Justice Perspective: Personal responsibility for justice

Wed, Sep 24th 2014 04:00 pm
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

We can often get frustrated in our mission to help create a more just and peaceful world. Sometimes it seems that injustice is beyond our personal involvement, or that some issue is too overwhelming or seems just plain unsolvable.

Maybe it is because we look at issues or concerns as so wide-ranging and extensive that any effort on our part appears paltry by comparison. This certainly happens when we use words like "poverty" or "war" or "hunger." These concerns are so global that it is difficult to think of having an impact on them.

It might be tempting to throw up our hands and resign ourselves to our own powerlessness, but deep down we know that is not the right approach. In fact, we know that we are expected, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to build up the kingdom He initiated. The Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it well. The Church's social doctrine "is addressed to every Christian according to the competence, charisms, office and mission of proclamation that is proper to each one."

None of us individually can tackle immigration or racism, but what we can do is focus on living the Gospel by examining all the areas of our own lives - large and small - and make sure that we are speaking and acting with justice and non-violence.

For example, do you let the water run while you are brushing your teeth? Imagine the impact on water conservation if everyone turned off the tap while they brushed. How about taking the time to make sure that lights in the house are off when no one is in the room, or adjusting your thermometer just one or two degrees?

You have probably heard those before, but here are a few that might be a bit more challenging. If you have a 401k, or if you have some mutual fund investments, do you know what companies are in those funds? Are you sure that they are all companies you want to support? Suppose one of them was a major supplier of abortion equipment? Or what if one of them manufactures video games that portray graphic sex and violence?

The point is that there are a lot of areas of our lives that can be the occasion for a choice of conscience for us. Do you know where your clothes are made? Can you be sure that they have not come from a "sweat shop" or a company that uses underage workers overseas?

Of course, acting only by yourself without anyone else joining in will certainly be a right act of conscience, but it will take many of us together to eventually make a difference. Perhaps some of us are old enough to remember the grape and lettuce boycott in the 1970s that supported the cause of the United Farm Workers in California. Things changed for those workers because enough consumers across the country helped to make a difference.

I have had some folks object to this line of thinking because it would require us to evaluate every little aspect of our lives. But isn't that the point of the Gospel? It might not be possible to examine everything all at once, but each of us can make a beginning.

Making this a more just and peaceful world and helping to build the kingdom is not an overnight project. Each effort we make each day gets us closer than we were before.

Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and an instructor at Christ the King Seminary. He may be reached via email.  

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