By Corrine Winter
Recently, I participated with other members of the St. Ambrose University community in a commemorative walk to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and the commitment to civil rights.
Reading two of the markers that commemorate the Civil Rights Movement in Davenport, we noted the involvement of St. Ambrose students, faculty, and staff, and of Catholics in general in the work for racial justice in the middle decades of the 20th century. And we paused to reflect on our call to continue working for the human rights of all in the present time.
Both Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) and Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) connected our Christian duties to care for those in need and to raise our voices against unjust policies and practices that violate the dignity of human persons directly to the Eucharist as the sacramental center of our faith. Our current pope says: “Keeping in mind the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, we need to realize that Christ continues today to exhort his disciples to become personally engaged: ‘You yourselves, give them something to eat’ (Mt 14:16). Each of us is truly called, together with Jesus, to be bread broken for the life of the world (n. 88).”
That is a theme that has marked the Church since its beginning. I Cor. 11 exhorts Christians that to eat the bread and drink the wine (of the Eucharist) without recognizing the body (of Christ) is to eat and drink judgment against oneself. The chapter shows that the body that some in Corinth are failing to recognize is the body of the community. That failure is demonstrated precisely by the fact that when the community gathers some bring for themselves lavish meals while ignoring others who have not enough to eat.
Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, Augustine of Hippo and others of the early theologians called “Fathers of the Church,” in their catechetical sermons insisted that all the baptized were called to live Christian lives showing the world their union with one another and their care for the needs of all. Thomas Aquinas said that the Eucharist purged away sins and increased all virtue. A study of his work on virtue leaves little doubt that justice and charity are key.
The political season (OK, sometimes that season seems never-ending) is an important time for us to recall the centrality of justice and human dignity to our faith commitment as Catholics.
We cannot ignore the need for systematic change that will recognize all persons’ right to life and dignity including the opportunity for adequate housing, health care, education and work that provides a living wage.
The Catholic Bishops’ guide “Faithful Citizenship” leaves little doubt as to that responsibility.
We may certainly disagree about how to go about establishing a just society, about what laws and economic policies will be fair and effective; but we must, as Christians, agree that all human persons have a right to the opportunities and resources that uphold their basic dignity and allow them to have their basic needs met.
(Corinne Winter is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)