Doing what is ours to do
In recent months, I've been hearing the phrase "doing what is ours to do" in various contexts and situations. Religious communities have been asking, "What is ours to do at this time?" Individuals have reflected on whether or not what they are about is really what they ought to be about. Therefore, I have also been reflecting on this very question — given our cultural context at the moment, what is ours to do? What is mine to do?
One of my congregation's founders, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade — a French priest who suffered through the ravages of the French Revolution — is an inspiration to me in contemplating this question.
Fr. Chaminade saw the devastation after the revolution and discerned that new times called for new methods. The old ways of bringing people into relationship with God and with one another were no longer going to work because the context was so different — so fraught.
The signs of the times were indicating that his life's work had to be re-imagined. He wrote in a letter, "Why do new needs require new and greater help? Since the catastrophes of the Revolution, who is the wise [one] who does not see that the levers which move the moral world need, in some ways, other fulcrums?"
This has always been an important concept for me. But considering the question, "What is ours to do?" and my increasing awareness of the growing needs in our society, it seems more urgent.
There are, indeed, "levers" in our world that move the moral order. Such a lever might be a well- communicated, inspiring vision that draws upon the compassion of others, encourages the use of logic and reason, and appeals to people's desire to belong.
The fulcrums upon which those levers have moved will shift and change over time: they may take on a different shape or size, or impose a new method.
Organizations can be these supports for movement: non-governmental organizations, non-profits, educational institutions, think tanks, religious institutions. Individuals in our nation's history have certainly supported movement for the common good: Martin Luther King Jr., Blessed Óscar Romero, St. Teresa of Calcutta. There are grassroots movements that fulfill this function: #MeToo, Moral Monday, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to name a few.
Though our times may not be as traumatic as the aftermath of the French Revolution, I do believe that we are living in a moment of liminality — an "in between" time.
Perhaps there is something new struggling to be born and we are in the throes of labor now. The question then becomes, "How are we called to midwife what is to be?" And a corollary question for me — how am I to do this while remaining a person of hope, compassion, mercy and love?
We are not short on groups, individuals and organizations seeking to build what I would call the kingdom of God. And yet, as I look out into the sea of levers and fulcrums all trying to move the moral order of our world, what I often see is a maze of isolated approaches, leading to division, frustration and anger.
This situation usually does not motivate me to action. I can find the options overwhelming, the vitriol toxic to my capacity for compassion, and the problems too big for my small sphere of influence.
A piece of advice that I often share with folks discerning their direction or their vocation is: "We can only take the next right step."
What is the most loving decision I can make at this moment, given the information I have, the opportunities in front of me and the needs that I see? This may seem simple and small, too small, in fact. It may even seem clichéd. But it allows me to continue wrestling with the question, "What is mine to do?"
Maybe the next right step is to ask an important question — to challenge the status quo. Maybe the next right step is to engage in conversation with the person with whom I disagree. Maybe the next right step is to gather people for action — be that a protest, a walk-out, or a letter-writing campaign.
Regardless of what the next right thing is, it is something. It is movement in the right direction. To act is what allows for hope and the possibility of growing in compassion, mercy and forgiveness. For me, inaction is what leads to cynicism and defeatism.
And so, what is mine to do? The next right and loving thing. Always.
[Nicole Trahan is a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (Marianist Sisters) who teaches sophomore religion at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, serves as the National Director of Vocations for the Marianist Sisters, and is director of the pre-novitiate program for her province.]