identified with countries that were or are, fascist:

 

1)      Powerful and continuing nationalism,

2)      Disdain for the recognition of human rights,

3)      Identification of enemies and scapegoats as a unifying cause,

4)      Supremacy of the military,

5)      Rampant sexism,

6)      Controlled mass-media,

7)      Obsession with national security,

8)     Religion and government intertwined,

9)      Protection of corporate power,

10)    Suppression of labor power,

11)    Disdain for intellectuals and the arts,

12)    Obsession with crime and punishment,

13)    Rampant cronyism and corruption, and

14)    Fraudulent elections.

 

If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we would conclude that all 14 are evident in our USA. We lead the world in youth incarcerated for life-without-parole. Our media spews hatred against “enemies” within and without, which really means anyone who disagrees with you (left or right). Social-spending shrinks as Military Spending grows.

 

Who are our scape-goats? Immigrants, gays, the poor, women, trans-genders, people of color, and anyone working for a more just world. Heaven forbid we hold the crony-like, corrupt corporations, banks, political parties, and trans-national businesses accountable for anything done in the name of national self-interest, or national security.

 

As I write this homily on Mother’s Day, I would like us all to reflect on what we have done for our Mother, the earth, what we are doing for our Mother, the earth, and what we will do for our Mother, the earth. To repent and believe the Good News is to answer these questions. Let us answer them so that we never have to ask, “Am I creation’s keeper?”

 

 

Discipline: Responding and not Reacting

August 2016

 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, "Don't lose heart when reproved by the Lord. For whom the Lord loves, the Lord disciplines" (Heb 12:6). He could say it about parents, head-masters of schools, and directors of any programs or groups. I've thought about all the people who helped me learn to discipline myself: my parents, grandparents, my coaches and teachers. All taught me to reflect on what I needed to do to move forward and succeed. It's how they taught, that I call: discipline.

 

God disciplined me through them all. Some did it well. Some over-stepped the bounds of decency. But all helped me learn the response factors. What are these? To stop, reflect, discern, and then act upon a situation. An animal solely reacts by instinct to stimuli. Humans can react or respond to it. The ability to exercise the response factors is what separates us humans from being only animals.

 

How would we rate on the reaction/response meter? Remember we're all members of the animal kingdom. Hence we all react some times. But do we always react? If so, we're no better than an animal, who can't help but react. But if we've learned to stop, reflect, discern, and then act, we have learned what discipline really does: to become wholly human.

 

Years ago our neighborhoods operated on the premise, "It takes a village to raise a child." The word "raise" implies discipline. When our neighbors would see us do something wrong, something they were sure mom/dad wouldn't approve of, or, if we had our school uniforms on, what the Church wouldn't approve of, they felt called to discipline us in the name of our parents or the school. And they would be appreciated for it.

 

Today, we'd hear: "How dare you discipline my child!" Why? Because we presume bad-faith, and because few neighborhoods are other-friendly! We presume others could not possibly hold our child's best interest in their heart. I've seen the same parent turn and beat or treat their own child so badly, they take their dignity, and call it discipline.

 

Disciplining never degrades, never humiliates. Discipline that does not have the betterment of a person at its core, isn't discipline; it's abuse. None of us likes to be abused, not even Jesus, who said, "If I've spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" (John 19:23). Real discipline understands that a child of God needs to become an even better or wonderful child of God.

 

We're all made in God's image and likeness. Why do we forget that? Why do we demonize people for being different from us? Why do we resort to putting others down in order to make us feel important, or because we feel more important? How disgraceful for our children to see grown adults, vying for President, resort to stripping the other of their God-given human dignity with words of disdain! It lacks discipline.

 

The best discipline does what's right in order to teach doing the right thing. It comes from the heart, from the self. To learn to do what's right, we need laws, commandments, rules, limits; that's real discipline.

 

The gate is narrow by which a Christian is led to life. Let us take off all that keeps us from loving, respecting, and honoring each other. That's the way of true discipline. Jesus will say of us: "Come, oh faithful one, and inherit the kin-dom prepared for you since the beginning of time" (Matt 25:34).

 

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