“You do know the young adult group has a blog,” my friend told me.
It was an 85-degree evening in August 2010. We sat in front of a gas station in Chicago’s Wicker Park that had become a restaurant, which is the sort of thing that happens in Wicker Park. We were eating artisan tacos and drinking Goose Island, which is the sort of thing you do in Wicker Park.
A month before, I’d taken a trip to Boston. There, I’d audited a graduate course taught by liberation theology pioneer Gustavo Gutierrez. I was at a point in my life when I was stuck. Upon returning home, I felt I’d been given a huge shove to do something with my life right now, and to do it for God’s justice.
By the end of July, I had connected with Call To Action. I started volunteering there. I proceeded to announce it on Facebook. That’s where my friend saw it. She messaged that we should talk.
She had once worked for CTA. Now she was telling me about their young adult ministry, CTA 20/30. Which, she said, had a blog.
“You need to get a column on that blog,” she emphasized, apropos of nothing. We weren’t talking about writing, or my being a writer, at all. Her instruction came from thin air. Continue reading
In 2005, while attending the School of the Americas protest in Fort Benning, Georgia, I browsed the stalls of the vendors. A woman from Latin America operated one stall, full of crafts and hand-woven cloth. Among her wares was a rich purple stole. It bore images of Jesus in the desert and women at a well and was draped on a hanger.
The scene triggered something. I had to have it. I moved as if in a dream. My heart beat louder while I wrote my credit card number on a piece of yellow paper. I paid eighty dollars I would have done better to save.
I went back to my friends. I showed them my grocery bag, warily removing the purple stole from it as though authorities would be more concerned about this than about the demonstration. Teasingly, my friends made me try it on. They liked how it looked and told me I would be a Jesuit one day.
Catholic guilt overtook me. I could not keep the stole. Stoles were sacred clothes. They were for sacred men. Sacred words had been said over these men by other men who had been authorized to say them. I did not feel God looking over my shoulder. But I definitely felt Pope Benedict looking over my shoulder. Continue reading
On Tuesday evening, I gathered with a bunch of other folks to pray the rosary. We met on the wet, chilly sidewalk outside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.
The sky unloaded on us as we arrived. But the rain eased up, almost stopped, as we began the service. It is the kind of thing that happens when I pray in front of Holy Name.
The Human Rights Campaign and Call To Action co-sponsored our gathering. It was one of seven vigils scheduled during the Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod (Oct. 5-19) on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The vigils call on the bishops to “Pray, Listen, Discern” with LGBT families. Continue reading
Last Sunday afternoon, Guerrilla Communion met for the first time in Chicago. We had thirteen young adults, more than one might expect on a crisp but dazzling spring weekend.
We gathered in a cozy little library near the Loop. It was literally an “upper room,” lending a kind of Acts of the Apostles feel. We had soup and salad and quinoa. We also had an array of salsas and chips and homemade desserts.
While we ate, we talked about the joys and struggles of belonging to a church that has profoundly shaped us, but does not always know what to do with us. There was no agenda. It flowed naturally for three hours. Continue reading
In 2010, foreign-correspondent-turned-cultural-critic Chris Hedges published Death of the Liberal Class. The book traces the decline of groups like organized labor, the media, the academy, and the church that once effectively challenged moneyed interests. Hedges argues that over the last several decades, most of the “liberal class” assimilated into the corporate establishment, and the remaining outliers were successfully marginalized.
But he does profile some of those outliers who have continued, at great personal cost, to speak out. One is the poet and peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. A veteran of civil disobedience, Berrigan was one of the “Catonsville Nine” who broke into a draft board and burned its files in 1968, and one of the “Plowshares Eight” who broke into a nuclear missile plant in 1980. He knows how jail feels.
Hedges reported that Berrigan was “unbowed at eighty-seven when I met him” (he turns ninety-one May 9) and “sat primly in a straight-backed wooden chair in his upper Manhattan apartment.” The posture was symbolic: “Time and age had not blunted this Jesuit priest’s fierce critique of the American empire or his radical interpretation of the Gospels.”
How did Berrigan persist long after former allies “disappeared into the matrix of money and regular jobs”? The priest observed: “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual basis of some kind.”
One of his mentors was Thomas Merton. The Trappist monk would “gather us for days of prayer and discussion of the sacramental life. He told us, ‘Stay with these, stay with these, these are your tools and discipline, and these are your strengths.’ He could be very tough…He said, ‘You are not going to survive America unless you are faithful to your discipline and tradition.’”
Berrigan relied on “the Eucharist, his faith, and his religious community,” Hedges said. Berrigan emphasized that he did what he did because of “a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place. We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”
I got involved with Call To Action a few months before starting the book. I read Berrigan’s words through that lens. I will not argue that the toll of church justice work is as severe as what he experienced. But even so, keeping our commitment is profoundly challenging.
Increasingly, the Catholic hierarchy not only affirms the exclusionary status quo but picks fights, and it remains ever the monolithic controller of facilities and issuer of paychecks. Those of us who speak up for a renewed church cannot call on the same power and infrastructure. We are small nonprofit staffs putting in many bizarrely-scheduled hours. We are volunteers with other jobs and families, who must use precious spare time for local agitation.
We stay at it because of our sense of fairness, because of the outsiders who are dear to us. But we definitely learn the meaning of Vaclav Havel’s remark: “You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career.” To survive we must be centered and rock-solid, with the right preparation.
We must look to people like Berrigan and Merton. We must use their tools and disciplines of prayer and sacrament. We must have faith in the Messiah, understanding that he began as an obscure, backwater carpenter who talked about things that were none of his business (“Where did this man get all this?”, “And they took offense at him,” Mark 6:2, 3).
We must have places, whether in good parishes or in the intentional communities of the “emerging church,” where we break bread and listen over and over again to the prophets and the promises, the stories of dying and rising. We must live in community, because while we have no choice about how much the burdens weigh, we do have the choice of sharing them with each other.
Every day we must “stay with these, stay with these.” These are our strengths and the church justice movement’s strengths.
Call to Action announced today that the board has chosen a new director, Jim FitzGerald. Jim has served on the Call to Action board and is the coordinator for Next Gen Faith Sharing CommUnions in the Boston area. (See the official announcement about Jim’s background below.) It is so exciting to have a member of our own young adult community assuming leadership!
The YAC Blog Team congratulates Jim on his new position and offers prayers of hope for his and Call to Action’s success and growth.
At this exciting time of transition, what are your hopes for the future of Call to Action, of the church reform movement, and for young adults within these movements for justice?