Faith and Justice: Together or Apart Living the Mission

By Kathleen Maas Weigert

Two events in 1991 provide a framework for my reflections. The first edition of Jesuit Fred Kammer’s book Doing Faithjustice was published, building on the term coined by Bill Watters, S.J., that drives home “the intimate connection of justice and faith in the Judaeo- Christian tradition by using a single word.” That same year Saint Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae (The Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities) went into effect, with its claim (#34, emphasis added), “The Christian spirit of service to others for the promotion of social justice is of particular importance for each Catholic university, to be shared by its teachers and developed in its students.” Do those two visions describe our campuses today?

A way into the conversation might be a portrayal of two Catholic students at an AJCU university. Let’s call the young man Jim. He’s a senior, smart, articulate, an excellent student, raised a Catholic and identifies as such but not practicing now, committed to social justice, and a campus leader in both cafeteria worker rights and unionization efforts by nontenure- track/adjunct faculty. Let’s call the young woman Mary. She’s a second-year student, smart, articulate, an excellent student, deeply rooted in her Catholic faith, attuned to justice and life issues, and already a frequent Eucharistic minister as well as a leader in the Christian Life Community program. That depiction captures some of my experience and suggests an embodied split between faith and socialeconomic justice. What contributes to that split? What can be done to change that?

We know that the number of younger people who claim to be S.B.N.R. (“spiritual but not religious”) has increased nationally to almost 30 percent and that some 35 percent of Millennials (those born 1981-1996) claim no religious affiliation, what we now call the “Nones.” And that category has become less religious over the years, especially among younger Nones. On the other hand, interfaith tolerance at least and serious collaboration at best seem more appealing to and acted upon by many of the younger generations. While not as versed in their own traditions as many of us would like, their openness to people of other faiths can be inspiring. The environment we find ourselves in, then, continues to change

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Let’s draw in some church issues – the topics of homosexuality, contraception, abortion, married and/or women priests, and the depressing on-going news of abuse of children by priests and the coverup by bishops over the last several decades – and the picture gets more complicated. We know that younger Catholics are less likely to support church positions on the first four topics, and if they do opt to enroll in our AJCU institutions, what will they discover? Are the liturgies many, varied, and vibrant? Are there physical and staff supports for students of any and all faith traditions? Will there be many faculty and staff who want to accompany them as they try to figure out what matters, not just simply about academic choices but for their life choices in general and their faith/religious and justice choices in particular? And at the institutional level: Will they find evidence of a commitment, clearly rooted in the mission, to “doing justice” on the campus, in the community, the nation, and the world? Do the financial assistance packages require disproportionate reliance on loans from private institutions? Is there support for cafeteria workers or NTTs/adjuncts seeking living wages and decent working conditions?

No simple answers, to be sure. But let’s go back to “doing faithjustice.” Are we building a culture that is alive with structured opportunities to converse at all levels – student, staff, faculty, administration, boards – about what that means for our AJCU schools today? Conversations that lead to the doing of justice that is grounded in Catholic faith and other faith traditions? If we want to live out our Catholic Jesuit missions, I believe this is not an option. It is what we are called to do.

Kathleen Maas Weigert is a professor in the department of sociology at Loyola University Chicago where she also serves as the chair of the interfaith committee.