Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 13, 2002
Prayer challenges injustice
In Venezuela, a democratically-elected president who rattled the cages of the oil industry is briefly deposed . . . before making his way back to power.
In the Middle East, oil-rich countries turn their backs on the Palestinians except to use them for propaganda purposes against Israel.
In Sudan, oil development in the Western Upper Nile leads to bombings and mass displacements of civilians.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died due to the never-ending war in that East African nation.
Afghanistan gets a new government friendly to the West as the Americans are wondering how to drive a pipeline through the country to get the oil out of Kazakhstan.
People ask why the Church gets involved in politics. They need not look far. Human dignity is being assaulted everywhere a person turns.
Usually, there is money at stake. And what do human rights matter when powerful individuals stand to make millions.
Well, they matter a lot. It was the Christian tradition that gave rise to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That's because Christians care deeply about how the human person is treated in this world.
Of course, Christians ought to be totally oriented to eternal life. Jesus came to set us free from the tyranny of sin so that we could enjoy life forever with him when we die.
But eternal life does not begin with death. The decisions we make today reverberate throughout eternity and, in a sense, create the eternity that we will live.
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the parable of poor Lazarus ignored by the rich man who feasted sumptuously everyday. The two died. The poor man ended up in heaven, the rich man in hell. They had both created their own eternity.
In Matthew 25, we read of the last judgment. It was those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked and cared for the sick who went to heaven. Those who neglected those tasks went to eternal fire.
These are not religious tasks.
But they are. In Luke 10, Jesus says the greatest commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."
This is not two commandments, but one. Love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour. This is true because of the Incarnation. God has become human and people have a share in God's dignity.
To offend against a person is to offend against God. To honour a person is to honour God.
We show that honour, first, through, acts of charity. We feed, clothe and care for, not man in the abstract, but real children and men and women. For the Christian, God is found especially in the person in need. That person must be honoured and helped. That is our basic responsibility.
But we are blind fools if we do not see that it goes beyond that. People are rarely hungry, naked and sick solely of their own accord. They are poor because of political and economic systems that institutionally protect greed and self-serving.
The Christian is the person who turns away from self and toward God and the other. And in turning towards the other, we must challenge the systems that dehumanize people.
Some call that being political. And it can be political. But at its deepest heart, such action is being Church. We are asserting our oneness, through God, with those who are in dire need.
This is the religious act par excellence. It is founded in prayer. It is prayer.
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