So often, those of us engaged in justice work consider ourselves the “good guys.” It’s those “other” people, we think, who are the problem: the ones who don’t acknowledge racism or climate change; the ones who want to stop immigrants from making a home here. We argue that it’s “they” who are holding back a better world. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t talking about those “other” people. He’s calling us to examine ourselves—to practice self-denial, take up our cross, and even lose our life.
This means no one is off the hook, even those working for peace and justice. For all our enlightened rhetoric, for all our earnest activism, are we willing to deny ourselves in order to bring about a more just world? Or are we only interested in the work as long as it doesn’t require too much of us or create too big an inconvenience?
To take up my cross in the work of anti-racism might mean I lose a great opportunity in favor of a person of color who should be elevated instead. To deny myself in the work of climate justice might mean doing extra dishes and laundry in place of convenient disposable materials. To voluntarily lose my life, or my rights, might mean giving hard-earned money to another because I acknowledge a preferential option for the poor.
Working for a more just world is gratifying, but Jesus reminds us that it’s also costly. And unless we are willing to put some skin in the game, we will continue to perpetuate the harmful cycles we claim to oppose. So this Lent, let’s redirect our critiques against others and look inward to examine ourselves instead. We may just find a richer spiritual life in the process.
- Is my commitment to justice personally costing me something? If not, should it be?
Shannon K. Evans is the spirituality and culture editor for the National Catholic Reporter and the author of the books Feminist Prayers for My Daughter and Rewilding Motherhood: Your Path to an Empowered Feminine Spirituality. She and her family make their home on the prairies of central Iowa, where they attempt to live out the values of action and contemplation.