Saturday, February 28, 2009

An initial reflection on Social Justice

Having been through 8 years of Jesuit schooling, one of the ideals that Jesuit education promotes is the commitment to service and social justice. When I was at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, a class on social justice was a requirement my junior year.  I still look back on that class as the class which first introduced me to the stark inequality that is present in our world.  I remember being angry in the class--angry that so much of the world suffered.  It only made sense to me that the basic necessities that are fulfilled in my life should be fulfilled for everybody. 

Yet, how much of the world is starving? How many have no access to clean water? How much of the world is homeless? How many children die from very treatable diseases? 

In this season of Lent, Isaiah in the first reading from this past Friday declares: 

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own. 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn"

We are exhorted not only to be conscientious to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, we are asked to truly help them out of their suffering.  

But, boy, are we failures at this.
How often has your heart gone out to someone in need but didn't know how to help her/him? When did you offer help to a homeless, only to realize that they scapegoated you and spent your money on booze and drugs? Why, then, would you want to help any of them? Do we give up because of that one experience? 
I think most of the ways that we know how to help out individually are through charities. We aren't too bad at short-term solutions, and short-term solutions are a necessity for the survival of many, but we must work hard on the long-term solutions by effecting systematic change.  

In General Congregation 34 (I think it was 1995), the Jesuits at the time it was written listed some urgent situations:
  • The marginalization of Africa in the "new world order" renders an entire continent paradigmatic of all the marginalized of the world.  Thirty of the world's poorest countries are African.  Two thirds of the world's refugees are African.  Slavery, colonial and neocolonial subjugation, internal problems of ethnic rivalry and corruption have all created an "ocean of misfortunes" there...The Society must do everything possible to stand by them  
  • Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, isolated and relegated to marginal social roles, see their identity, cultural legacy, and natural world threatened. Other social groups--an example would be the Dalits, considered "untouchables" in some parts of South Asia--suffer severe social discrimination in civil and even ecclesial society.  The GC calls on the whole Society to renew its long-standing commitment of such peoples.  
  • In many parts of the world, even in the most developed countries, economic and social forces are excluding millions of people from the benefits of society. The long-term unemployed, young people without any possibility of employment, exploited and abandoned children of the streets, the aged who live alone without social protection, ex-convicts, victims of drug abuse and those afflicted with AIDS--all these are condemned to lives of dire poverty, social marginalization and precarious cultural existence.  They require of us the attention which our biblical tradition demands for "the orphans, widows, and strangers in your midst."
  • There are over forty-five million refugees and displaced persons in today's world, 80 percent of whom are women and children.  Often lodged in the poorest of countries, they face growing impoverishment, loss of a sense of life and culture, with consequent hopelessness and despair...the general congregation appeals to all provinces to support the Jesuit Refugee Service in every way possible.  And we call on the international Society to join efforts with other international institutions and organizations to combat the injustices which uproot peoples from their land and families.  

For Jesuits, the GC calls us in this way:
"In each of our different apostolates, we must create communities of solidarity in seeking justice.  Working together with our colleagues, every Jesuit in his ministry can and should promote justice in one or more of the following way: (a) direct service and accompaniment of the poor, (b) developing awareness of the demands of justice joined to the social responsibility to achieve it, (c) participating in social mobilization for the creation of a more just social order.  
Now, I have written a very cursory reflection on these issues. I do not feel I am offering solutions to the problems--probably I am oversimplifying them.  At minimum, we need to be sensitive and empathetic to the suffering of our world. Ideally, we strive to affect positive change in our world.  

Of course, the question is--what exactly are we trying to change and how are we going to go about making things better? 

I hope to provide more reflections on social justice, and perhaps making it a theme for this upcoming week. And, please, offer your own reflections as I go through them. Probably a lot of you are more educated than I am on these issues.   

"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." [Luke 12:48]


Betsy Stone said...

Hi, Ryan. I'm a mom at JHS and I stumbled upon your post. My son is actually in Social Justice right now, and he's participating in the Pine Ridge immersion this summer. It's a time of reflection and awakening for him, too. Best of luck to you on your journey.

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Hi Betsy, thanks for your post. I don't remember there ever being a Pine Ridge immersion when I attended JHS, but I am glad to see these opportunities for the students opening up. I pray your son has a rich experience there.