On Faith: Lent Is a Time to Focus on Civic Engagement
By Sister Simone Campbell
Lent is traditionally a time of reflection and sacrifice. Some loudly–and proudly–announce what they are "giving up" for the season, but others take seriously the admonition from Jesus that, "when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting" (Matthew. 6: 16-17).
Throughout the year, including during Lent, I believe that faith-filled people are called to engage in the public sphere — but not because of a desire to be "public." Instead, this call rises from the obligation to live the Gospel in today's world. I see Lent as a special time to move closer to God in an intentional way. Answering the Gospel call to act for justice will strengthen our bonds with one another—and ultimately, of course, with God.
Public engagement begins with listening intently to the needs of the people, and then actively responding. Human needs and suffering are more than evident in this nation so deeply marked by continuing poverty, violence and inequality. Allowing them to touch us personally is painful. During this season, can each of us risk breaking our own hearts by tapping into this suffering so that it becomes part of who we are? Lent, a time of private self-reflection, is a perfect time to do this — just as Jesus took on the pain of the world.
As Gospel people, we are then called to turn our internal pain into action for justice. Our response translates into civic engagement so that our voices blend and become one with those of suffering people who are not heard. Combining our voices makes all of our voices louder as we stand together in the quest for justice.
Civic engagement shows a commitment to faithfully live the Gospel by being hope in our troubled world. Those of us engaged in social justice advocacy know how difficult it can be at times to become that hope. It is far too easy to become disillusioned with politics and power when they stand in the way of justice. For example, it may be clear to us that our country must address rising income disparities for both moral and practical reasons, but partisan interests build huge roadblocks. Those barriers can drain us of hope, and we are tempted to disengage.
It is during those times of discouragement that we most need each other. Together, as a community of faith, we are stronger, and it becomes far more difficult for those in power to ignore us. That, in turn, makes it easier for us to transform injustice into justice.
I hope we will all use Lent as a time to foster a new commitment to civic engagement that will stay with us long after Easter has come and gone. By taking this action, we can truly call ourselves Gospel people.
Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. She is a leader of "Nuns on the Bus."