"U.S. Mobilizes Allies to Widen Assault on ISIS"
"In Aftermath of Missouri Protests, Skepticism About the Prospects for Change"
"W.H.O. Moves Team in Sierra Leone After a Medical Worker Contracts Ebola"
These are some of the headlines that stretched across the pages of the The New York Times on Wednesday. How do we respond to such heavy and overwhelming news?
Often, it's easiest to skim these stories and continue flipping pages or scrolling through. It is not practical to dwell on these stories or to become too invested in them. After all, we do not have a cure for the Ebola virus, a plan for peace, or the means to instantly dismantle institutional racism. It seems best to skim, scroll and move on to our own responsibilities -- responsibilities we are actually equipped to address.
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Our response to the news of our broken world is not unlike Peter's response in this upcoming weekend's Gospel. When Jesus tries to tell his disciples of the suffering he will endure, Peter protests, saying, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
Peter not only resists the idea that Jesus will suffer, but he also resists the fact that he and the other disciples will suffer for choosing to follow Jesus. It is as if Peter is saying, "I'll follow you, but don't speak of the cross! I'll follow you in other ways, but the cross has nothing to do with it."
When we read the news, it's tempting to join Peter in his denial of the existence of suffering. We skim and scroll so we do not have to internalize the suffering of others and, in turn, prevent ourselves from suffering under the unbearable brokenness of our world. As Pope Francis has pointed out, we have forgotten how to weep.
But Jesus reminds us that engaging the suffering that exists in our world is the only way to salvation. Jesus tells us, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." We must not try to save our own lives by distancing ourselves from our brokenness; rather, we must stop and weep instead of skimming and scrolling.
This Labor Day weekend, it's important to stop and weep over the state of labor in our country. We must bear the cross of the broken systems of which we are all a part -- systems that deny workers their dignity.
This is why the American bishops have released a pastoral statement to commemorate Labor Day. They realize that in the United States, we increasingly live and participate in an economy of exclusion and an economy that, according to Pope Francis, kills. The bishops in particular are disturbed that there are millions of unemployed and underemployed young people in our nation.
And sadly, those who do work are often underpaid. Our faith teaches us that human work has intrinsic dignity and that just wages honor that dignity. The current federal minimum wage falls short of a just wage because it fails to provide the resources for individuals to take care of themselves and form and sustain their families.
This fact should haunt our consciences: a full-time worker making the minimum wage for a full year does not make enough money to raise a child free from poverty. That's unacceptable, and as Christians who try to embrace the cross of Jesus, we must ask our lawmakers to do something about it.
As Pope Francis has recently reminded us, "Work means dignity, work means taking food home, work means loving! To defend this idolatrous economic system the 'culture of waste' has become established; grandparents are thrown away and young people are thrown away. And we must say 'no' to this 'culture of waste.' We must say 'we want a just system! A system that enables everyone to get on.' We must say: 'we don't want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!' Men and women must be at the centre as God desires, and not money!"
We must return the human person to the center of economic life, and one way we can do that is ensuring that workers in our country receive a just wage.
Indeed, we must remember how to weep over this economy of exclusion. We must move beyond the sterilized consideration of people as statistics, as percentages of our population below the poverty line. Instead, we must open ourselves to their stories of suffering and allow ourselves to weep over our brokenness.
Weeping is just the beginning, however. As the prophet Jeremiah demonstrates, God speaks to us through pain and indignation. Once we allow ourselves to overcome our numbness and to feel pain again, we cannot help but cry out for justice. Jeremiah says God's voice within him "becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it."
By allowing ourselves to hear God's voice of pain and indignation within us, we are necessarily moved to action. Specifically, our Catholic faith calls us to take action as faithful citizens of our nation. A Christian embraces the cross of Jesus by getting caught up in the grittiness of life and proclaiming God's saving love in the public sphere.
This fall, our nation will elect a new Congress. Our faith asks us to be involved in this political process. At a minimum, it asks us to vote. But more than that -- Christians are called to form their consciences, pray for the nation and speak the truth of what God asks of us: to be a nation where no one is excluded and no one is left behind.
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