Author: susanfrancoiscsjp

I am a Gen X Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Read more about my community at www.csjp.org.

Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life applied to Human Trafficking

Bernadin Scholar and MA Student, Susan Francois, CSJP, shares her reflections on Cardinal Bernadin and human trafficking. 
 
Cardinal Bernardin

Cardinal Bernadin

I have had the amazing opportunity these past 2+ years to study at Catholic Theological Union as a Bernardin Scholar. This has given me an opportunity–and responsibility–to learn more about Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the great contributions he made to our church and Catholic social thought.  Perhaps his greatest and most far reaching contribution was his development of the Consistent Ethic of Life.

I am presently beginning work writing my masters thesis on human trafficking as social sin. One aspect of the trafficking experience is the commodification and dehumanization of the trafficked person. As I was writing the section on dehumanization, I thought I would look at what Cardinal Bernardin wrote about human dignity and see if I could weave it in. I vaguely remembered reading something he wrote which would apply, and happily just found it.

It’s an address he gave in 1984 to the National Consultation on Obscenity, Pornography, and Indecency. Here’s just a bit:

The theological foundation of our opposition to obscenity, pornography, and indecency is the dignity of the human person. …

It is clearly simply inadequate simply to say that human life is sacred and to explain why this is so. It is also necessary to examine and respond to the challenges to the unique dignity and sacredness of human life today. Human life has always been sacred, and there have always been threats to it. However, we live in a period of history when we have produced, sometimes with the best of intentions, a technology and a capacity to threaten and diminish human life which previous generations could not even imagine.

In the first instance, there are life-threatening issues such as genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare, and euthanasia. These assaults on life cannot be collapsed into one problem; they are all distinct, enormously complicated, and deserving of individual treatment. ….

That is why I have argued frequently during the past year for the need of developing a ‘consistent ethic of life’ that seeks to build a bridge of common interest and common insight on a range of social and moral questions. Successful resolution on any of these issues is dependent upon the broader attitude within society regarding overall respect for life. …

In the second instance, there are life-diminishing issues, such as prostitution, pornography, sexism, and racism. Again, each is a distinct problem, enormously complex, worthy of individual attention and action. Nonetheless, understanding that they all contribute in some way to a diminishment of human dignity provides a theological foundation for more specific reflection and concrete action.

Keep in mind, he wrote these words in 1984. Decades before human trafficking became a public policy issue on the national and international stage.  However, it is not really a stretch to expand his observations about the dehumanizing effects of prostitution and pornography—which can be considered trafficking when force, fraud, or coercion is involved—to other forms of human trafficking, such as forced labor, where the creative capacities of the human person are exploited for profit and ill-gotten gain.

Ultimately, Bernardin’s consistent ethic of life helps us focus our attention on the human part of human trafficking. When we realize that what is at stake is the inherent human dignity of persons deserving respect, hopefully we are spurred to “more specific reflection and concrete action.”

Pray for us, Cardinal Bernardin.

 

This post first appeared on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.

Suffering, Remaining, and Witness

Below is a post by Theophilus editorial board member and CTU MA student, Susan Francois, CSJP. She reflects on this year’s LCWR address which happens to correlate to work that Susan is doing right now as she prepares for her comprehensive exams. This post first appeared on her blog.

I was delighted to see that Nancy Schreck, OSF drew upon the work of Shelly Rambo in her 2014 LCWR Keynote address. I have been 412Gx1t-D-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_reading (and re-reading) Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (2010 Westminster John Knox Press) these days. I first used Rambo’s book for a paper I wrote on the ministry of reconciliation with trafficked persons. I’m now using it as part of my thesis work (today in fact …. it sits open before me as I procrastinate in my research with this blog post!)

It was interesting to read Schreck apply Rambo’s work on trauma to the place where women religious find themselves today.

This shifting within religious life and in world events has taken us to what I call a middle space. We find ourselves in this place of both creativity and disorientation. Much of what was is gone, and what is coming is not yet clear….

I am greatly helped in this next section by the work of Shelly Rambo and her book Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Rambo speaks about a theology of remaining in difficult places because “when you enter certain worlds, they do not let you go.”

Though her work is with trauma survivors and in no way do I want to diminish the aspect of trauma, I do think some parallels with or experience can be drawn….

The task of “remaining” in this uncertain place is to pay attention to the reality that does not go away. In this experience all of our theological categories are re-defined: concepts like love, divine presence, incarnation, and world view are reshaped. Knowledge, truth, and experience of our world are transformed, placed on much more fragile terrain because of the radical disruption….

What we try to do in the middle space is to describe events that shatter all that one knows about the world and the familiar ways of operating within it. What if from this place we simply witness to and provide testimony about this experience, with special attention to truths that often lie buried and are covered over….

In this middle space that is what we do: we call attention to things, things others might bury, or are afraid to face. That is why I say, however long the night we will be faithful and we will speak about what we are learning in the middle space. We trust Holy Mystery revealed in our midst. (Excerpt, Schreck, pages 7-10)

I need to think and pray into that some more, especially as it relates to my experience as a woman religious.

I’ve certainly been thinking and praying with a heavy heart today about the immense (human induced) suffering in our world today. And I mean, quite literally, today. A friend recently posted a very poignant list she’s been carrying around with her these days: “Fergusson (police state, Black Man Walking), Gaza, Ukraine, Malaysian Air Flt 17, Refugee kids fleeing violence in Central America, Yazidi’s fleeing the Islamic State, The Islamic State, Syria, Afghanistan, Ebola …” No doubt you have your own (similar) list. It seems to be growing by the day. So much violence, oppression, death, and trauma being caused to human beings by other human beings. One can feel paralyzed, helpless, or even complicit. Our globalized media savvy reality means that we are present to this suffering on one (superficial/virtual) level, even though the vast majority of us are removed in our privileged spaces of comfort and safety. In my case, I think that’s at the root of much of my own sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin as human induced suffering rages on and seemingly spreads. Removed as I/we are from the reality of suffering, I worry that it becomes easier to ignore or fail to act against it, thereby fueling more suffering.

Which is where I find Shelly Rambo’s work so helpful:

In our current world, we are witnessing ongoing atrocities and different manifestations of suffering. The invisible forces of global capital and the undetectable effects of new wars and their justifications demand that theological accounts of suffering attend to the elisions constituting traumatic suffering. Although some may say that all ‘suffering is suffering,’ there are different expressions of that suffering and its effects that press for renewed theological articulation. I understand this as the increased invisibility of suffering and the power of its erasure. The discourse of trauma engages these invisible realities, continually calling attention to what falls outside the lines of what is, or can be, represented. The challenge of theological discourse is to articulate a different orientation to suffering that can speak to the invisibility, gaps, and repetitions constituting trauma….

A theology of the middle Spirit can help us rethink the theological discourse about suffering, given its new unique dimensions in trauma. Bessel van der Kolk acknowledges that one of the primary effects of trauma is a crisis of the human spirit. This crisis refers to a complete loss of meaning and trust in the world. … How does a theology of the Spirit meet this crisis of spirit?….

I have started to envision practices patterned after this testimony, practices of tracking and sensing that propel us to recognize suffering amid its multiple elisions….

The tracking and sensing, then, not only unearth and give theological significance to the unknown and unutterable within human experience, but these practices also testify to something of who we understand God to be. The work of the witnesses is to track the undertow and to sense life. But this witness is, as well, a testimony that runs deeper than we might imagine, to the nature of divine love. In the middle, divine love is witnessed in its remaining. …The work of tracking and sensing is sanctifying work, the work of making love visible at the point where it is most invisible.

If we read this sacred story as a story of survival, we are pressed to think about what it means to remain in the aftermath of a death that escapes our comprehension. To witness this sacred story is also to receive it for the truth that it tells: love remains, and we are love’s witnesses….

From this space, a different vision of life can be glimpsed. It is life as remaining. This transformation, this redemption in the abyss of hell, is not about deliverance from the depths but, instead, about a way of being in the depths, a practice of witnessing that sense life arising amid what remains. The middle story is not a story of rising out of depths, but a transformation of the depths themselves.

(Excerpt, Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, 169-172)

A lot of words, many of them big theology words. But really, if I am even beginning to understand their power, I think it is summed up best by these two contrasting photos that have come out of Ferguson:

Top: Violence, suffering, and trauma.                                                           Bottom: Witness, remaining, and healing.

 

Seeds of Peace: Thomas Merton’s Ecological and Peacemaking Consciousness

This article, by Susan Francois, CSJP, was published in the inaugural issue of Theophilus. Susan is a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.  She a Bernardin Scholar and Maters of Arts in Theology candidate at the Catholic Theological Union, specializing in Ethics and Spirituality. Her previous ministries have included social justice education and advocacy and local government administration.
 

The ecological conscience is also essentially a peacemaking conscience.” These are the words of the 20th Century American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, from a book review he wrote just months before his death in December 1968. While Merton is well known for his spiritual writings on a variety of topics, including peace and nonviolence, he never published a major work on ecology. However, recent scholarship has highlighted his evolving ecological consciousness, sprinkled throughout his writings, in particular towards the end of his life.

Like Merton, my own religious community, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace (CSJP), has recognized the connection between the ecological and peacemaking conscience. We recognize that “[w]e live in a society marked strongly by the violence of war, violence to people through poverty and a sense of powerlessness and alienation, violence to earth, sea and sky—violence that is truly cosmic.” At our 21st General Chapter in 2008, we adopted two Chapter acts, both under the theme of “Seeds of Peace,” that continue to guide our efforts to develop this ecological and peacemaking conscience. The first Seed of Peace Chapter Act is a commitment to growing in nonviolence. The second is a commitment to care for creation and respond to the crisis of climate change. Our Seeds of Peace commitments call us to deepen our CSJP spirituality of peace regarding care of creation.

This paper will consult Merton’s own writing and recent scholarly research to survey and explore the evolution of his ecological conscience and spirituality, particularly in the last six years of his life after his encounter with Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring.  His ecological spirituality will be discussed in dialogue with his spirituality of peace in the context of the moral and spiritual crisis of the nuclear age. The present ecological crisis and my own religious congregation will also serve as conversation partners to consider how the writings of this 20th Century contemplative might be a resource for 21st Century Christians seeking to integrate spirituality with ecological concerns in the midst of our own moral and spiritual crisis and the urgency of human-induced global climate change.

Click here to continue reading Sr. Susan’s article!

Psalm 126

Psalm 126

On retreat on the Oregon Coast

“God has filled us with laughter and music!” 

Susan Francois, CSJP snapped this dynamic picture while on retreat with her community at the Oregon Coast. The theme of the retreat was “Joy and Play.” When Susan saw this image, it seemed to her as if God was playing with her and the other retreat participants at that moment. The quote from Psalm 126 not only fits the retreat and the sense of sound and play we gather from looking at the photograph, but was also the psalm used in Susan’s final vows liturgy the year before.