(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Spring 2024 Digital Issue #111)

by Joe Makley, OFS National JPIC Animator

I write this in the second week of Lent under snow, knowing it will be read in April or May, the season of renewal. Despite the state of the world, it is good to inhale the spring air and say prayers of wonder and gratitude.

February was Black History month in the US. I began it by watching Eyes on the Prize, the powerful documentary about the Civil Rights era. I reflected on the history of our Church in the US during that time, seeking lessons for our own struggle with injustices today. Our family moved to the South from New England in 1963. Many people we met there favored the oppressive status quo and saw the marches and sit-ins as an unfortunate result of “agitation.” I was shocked to learn that this included many white Catholics. Our family was on the side of Dr. King, and Peter, Paul and Mary and all the “good guys” in favor of integration. Our parents taught and modeled respect and dignity for everyone regardless of color, but it was the activists (including many Franciscans) who really practiced love. They took the beatings and died in the streets and did the heavy lifting of getting Civil Rights into law. They made what John Lewis called “good trouble.” To put it in Secular Franciscan terms, they were “individually and collectively… in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of their human lives and courageous initiatives.” What I was reminded of was that love must be practiced, unreservedly, relentlessly, without fear, to make a difference.

It was another one of those “For up to now, we have done nothing.” moments.

Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation is meant to be more than a list of topics. It is a model to show how our life in the Rule brings about conversion, and how our actions are its fruit. We practice contemplative prayer, we reflect on our Gospel call, experience conversion, and apply it to this age and place. In our work, in our family life, in the parish and in our fraternities, we are a people of renewal.

Innocents will still be suffering and dying in wars and displacement, politicians will be scapegoating and marginalizing groups of people, the poor will struggle for human dignity, and we will still be putting unsustainable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We do not obsess over the people whose errors have caused all this. In Chapter 7 of his Rule of 1223, St. Francis said of his friars: “They must be careful not to be angry or upset … because anger or annoyance in themselves or others, makes it difficult to be charitable.” (Omnibus P. 62.) We do not fear. We forgive, we pray for everyone, and we roll up our sleeves to make peace and justice and respect for all creation a living reality. When possible, we strategize as fraternities to address the greatest needs in our community and form an apostolate. We are doing a lot, whether it’s marches and megaphones or letter writing, or public prayer events, private fasting or Novenas, or public singing, we are out there in love, trying to further human dignity in this world. It is nothing less than the demands of the Gospel.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.