“Ora et Labora” is the motto of the Benedictine Order, the Society of St. Benedict. It means “Prayer and Work”. It is a good motto for every Christian in every age, but perhaps it applies especially well to the days in which we find ourselves, where our country and our culture are experiencing so much tumult.
It’s natural to wonder, “What can I do?”
What can I do about racism?
What can I do about police brutality?
What can I do about the movement to disrespect the police and legitimate political and social authority?
What can I do about riots, looting, and the destruction of property and businesses?
What can I do about attacks on churches, statues and police stations?
We often feel that there is little we can do. For many of us, the troubles seem far away. The city where I live, Knoxville in east Tennessee, has felt little impact from the violence exploding in other cities. Like the citizens of a city in the country’s interior watching the news about a Hurricane causing widespread damage to those on the gulf or the ocean, we sit in amazement and horror at the destruction, but feel little to none of it and wonder, “What can I do?”
That’s where I think the idea of “ora et labora” comes in. As Catholics, we have a long tradition of facing tragedy and other concerns with a two-fold strategy: we pray and we work. Prayer is essential. All is grace. We know that, ultimately, Jesus is Lord of history, and whatever current troubles face us now are only the next in a long series of such that will remain endless until His return. But, our faith is in His return, and not in our own ability to create a perfect society among imperfect beings in the here and now.
Work is essential. While we don’t expect to build a heaven on earth, that doesn’t relieve us from our responsibility to do what we can to build a society according to the priorities and principles of the gospel. It’s a matter of justice that we do so. Catholics have never been satisfied with biding our time waiting for Jesus to return. No. We commit ourselves to pray that God’s will be done and to the work of building a society that better reflects that will.
So, what can we do?
- Begin with daily prayer. As Catholics, and Christians of all stripes, we ought to commit ourselves to daily prayer for our nation and our local communities, our leaders and our fellow citizens, especially those most marginalized, most skirting the edge of the cliff and at risk of falling off at any moment. Daily prayer is first and foremost.
- Community prayer, especially worship. Praying together with others as part of a faith community strengthens each of us and all of us. It ought to go without saying that this includes Sunday Mass, sharing in the experience of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist together. This can be more difficult during a pandemic, but not impossible. Even if all you’re able to do is livestream Mass from home, it is important to feel a part of a worshiping faith community and to join your voice with others to raise our joint concerns to our Lord for the sake of all.
- Special calls to prayer. EWTN is inviting all Catholics to join them in a Novena to the Mother of God for the Nation. The novena begins on Tuesday, September 29, the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels and continues through to Wednesday, October 7, the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. You can obtain a free ebook to join the novena at ewtn.com/novena. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, is organizing a Prayer March 2020 in the nation’s Capital for tomorrow, September 26. Not being able to be physically present in Washington, DC shouldn’t dissuade us from joining our prayers with the thousands who are expected to march from the Lincoln Memorial to the U. S. Capitol. You can learn more about the prayer points for the march at prayermarch2020.com/.
- Educate ourselves on Catholic Social Teaching. In order to know how best to act, it’s important to know what the issues are. Catholic Social Teaching is a rich resource for effective application of gospel principles on the issues of the day. You can learn about Catholic Social Teaching from a variety of resources, but why not start with website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops? The USCCB website has a lot of information on what issues are most pressing, including abortion, racism, capital punishment, poverty, immigration, etc… Rather than go off half-cocked, it’s best to begin by educating ourselves on the issues from a Catholic perspective so we know what we’re talking about and know what actions can be most effective.
- Take action. The USCCB website also includes opportunities and ideas for action, including legislative alerts and information on organizations that tackle particular issues. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Choose to do something. Make some of your time and talent available to national or local organizations to help in concrete ways. Sometimes, such as with efforts like 40 Days for Life, just showing up can make an impact.
- Support the cause. Not many of us are in a position to offer a great deal of financial support to organization leading the fight for social concerns and justice, especially when we may be the ones hurting financially during a pandemic. But, a small bit can go a long way, especially toward firming up your own commitment to making a difference. Don’t worry about your contribution being too small. And don’t forget to support your local parish, too. They’re doing more at the ground level than you might realize.
- Contact local community leaders. Write your mayor. Write your state legislators. Write your Senator and Representative. Ask them what they’re doing to improve the lives of those too often caught on the margins, or at risk of their livelihoods being destroyed by wrong-headed activists more committed to shouting slogans and up-ending real progress than in making a positive difference. Too often, political and social leaders are less interested in what benefits their constituencies than in what benefits their personal positions of influence and power. As such, we have so-called leaders who have been in office for decades with districts and states that have little or nothing to show for it. Demand accountability.
Fighting Racism and Injustice
I will be upfront and say I do not support the Black Lives Matter organization. BLM is an openly Marxist organization that has aligned itself with the pro-abortion, pro-gender ideology movements and has taken a public stance against the structure of the nuclear family, the breakdown of which is at the root of so many of the struggles in communities of color. I am dismayed by those individual Catholics and Catholic publications and organizations who claim that society can benefit from what the BLM organization has to offer. Much of their support for BLM, in my mind, is simply lazily assenting to the agenda pushed by BLM itself and its allies in the media that portray it as the leading, of not only, serious organization available for combating racism. Neither do I support other traditional “justice” organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center or the American Civil Liberties Union. They, too, have sacrificed their credibility by aligning themselves with leftist politics and abortion policy, or maligning good people and organizations out of opposition to traditional Western values.
Here are some other places you can go:
I have shared this website before on Facebook and want to make it clear that I cannot endorse all of these organizations. I only offer this as a place to start and encourage you to investigate for yourself if these or other organizations are ones you can support. I would appreciate any thoughts on guidance on this as feedback.
Go to the above link to check out The Woodson Center, founded by Robert Woodson, social worker and highly respected expert on transforming communities. The Woodson Center says it’s mission is “to transform lives, schools, and troubled neighborhoods, from the inside out.”
You can go here to check out efforts to assist small businesses destroyed by the riots. Again, please take the time to vet these as I’ve not done so. This is offered to let you know there are people out there wanting to help and you can join their efforts, but be careful.
Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee has launched the Tennessee Law Enforcement Reform Task Force. You can read about it here.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.