A year ago I met Scovia, a Ugandan woman, mother of two young children, and a leader of the women’s movement in her country. A few weeks ago Scovia was arrested, beaten and imprisoned for non-violently protesting corruption and abuses of power. Upon her release from prison, and expecting further repression, she nevertheless vowed to continue to resist and build a more fair and just society.
Today’s readings invite us to live out the well-known motto: “just do it”. Returning from their Babylonian exile, the Israelites are frustrated and exhausted by the challenges of their journey. Faced with the responsibility of restoring and rebuilding their community, they think that only by fasting and observing prayer rituals that they will gain God’s favor. Enter the prophet Isaiah to shake things up. He challenges the Israelites to rethink their priorities. While fasting and prayer are essential for cleansing and transformation, grace lies in putting faith and love into action by:
Releasing those bound unjustly
Setting free the oppressed
Sharing your bread with the hungry
Sheltering the homeless and oppressed
Clothing the naked and not turning your back on your own
Blessed are those who work for social justice. Scovia is a deeply faithful person, like so many great leaders of the most inspired nonviolent struggles around the world, including Dorothy Day, Blessed Oscar Romero, and Dolores Huerta. For them, and for those movement leaders today challenging racism, defending the dignity of immigrants, demanding radical reforms to the criminal justice system, and fighting for gender equality, faith in action means organizing to challenge those systems that keep people marginalized and excluded. “Just doing it,” which requires a revolution of the heart, allows us to break forth like the dawn and build the “beloved community.”
- What actions can I take in community to be an ally of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed? How can I center their voices in my daily work?
- How, in the words of the mystic Rumi, can I “be a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder” to someone I know who is in need?
*Maria would like to thank her mother, Marianne, for her wise insights.
Dr. Maria J. Stephan is a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on civil resistance, nonviolent movements and their relevance to conflict transformation and democratic development. She holds an MA and Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. Stephan was a keynote speaker at the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.