The JustFaith program is coming to its final sessions. At this point, program facilitators are planning celebratory activities including, perhaps, congregational recognition or blessings for the participants, certificate awards, potlucks, and/or special social events.[i] They are preparing for a closing retreat. The last, major reading assignment for the 2011-2012 course is Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer,[ii] a Quaker who serves as senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute.
Let Your Life Speak is an intensely personal book and, while one might discuss its particular elements,[iii] its function at this juncture of the program is to get participants thinking deeply about their next steps. It has been JustFaith’s intention, all along, to form activists – folks who not only engage directly in what Catholics call corporal works of mercy[iv] but who will also become policy advocates, supporting the various legislative and social reforms that JustFaith and its associates believe are good.
To this end, the next several weeks address discernment. Week 27 asks participants to think about the social issues that “affect poor people in your community” and which concern them particularly…for which they have a special feeling. They are asked to “name ways” they can fulfill their moral obligation to participate in faithful citizenship and are given a list of ten – highly generalized – “Opportunities for Involvement in Social Ministry”[v] to help them “consider how the Holy Spirit is calling …to new or renewed commitments.”
“Are you tugged to work one-on-one with people in need?” Direct action or service might be for you. “Do you like communicating with legislators?” How about work in legislative advocacy? Or, for those with a bent toward teaching, what about justice education? Philanthropic souls with financial resources are encouraged to explore new ways of giving money. For those attracted to midwifing structural change, JustFaith suggests community organizing. Nothing too specific is suggested just yet but participants are thinking about the possibilities.
Week 28 attempts to give some focus to those possibilities and draw the JustFaith participant into a more specific commitment. A local representative from one or more of JustFaith’s partner organizations – the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, Bread for the World, Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Pax Christi USA, and/or Catholic Charities – is invited to speak to the group about “local activities and opportunities for action and engagement.”[vi]
As an aside, week 28 materials instruct co-facilitators to “make an effort to highlight…options” of any “forms of contemplative spiritual growth” offered by the local parish. “Encourage participants to explore new ways of praying,” and centering prayer is specifically mentioned. This is not the venue to go into the topic but centering “prayer” is a New Age meditative practice with a spiritual “nod” to eastern religions that trains the human soul to become its own center and the object of idolatrous worship. This spiritual practice replaces revealed, Judeo-Christian knowledge of God with a pantheistic sense of the divine and fosters syncretism – the belief that all religions are essentially the same.
Between weeks 28 and 29, participants are emailed copies of two materials: Engaging the World Together and Taking Action Resource Guide. Engaging the World Together is designed to help the JustFaith participant continue his “discernment” about “What is God’s desire for this world and our lives,”[vii] giving participants structured activities, which it calls practicing Lectio Divina, to do alone and as a group in preparation for deciding “what next.” The document plants some seeds however, suggesting the possibility of forming a “Mission Based Community” – a committed group with a common purpose to, in some way, address some aspect of poverty, racism, or violence – and of committing to further formation under JustFaith’s guidance.
The Taking Action Resource Guide [viii] has hundreds electronic links to organizational and topical resources opens that can be accessed from the user’s computer. It explains the next formation possibilities open to JustFaith “graduates.” JustMatters modules are six to eight week “topic-focused” courses that, like the basic JustFaith program, involve a small group in praying together, reading recommended literature, watching particular videos or DVDs, sharing “immersion” experiences, and discussing the material at regular meetings.
Each of JustFaith’s partner organizations has its own “action opportunities” and its own, interconnected education programs. Each invites participation in its own “advocacy network,” offers conferences and workshops, and volunteer possibilities. Links take the curious to the websites of all the major Alinskyian organizing networks and there are hosts of materials for those who want to work in a particular area.
So, by week 29, the JustFaith participant is ready for a “discernment exercise.” It begins with a scripture reading from Isaiah (42:1-4, New International Version):
42 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
This is, of course, a prophesy about Jesus that is given a new context. The JustFaith participant is the chosen servant who will bring justice; the JustFaith participant is the one who will not falter or be discouraged until “he he establishes justice on earth.”
That becomes the backdrop against which participants now weigh their talents and gifts, and articulate to what they “feel the most pulled” or “have a growing passion for.”
The verses from Isaiah are read a second time and these questions are revisited against the “signs of the times” that, again, a participant has identified as “drawing” or “leading” him. “How and where, in your daily life, do you feel drawn to be an instrument of peace and justice? Where do you believe God is calling you? Why?”[ix]
Week 30 ties up all the ends. Participants discuss next year’s program and how they can help foster it, discuss once again the possibility of forming an “intentional community” with each another, give personal testimonies, are reminded that as JustFaith graduates, there are many “graduate ministry opportunities,” and so forth. This isn’t the end of the JustFaith program; it’s the beginning of a new life of activism.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is also the editor of the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper.
[i] JustFaith Catholic Version 2011-2012, Week 27, “Note to Co-Facilitators,” p. 1.
[ii] Jossey-Bass Books, 2000. All quotes will be from this book unless otherwise noted.
[iii] It’s a thoughtful, poetic little volume. Theoretically, Palmer’s thought might benefit from some of the insights offered by traditional Christianity but his honesty and humility bring him to many of the same, truths. Like so much else in the JustFaith program, it’s an odd book for a Catholic group, but not a bad one…if those limitations are acknowledged.
[iv] Namely, literally feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive, and burying the dead.
[v] This is the title of a participant handout.
[vi] JustFaith Catholic Version 2011-2012, Week 28, p. 4.
[vii] JustFaith Ministries, Engaging the World Together, p. 3.
[viii] JustFaith Ministries and its Partners, Taking Action Resource Guide, 2011.
[ix] JustFaith Catholic Version 2011-2012, Week 28, p. 6, question 6.