Ask a Sister About … Social Justice

St. Scholastica's Student Newspaper
The Cable
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by Sister Edith Bogue, OSB

"What about social justice," Emma asked, "what issues are you interested in?" A new question, and right on target. Benedictines are not known as activists, but St Benedict's Rule instructs us to be concerned with those who are sick, elderly, poor or homeless.

Our monastery takes particular concern about people and issues close to home. Because of our vow of stability, Benedictines are "lovers of the place." Our sisters have volunteered with CHUM, served meals at the Union Gospel Mission, and participated in the programs of the Damiano Center. I serve on the board of Duluth's Public Library, a major employment, internet, and literacy resource for the poor.

The Sisters sponsor several organizations: CSS, of course, but also the Benedictine Health System and Catholic hospitals in the Essentia system. Having adopted our mission, those organizations are active in social justice issues too. CSS fosters learning about social justice in lectures and courses; efforts like Community Day, the Cultural Competency Certificate program, and Alternative Spring Break put the concern into action.

"Do the Sisters take political positions," Nouqouja asked, "especially on hot-button topics?"

We don't endorse candidates. None of the parties or candidates align fully with Catholic social teaching. Sisters wrestle with the issues in deciding how to cast their votes - and our supper conversation is sometimes heated. But these are matters for the individual conscience.

Benedictine Sisters do sometimes speak out on issues. All the US Prioresses issued a joint statement supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Each monastery takes action as it sees fit. Sisters have made strong statements about gun violence, human trafficking, preservation of the environment and the death penalty. People who come to Evening Prayer notice those topics in our prayers. With Pax Christi Duluth, we write dozens of letters and take action related to particular issues.

"What I meant," said Emma, tentatively, "was more personal: what social justice issue do YOU care about the most?"

I've taught about so many - the death penalty, disability rights, global inequality, access to healthy lifestyles and medical care, racial prejudice and discrimination, religious freedom, climate change and environmental degradation, homelessness and poverty. They all matter to me - but, with good organizations working on them, none draws me uniquely.

I surprised Emma. "I am worried about boys and young men," I said. "When I was in college, there weren't many women: about 40% of the students and a few faculty. We claimed - rightly - that the system must be working against us." Emma and Nouqouja nodded. "Now it's the reverse: women are the majority in college; many boys don't even finish high school." They caught the logic. "There are so many powerful men in my generation that people can't see the social justice issue happening in yours. There's no action group yet - but that's the issue close to my heart."

Emma replied, "I've seen that in particular boys. I never noticed the pattern before."

"Of course," I ended, "if there were not so many good people working hard on all those other issues - in our monastery and at CSS - my focus would shift. St Benedict's Rule gives me space to focus where there isn't yet an advocacy group and still be part of the bigger effort. We are all part of the work each of us does."