Getting sacramental about social justice…

This week saw the first Ash Wednesday for three years that I was able to attend Ash Wednesday Mass. The last two times, I found myself working in places where getting to Mass – especially during a work day, with limited vehicles and security restrictions – was simply not an option. Last year, I missed the Easter liturgies entirely due to a bomb blast at the airport hours before my flight back to the capital to be with my husband for the Easter Triduum. That was a really sad Easter, but the sympathy of my colleagues – mainly Muslim – and their efforts to celebrate with me, and my own private prayer, gave me some solace for sure.

I don’t say this to make it sound glamorous or heroic – I made a choice to take a job in a place where I wasn’t totally sure what kind of sacramental availability there would be. My experience everywhere else, however, had been that even in the most remote locations, Sunday Mass was never too far away – I’ll tell you, that’s one of those great experiences of the ‘universality’ of the Church, when you get to experience Mass in some tiny outpost in the boonies. Anyhow, I digress…

For the first few months, it wasn’t such a problem getting to Mass. It was a two hour drive and an early Sunday rise, but it gave me plenty of time to reflect and think. But as time went on, the changing socio-political situation and increasing violence meant more movement restrictions – especially on ‘non-work movements’. And the culmination, indeed, was missing the Easter liturgy altogether despite my dogged effort to arrange a trip to the capital. Looking back now, although I didn’t make the connection so strongly at the time, the fact that my husband and I resigned from our jobs on the Easter Monday with no other plan for the future was our hearts’ way of knowing that this was the only way out from what had become a very ‘un-sacramental’ environment. We were not being nourished sacramentally, and so our ability to gift ourselves to others was getting weaker by the day.

What do I mean by that? Just yesterday I was reading a great article from the Catholic World Report on sacramental social doctrine and what I realised was that my experience last Easter was a microcosm of what this article explained.

In the development and aid sector, there is a strong ‘secular’ flavour and faith-based organisations have to fight hard to be respected and not suspected of ‘proselytisation’. But behind all the clean-cut and well-branded mandates, policies and plans, there is a hunger to know God. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually met someone from a local community in which I’ve worked who doesn’t recognise how real the supernatural realm is, and how much we rely on Someone greater than ourselves. And yet, this goes systematically ignored by large organisations who think that the ‘religion’ button is just too hot and too hard – and irrelevant, anyway.

At one point soon after Easter last year, a wonderful Australian priest who had been a missionary for 30 years in the area where I was living, came back to visit from Rome. I had providentially only come to know about him through a small article in the NZ Catholic and, googling him, found that he was on his way to visit where I was located. Never more so have I felt like the ‘lost sheep’ stranded out on the peripheries as when he came to visit and say Mass at my house. His visit, and the Eucharist, was like an oasis in both a literal and spiritual desert, a sacramentally impoverished environment.

So it was with a sort of joyful sorrow (if that’s possible) that I headed off to Ash Wednesday Mass for the first time ever with my husband the other night. A sacramental sense of the world, and of social doctrine, must be fuelled by a sacramental life – it’s as clear cut as a scientific equation.

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    Comments: 2

    1. withhope February 17, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      Sr. Lucia once said there will come a time when all the faithful have is ‘the sign of the Cross and the Rosary’. Until then, it would be good if the sacred remained sacred and did not become supplanted by the worldly. ‘sacramental social doctrine’ – is surely oxymoronic – the article ignores Benedict’s teaching on the sacred as something utterly unworldy – PBXVI: “We believe that in the Eucharist we really receive Christ, the Risen One. And if every member receives the same Christ, then we are all really gathered in this new, risen body as the locus of a new humanity. It is important to understand this and so to conceive the Church, not as an organization that is supposed to perform every possible function—organization is part of the larger picture-but as a living organism that comes from Christ himself.” Sacraments are sacred and by definition unworldly – they have nothing to do with the samaritan, they have to do with the temple and bestowing of divine Grace through ritual means. anyone can be socially just which is why i’ve heard sermons hailing the dalai lama and ghandi is grand examples of Christian virtue which, of course, is a deeply pervese and anti-christ thing to teach – the first Christian virtue is surely accepting the blood of Christ as one’s saving grace? one is a buddhist who finds the only thing of worth in Chritian teaching is the ‘samaritan’, and the other a lifelong hindu. ‘sacramental sense of the world, and of social doctrine’ – if world sensed sacramentally is the denial and need for the Holy – the set apart from the world – would need no Church. Christ ‘is not of the world’ and vice versa. We love the world and hate Christ or love Christ and hate the world. The doing of good things is beneficial: the sacaraments are always a good – beneficial for body and one’s immortal soul, whereas doing good can only be sacramental withing the liturgy. Thinking social justice is sacred is achieving one thing a desacralised Church and clergy – a church in short more interested in what happens away from the altar.

    2. withhope February 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      P.s. thinking more on SJ or ‘Social justice’, even by contemporary definitions, it’s existed in the civilisation formerly know as Christendom at least going back to the Magna Carta – the fact that each new generation (and even the generation that penned the Great Charter) chooses to redifine ‘social justice (doctrine according to NO church speak)’ in its own image is beside the point. Christendom invented the hospital – no one had to bring wealth and sacrifices anymore to get Diana to point a blessing rather than a cursing digit; one did not give hospitality because they were afraid they would, in denying it, bring upon themselves the wrath of an in-disguise zeus) – a seeker or someone in need simply had to be pointed towards the houses of the saintly followers of the True Physician (and I’m not talking about asclepius) for healing, if not physical, then at least spiritual [be not afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; but fear rather him who is able to destroy both soul AND body in hell]. the civilisation formerly know as Christendom could care less about the soul so long as the body is made ‘well'; in the Old Norse thinking the body is the horse, the soul the rider – how absurd is it that the horse should be made well at the expense of the rider? and it seems to me we mostly don’t even begin to give the ‘rider’ (however inept) a thought until the horse goes lame, and even then we have an idea that charity is directed all towards the lame horse, not considering the rider previously trampled underhoof.

      kindness towards one’s neighbour is and has been agiven in the civilisation formerly know as Christendom until the sixties when suddenly neighbourliness had it’s borders redifined to mean – forget about the bloke next door and instead polish your conscience by losing sleep over something far more exotic – people you see on the news and people defined by placards; and charity/kindness was redefined to mean ‘live’ (the horse) and let die (the rider). All the above has served to displace ourselves, our Christian bequest, our understanding of Grace. Grace is no longer a divine gift made present to us through a consecrated and set aside Church – its purpose being unworldly – grace has become profane – its the stuff of worldly institutions, its ‘social doctrine’. As for charity in the Church if one accepts the world and the church are not the same thing, it’s watching with charitable serenity as the world is preached and practiced against the Truth of Christus Rex – we are taught that grace comes from the buddha within me recognising the buddha within you, from other religions (for whom human life is cheap as cockroaches because it’s all recyclable ‘material’ or it’s cheap because, in the calvinist sense God knows his own – to blazes with the rest) or from Ceasar. in short ‘social doctrine’ encourages a constant concern with the broad broad road of sympathy for the devil, and disinterest in the narrow road prescribed by the True Physicsian, Christ. Is it any surprise that Mother Teresa boasted of having never converted anyone in all her years as missioning to the ‘poor’, and ‘needy’?