Friday, April 1, 2011

Fasting for Justice

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 
to loose the chains of injustice 
and untie the cords of the yoke, 
to set the oppressed free 
and break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your food with the hungry 
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— 
when you see the naked, to clothe them, 
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, 
and your healing will quickly appear . . .  . (Isaiah 58:6-8)

For anyone who might be thinking of ways to link Lenten penance to action on behalf for justice in our society, I'm recommending's proposed fast for justice.  This organized fast is also a protest against immoral budget cuts that will shift the burden of sustaining our social networks onto the shoulders of the poor and working classes, while relieving those at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid of their responsibility to share.  Jim Wallis, David Beckmann, and Tony Hall launched this fast at the beginning of the week.

As I wrote in my comment at the MoveOn site when I committed myself to fasting, this action of solidarity and protest reminds me of the Vietnam War period, when students across the nation committed ourselves to fast for periods of time, to protest the war in Vietnam and call for an end to the war.  I regard the current socieoconomic (and moral) crisis of the U.S. as equal to that of the Vietnam War period.

I thought of the effectiveness of concerted action on behalf of justice during the Vietnam War period when I wrote a few days ago about how pressure from both the faculty senate and the student government association at Marquette University put the feet of Jesuit Fr. Robert Wild, that university's president, to the fire and forced him to offer partner benefits gay couples at that school..  I was struck by Fr. Wild's statement that taking this step is in line with the Jesuit pastoral principle of care for persons, cura personalis.

What the Marquette scenario brings to mind for me is what happened on the campus of the Jesuit university I attended in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Loyola in New Orleans, when students began to pressure the Jesuit community at Loyola to divest its stock holdings in companies manufacturing war chemicals.  Students at Loyola were particularly upset to learn that the Jesuits who owned and ran the university had holdings in Dow Chemicals, which was making the napalm used to burn villages, people, and the countryside in Vietnam.

When the student protests about this began, the Jesuits tended to react with disdain, blowing the students off and even, on one memorable occasion, sending one of their head honchos at the University to mock the student protesters and lie to us about the Jesuit investment portfolio.  But when the pressure continued and increased, and there were student take-overs of the student union building on the campus, the Jesuits began to discover their consciences, and began to take heed of the student requests.

And the point of that story is this: concerted action to protest immoral behavior of institutions that claim to have a moral basis does sometimes work.  And it's sometimes the only thing that will get such institutions to do the right thing, despite their lofty claims of moral principles.

These thoughts will be in my mind and heart as I commit myself to this particular fast for socioeconomic justice in the U.S.

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