When I consider the discouraging challenges faced by those working for a better world, I think of people who might be a small minority, who confront evil of inconceivable proportions, and who yet find the resources within their Christian faith to keep going, no matter the cost. I think, in particular, of the American Abolitionists, who insisted that slavery was a sin, who were mocked, threatened, and abused, yet whose influence was ultimately profound.
Let Justice Be Done: Writings from American Abolitionists 1688-1865, edited by Kerry Walters, is an essential collection of these heroic voices—black and white, women and men—including towering figures such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth. Their struggle demonstrates that religious faith can be a powerful force in speaking truth to power and planting seeds of change.
In Seeds of Justice: Organizing Your Church to Transform the World Alex Tindal Wiesendanger provides a handbook for those engaged today in the faith-based struggle for social justice. Wiesendanger shows how to make the transition from “activist” to agent of transformation within the church and the world—building power through relationships and listening, and developing congregations that know how to wield power in the public sphere.
One of the great agents of change today is none other than Pope Francis. In The Liminal Papacy of Pope Francis: Moving toward Global Catholicity, Massimo Faggioli, one of the most insightful analysts in the church today, offers “a wide-angled, authoritative interpretation of the epochal shift of the Francis pontificate” (Austen Ivereigh). Of the many books on the Francis papacy, this one is essential for understanding the dynamics of this consequential period in history.
Meanwhile, the challenge remains not just to understand the vision of Pope Francis but to begin doing theology in the mode of Francis. Ethicist Marcus Mescher does just that in his new book The Ethics of Encounter: Christian Neighbor Love as a Practice of Solidarity. Among other examples he offers the work of Fr. Greg Boyle, the Jesuit renowned for his work with gang members, as a case study for overcoming fear, hatred, and trauma in order to practice a true Christian love of neighbor.
March marks the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Oscar Romero, certainly the patron saint of Orbis in this, our fiftieth anniversary year. But we also note the passing of Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan priest, mystic, poet, and revolutionary, who played an important role in our early history. His classic work, The Gospel of Solentiname, a record of gospel reflections by the peasants in his contemplative community, was a landmark in the emerging literature of liberation theology. That work, as much as Romero’s prophetic homilies, underlined the parallels between the story of Jesus and the contemporary struggle for a better world.
May we draw inspiration from the faith and courage of all who have fallen in that struggle.
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