Readings (Year A):
Reflection: Leveraging privilege for the common good
In the first reading, we hear God tell Abraham that God will “make a great nation.” This promise is part of the covenant that God made with Abraham, and each of us. Every covenant has two sides, however, which invites the question: what does this covenant require of us, the people of God?
In the second reading Paul writes a letter to Timothy from jail, extending the challenge “bear your hardship for the Gospel.”
The question of covenant and this challenge are essential as we prepare for the passion during this Lenten season.
As I tried to answer the first question, I found myself reflecting on a recent gathering of theologians and community organizers in the Catholic Church, where we talked about the common good, a central tenet of Catholic social teaching and the primary goal of faith-based community organizing. Our orientation towards, and work for the common good is at the core of our covenant relationship with God. So, what is the hardship we are called to endure for the gospel?
When asking this question, I couldn’t help but think about the privilege and power that I hold based on my various identities and my responsibility to find ways to leverage those for the common good. This is a constant challenge, one that I fail at regularly because it requires sacrificing resources, comfort, and social stature.
Recently, an opportunity to do this emerged through our youth community organizing program. Our group of Catholic high school students here in Seattle conducted a listening campaign with their peers, exploring their experiences relating to their identities at the intersection of race, sex, and disability. At the end of this process, it was clear that the focus of their campaign needed to center on their experiences of injustice in Catholic schools.
As this emerged the privilege protection kicked in. How will this impact the reputation of our organization and my personal reputation? I could feel myself pulling back, thinking about ways to strategize out of it, or push the students in another direction. But, as I reflected on it further, buoyed by the recent gathering of folks committed to organizing, I recognized that diminishing their voices, or manipulating them to a different end, wasn’t working towards the common good. Rather, this would entail acting out of fear, centering on protecting myself and maintaining the privileges I hold and the benefits they afford me.
As I prayed through this challenge, I found solace in the gospel, the story of the transfiguration.
In this account, we witness the transformative power of God and get a taste of resurrection, with a reassurance from Jesus through his simple words “Rise, do not be afraid.”
Each time I am faced with a moment, to speak up, to make space for someone at the table, or cause a disruption for the common good, I need to remind myself that each of these moments is an opportunity to live out the gospel and begin to fulfill my side of the covenant that God offered to Abraham so many years ago.