Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at 10:48AM
Robert Gallagher

In the few minutes before Morning Prayer today there was a conversation about Fr. Rob’s formation program this evening “The Theological Roots to the Practice of Justice.” That set off, in me, a web of reflection that carried through the morning office, while walking up the hill toward home and breakfast, and into this piece.

So, a few thoughts

Begin where you are

All Christian action has something of an organic quality to it. Action rises naturally from the relationships and routines of daily life. I have friends and a family. I work. I am a citizen of a nation and city. Each of those settings are opportunities for Christian action – for mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and, yes, for justice.

In the earlier conversation one person spoke of how she hears others looking for places in which to do justice. Such holy seeking is often the starting place. Some step aside from the journey because they need to bury their father, or they fear the cross. There is a cost and you can’t know in advance what that cost will be.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:21 - 

Begin where you are. Our efforts for justice will be purer as we accept the humility of that.


There may be an invitation

There may be an invitation to do something more, something specific. For me it was 1963 or early in 64. Father John Black asked if I wanted to join him in the demonstrations going on in Chester, PA. The Committee for Freedom Now (CFFN) had demanded that the city’s Board of Education end de-facto segregation in the public schools and improve the conditions in the schools.

I agreed to go with John and my life changed. I joined the Congress of Racial Equality, lead their Penn State campus chapter, participated in many picket lines, and as the movement changed course, became involved in community organizing and anti-racism efforts.

Over time, that lead me into industrial mission work, and when a parish priest, supporting community organizing in South Philadelphia at a time when there were no community groups independent of the political parties.

Years later when I was earning my living by Organization Development consulting I realized that all my clients at the time were staffed by and served women and their families, people of color, or the LGBT community. I can’t recall ever deciding to arrange my life in that way. But it was now my life. And it started with Fr. John’s invitation. And that invitation came because I had been baptized. In 1944 being signed with the cross went with this prayer –

We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock: and do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and to fight manfully under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto life’s end.

I’m much too PC to not feel a bit uncomfortable with the male and military images. And yet, I wonder if the tone of that prayer was God’s invitation into the struggle for justice.


Justice and parish development 

After this morning’s office the conversation picked up again. One person noted how you could get a much larger group together to talk about justice than you could to participate in the parish’s public office. It wasn’t a judgement, just an observation.

As I walked home I thought of John Macquarrie’s way of relating the two, for him the Daily office was -

...a way by which we keep ourselves in constant awareness of the divine order; an order of love and justice which embraces and underlies all order ... 

The Order of the Ascension has a page on its web site “The Parish & Justice.”  It’s worth a look. The Order’s roots are in inner city parish ministry. Justice was an everyday concern for all the Order’s priests of that time.


Through prayer

There are two quotes I find myself returning to as I engage justice. One from Martin Thornton, the other from Evelyn Underhill.

Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer. Martin Thornton

One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good. Evelyn Underhill

When I was younger I understood my baptism into Christ, and the work of the Spirit in the church, as the source of my concern for justice. In practice, I sought out the words of scripture and the saints to justify and explain my involvement. A necessary search. As I aged I seem to have shifted that search from justification and support to mystery and prayer.

I am very grateful for the brief conversation of that small congregation at Morning Prayer.



The icons are from a series "The Anglo Catholics" -- Jonathan Daniels, Allan Rohan Crite, Frances Perkins


Article originally appeared on Congregational Development (http://www.congregationaldevelopment.com/).
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