Bethlehem Farm Caretaker and mother extraordinaire Colleen Fitts shares about her Lenten practice this year:
I’m not usually into politics, but like many people, I’ve been listening closely to all the happenings for the past year. In a recent conversation, someone told me that their priest had preached a homily about an executive order. This upset the person, who thought that “church should be about spirituality, not politics.” This got me thinking… what do I think about that? Do I think that priests should instruct us on political issues? Is Church a place for politics? How does my faith interact with my voting, my advocacy, or my lack thereof?
What I have come up with so far is that I do think my spiritual life should inform my thoughts about what is going on all around me. But, how can the Church help remind us of Jesus’ teachings without trying to tell us exactly what to believe, or for example, how to vote? Well, lucky for us, the Church has communicated teachings about these very topics many times over the years. If you collect all these forms of guidance, you have what is called “Catholic Social Teaching.” It’s not a book or even one document, it’s a collection of teachings and values to help us know what a disciple of Jesus should keep in mind when making decisions- from purchasing to interacting with others to advocacy and voting. Here at Bethlehem Farm, we try to study and live these teachings every day– although we are certainly on a journey with both successes and failures.
The Catholic Social Teachings tell me that my faith has a lot to say about things that pertain to modern society. They don’t say, “vote for this person,” or “object to this certain piece of legislation,” but they do instruct us on the values that should drive our decisions. For example, does a certain policy advance human dignity for all or detract from it? Does an elected official claim to want to protect God’s creation, promote peace and disarmament, and promote the common good of all God’s children? While these are tall orders in a world of complicated issues, these types of values are what the Church calls us to prioritize as we make decisions as citizens.
Because of these thoughts and knowing that I have a lot of room to grow as I practice “faithful citizenship,” I have made an unconventional Lenten resolution this year. I pledged to pay attention to the state and federal legislative sessions and write to my representatives once a week, specifically concerning how my faith calls me to respond to current issues. For example, recent state legislation that would impose a burden on low-income West Virginians (like our Bethlehem Farm clients and friends) but give a break to out-of-state corporations compelled me to write. I asked my representatives to consider the common good of all West Virginians, especially the vulnerable who have neither influence nor loud voices, rather than only the powerful corporations who can donate to campaigns. The first time I wrote to them, I actually felt nervous about speaking out using the language of faith. However, sometimes my representatives have written back with thoughtful comments and that has made the process easier for me.
Certainly, I can’t claim that my lenten promise has made any actual legislative difference. (Maybe, but I am one voice among many.) What I can say is that for me, it has been a valuable experience and exercise in examining current events in light of my faith. The Gospels give us many examples of Jesus speaking up to those in power; sending a few emails to those in power is a small step that I can take to humbly follow more in His footsteps.