Day 4: From Your Midst

From Your Midst

BY FR. JUSTIN CLARAVALL, S.J. | February 25, 2023
Today’s Readings

I find it easier to remove oppression from my midst with a vote than with a tough conversation. 

I voted for a measure to fund low-income housing to help end the homelessness crisis, and helped organize our parish to support this measure as well. I did my part to remove oppression in the midst of Los Angeles, but nearly every day I walk between the tents under a bridge between my house and my parish, and I struggle to make eye contact with the people living there. 

Where, dear prophet Isaiah, is my “midst?” If it’s right before me, I haven’t removed much.

From Your Midst

People of faith with a passion for social change have standardized a distinction between charity and justice, usually highlighting the former’s insufficiency at effecting real change. We seek justice by reforming systems that afflict people on large scales. We want to remove oppression, lies, slander, and affliction from the midst of our world. But to seek justice, we need charity. Charity isn’t just direct service, it’s the animating force of care and generosity toward persons, the people in our midst who suffer, the people who make up the very systems that oppress others.

The gospel doesn’t record Jesus speaking of charity or justice in opposition—he saw Levi in his midst, a Jewish man with a priest’s name (the Levites were priests) but who aided the oppression of his people through imperial taxes. He saw a man caught up in a system, but who must have wanted something desperately different. Jesus’ ensuing invitation led to an inclusive, and awkwardly confrontational table fellowship. He removed the oppression from his midst by repairing the breach between those around him. To remove oppression from the midst of our world, I must be able to see, with charity, the person in my midst.

For Reflection:

  • Where, like the author, are you challenged to find your “midst,” to encounter the real people who suffer from oppression, or who “make up the very systems that oppress others?”
14 replies
  1. Dallas McQuarrie
    Dallas McQuarrie says:

    My “midst,” where I “encounter the real people who suffer from oppression,” is all around me, and most Canadians, if we choose to see it! I see Aboriginal peoples, whose land has been stolen, swindled and taken by force to create Canada itself. I live on land that was never ceded or sold by its rightful owners, the Mi’kmaq people, yet am governed by those who refuse to refuse to recognize the lawful owners of the land they govern, and turn a blind eye to the structural racism their laws have created to daily repress Aboriginal peoples using the tools of poverty and paramilitary force.
    Similarly, people living poverty are everywhere. An easy toleration of deep poverty is a shameful, sinful hallmark of our society that is daily killing people. Health studies show conclusively that those forced to live in poverty (no one lives in poverty by choice!) have more ‘health issues’ (what a euphemism that is!) and lead shorter lives. We have an economy of death that feeds upon the poor and weak to fatten the wealthy.
    The Catholic Catechism (#2446) quotes St. John Chrysostom who points out that “not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” It adds “the demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity … When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”
    People in our midst who suffer daily from real oppression are only not seen by those who choose willful blindness and invincible ignorance rather than acknowledging an ugly truth that demands we pick up our cross now and follow Jesus by doing something about it. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus, quoting Isaiah, as saying he had come to free the oppressed and proclaim good news to the poor. Yet, only a few people lead lives that glorify the Father by being good news to the poor whom our society treats as ‘throw away’ people. The real question Jesus asks those who profess him as Lord and Savior today is “what are you doing to help the poor, free the oppressed, welcome the stranger?” and so on.

    • Shirley Barrett
      Shirley Barrett says:

      Wow what a great reflection. I especially was drawn to your reference to St Chrysostom( please excuse spelling. I don’t have the correct spelling on hand as I write) one of his prayers is read in our Morning prayer service in our Episcopal church and I hadn’t really researched who he was. I will now. Thank you for your words.

  2. Cathe Shoulberg
    Cathe Shoulberg says:

    While there may not be recorded words of Jesus on charity, his actions, are a result of the LOVE that fills his heart to overflowing. I remember a quote, I forget which Saint said it, but… “Preach the Gosple… Use words if necessary”
    That’s exactly what Jesus accomplishes! May our acts of love be all that is necessary!

    • Sr. Paracleta Amrich, SS.C.M.
      Sr. Paracleta Amrich, SS.C.M. says:

      Your reference aboutpreaching the gospel and using words only when necessary are associated with St, Francis of Asasi’s words to a fellow Franciscan Brother who accompanied him on a day’s mission to preach the gospel and who confronted Francis at the end of their walk that they had not yet preached the gospel. A poweful message that I used to use in training chaplains on thier visits to patients. Thank you for the reminder, Cathe Shoulberg

  3. Pam Vogt
    Pam Vogt says:

    Following the example of Jesus to charity/justice of Matthew, I am reminded of the ongoing SYNOD. I remind myself that I need to be open to those who think in opposition to helping the fringes. To love the opposers and show them by my own actions of what love looks like. You can’t do this in the comfort of your home, you need to be out in community. Every day is a new opportunity. Where will you bring me today, Dear God, that I may follow your will for me?

  4. John Daniels
    John Daniels says:

    Fr. Justin, this encounter of yours is so much like the story of the Good Samaritan. Did you stop? Why or why not? In Northern Michigan our unhoused population is a small enough scale that we can have relationships with the persons, serving them in our shelter and other places where care can be provided within our capacity. Your situation is very different, overwhelming in its scale. How do you live with this?

  5. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    This is a very helpful but challenging topic. I do distinguish Justice vs Charity in my own mind. Charity seems more about my own generosity and willingness to share from my excess resources; justice focuses on the humanity of the one in need and his/her right to dignity and basic needs. It’s much easier to write a check for the homeless than it is to engage in conversation with a homeless person, or even to look him/her in the eyes with compassion. Pope Francis’ emphasis on the personal encounter with another person encourages me to look more lovingly on each brother or sister.

  6. Alan R
    Alan R says:

    The 4th reflection was excellent.May we have courage to do something about oppression in our midst.Amen

  7. sonja
    sonja says:

    The challenge for us in the West is to live simply and value family and take time to be with and listen to our neighbours of poverty who are all around us if we take the time to stop, look and listen. To put God first in our lives so that the love of Christ shines out for all to see as it does in those living in poorer countries where God and family are all they have and all they need.

  8. Elsie
    Elsie says:

    Can we ask that our pastors to open our church doors for dinners, shelter, for the people on the street? Seems like there are never enough available beds, places to wash clothes, etc. Yet our church space remains empty much of the week. Another thought: can we open our homes for gathering places so police and those who are being targeted can get to know one another? I’d love to hear pastors encourage their flock to support local initiatives, as you do seem to be doing, Father.

  9. Jean Kennedy
    Jean Kennedy says:

    I can’t help everyone who is oppressed, etc. but I support a boy in Haiti and his family through the Catholic Organization, CHALICE. I donate on a regular basis to Development and Peace and the Red Cross when there is an appeal. I also support local charities.

  10. Megan Wilson-Reitz
    Megan Wilson-Reitz says:

    Fr. Justin, thank you for this beautiful reflection. So many of us in “progressive” church spaces have a tendency to emphasize the work for systemic justice (which is desperately important) at the expense of personal works of mercy, relationship, and connection. As you say so clearly here, we are called to do both, and at the same time. Our work and Gospel witness for social justice must always be directly rooted in authentic relationships of love, respect, and solidarity with those who experience injustice, or our justice work, too, will miss the mark.

    I also appreciate your reminder that our charity is to be characterized by direct and personal relationships, not just by shifting around our excess resources. Jesus’ statement “the poor will always be with you” is not a statement of the inevitability of social injustice; it is a call to vocation: “You, disciples, must always be located among the poor.” We are called to more than sterile, impersonal acts of philanthropy — we are called to the full messiness of personal relationship. As Shane Claiborne writes, “I’m just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me.”


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