The saints inspire us to overcome systemic injustice
Jesus very clearly calls out injustice, and we must do the same. The blessings and woes found in today’s Gospel from Luke highlight economic, emotional and social injustices in Jesus’ community, and they offer reminders that faith in Christ requires a commitment to creating a just society.
“Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” (Lk 6:21)
What can you do to address injustices in society?
In what ways do you benefit from injustices in society?
How can praying with Venerable Pierre Toussaint assist in your spiritual growth and inform your actions?
In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus directly addresses people who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded because of their association with Christ, saying to them that they are blessed. Jesus then confronts people who are financially, emotionally and socially stable— specifically, people who are rich, full, laughing and about whom society speaks favorably.
Jesus criticizes those who live comfortably while others suffer. The critique against people who are regarded favorably like false prophets of old is a reference to groups frequently mentioned in prophetic literature of the Old Testament. The false or lying prophets said what people wanted to hear and were praised and celebrated for it. But in reality, they were proclaiming that things were going well when suffering was widespread and destruction was imminent.
Preaching in this manner, Jesus does not simply comfort those who suffer and warn those who are comfortable. He goes further, warning how comfort can be based on blindness to suffering, poverty and injustice that the true prophets point out. By contrasting how the true and false prophets are received, Jesus calls his followers to fix the problems that cause injustice and inequity in the first place. By highlighting the evils of poverty and oppression, Jesus connects his ministry to justice and teaches his disciples that faith in him requires directly addressing and solving the problems of the world.
How can we do this? We must consciously work to promote equity in our church and world, acknowledging past failures and committing to make corrections in the present and future. Likewise, we can learn from our saints, those canonized and those on the way, who can inspire us to overcome systemic injustices and use our power and abilities to help people in need.
Venerable Pierre Toussaint can inspire our efforts to create a just society. Toussaint, whose last name was likely adopted in homage to Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture, is an important example for all of us. He spent part of his life enslaved in Haiti and New York. Like many people born into unjust societies, Toussaint persevered while enduring racism among countless other hardships. Obtaining freedom from slavery in his 40s, Toussaint developed a successful hairdressing business in New York City. With freedom and economic success, Toussaint used his resources to help others, saving money to purchase the freedom of his sister Rosalie and future wife Juliette Noel. His success did not make him blind to the suffering and needs of others; rather, he used his resources to come to their aid.
Toussaint’s life reflects his faithful commitment to justice and service to others. Toussaint and Noel adopted his niece Euphemia after Rosalie died. They supported orphans and patients who were quarantined during the cholera epidemic. Being bilingual, Toussaint offered translation services to French-speaking Haitian refugees in New York. The church, too, benefited from Toussaint’s generosity and talents, as he helped to finance institutions, such as Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Vincent de Paul School. This is faith in Christ in action.
When we reflect on Jesus’ ministry, we must remember his commitment to helping people who are poor, vulnerable, marginalized and disenfranchised. Jesus tells us what Christian faith requires through his bold statements, critiques of injustice and selfless actions. As we reflect on today’s Gospel, we should also pray with our saints, like Pierre Toussaint, and commit to living out faith in Christ by advancing a just society.