As a New Year's resolution of sorts, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, who I'm currently working with as a Mission Corps volunteer, have pledge to renew their commitment to justice. As part of this renewal, they are exploring the ten core principles of Catholic Social Teaching in the weeks leading up to Lent through recorded reflections on YouTube. Justice is a deep and abiding part of the charism and mission of the sisters and their associates. In conjunction with this project, I was asked to write and record one such reflection on the core value of rights & responsibilities. Don't know anything about this principle or how it might be tied into the SSJs? Below is my reflection, if you're interested give it a read & if you're lazy or want to explore multimedia, check out the video.
If you were to search rights and responsibilities in Google, you would get over 7.6 million results in the time it takes me to finish this sentence. That’s a lot of rights and a whole lot of responsibilities. They are the basic building blocks of Catholic Social Teaching and are inherently connected- to our being, to Christ’s message, and to each other. And as it might seem, the premise of the principle of rights and responsibilities is simple: we are each endowed with basic human rights and as a result have certain responsibilities.
Our rights are three-fold: the right to life and its basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare; the right to dignity; and the right to take part in the decisions that affect our lives. Too often when basic human rights are mentioned the responsibility, both personal and global, that accompanies those rights is all but forgotten. Yet, it is Christ’s call to us to serve one another as we serve him- this means taking responsibility. Responsibility for protecting the rights of, providing a voice for, and sharing our means with our brothers and sisters.
If my time with the Sisters of St. Joseph has taught me anything it is that “The Sisters of St. Joseph are about relationships.” We are bound together and must be dependent on one another if God’s transformative love is ever going to work for change through us and deep within us. This means bring people into union with God and neighbor through love without distinction- the quintessential care for the dear neighbor that the Sisters of St. Joseph hold so close to their hearts. For me, these values resound the call to protect the rights of the least of these, the responsibility to love as Christ did and the opportunity we are given each moment to give dignity to and restore justice in the world in which we live and work.
Each day, my own work at the Cardinal Bevilacqua Community Center and Visitation Parish in Kensington demands that I recognize that many people’s most basic rights are not being fulfilled and requires me to work so that those I encounter might feel the love of Christ, take responsibility for their rights, and in the process regain the dignity that has been taken from them. Be it the little girl in freezing temperatures who has only sandals on her feet or the family sleeping on the floor of a house they can barely afford to rent, let alone furnish. These are my dear neighbors and these are the people I am responsible to love without regard for immigration status, race, gender, mental capabilities, or marital status. Their rights are the same as mine. Their rights are the same as yours. If we are going to be able to share in our humanity, we need to compassionately recognize our rights and our responsibility to one another.
That responsibility is each one of ours. My rights have rarely, if ever, been compromised and I’m guessing if you’re watching right now you can relate. My challenge then, as we strengthen our commitment to justice as Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates, is to consider what your rights are, and if you are responsibly using these rights. Living simply, cherishing that which you have, and making decisions that stand up for and respect the rights of others.
This is part of our duty as faith-filled people: to be conscious of our living and being. After all, the blessing of life comes with responsibilities that reach far beyond our rights- 6.8 billion to be exact… and that’s just if you search for every person you can find.