Thursday, April 25, 2019
Here at MOJ, we've often discussed the content and application of the core principles of the Catholic Social Thought tradition, including "solidarity." I'm pasting, below, a short reflection that my daughter Maggie (a student at Notre Dame) wrote on the idea:
. . . In his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer.” Humanity is measured by the ways in which we live in relationship when it is most difficult. Suffering challenges, breaks, and burdens us. It can quickly isolate us, or separate us from our relationships. When we love well in suffering, not despite of it, we are loving as we are called to. And, this relationship is more than just the acknowledgement of someone else’s suffering: “to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also.”
That, dear readers, is what I want to say that solidarity is. It is shared outrage, sure. It can be a recognition and resistance to injustice, absolutely. But it seems to me that solidarity exists most profoundly where it is hardest to find: in the taking up of another’s cross as my own. By sharing in suffering, being in solidarity with another in their pain, light and love enters in.
In this solidarity in suffering we encounter Christ in a powerful way. Jesus Christ became man so that he could suffer “for and with us”. “Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way” (Spe Salvi). In our pain, underneath the weight of our crosses, we remember that he lived in that same pain, underneath the weight of his own cross. Solidarity is not found in a Facebook-organized leggings protest: it is found on a tree on Calvary.
That is, of course, a challenging example to live out. I do not handle suffering as well as I would like to. When I encounter hurt, it’s often with discomfort. I feel useless, unable to fix things, and eager to escape that feeling. It is easy to feel insufficient when others are suffering. But God is not calling me to be the perfect fix-it-girl. He is not asking me to have all the answers. When I am blessed enough to have a friend approach me in their suffering, they don’t want me to rattle off a solution. They are just asking me to be with them.
As much as I want to fix everything -- to end the hurt, heal the pain, calm the anxiety, shut out any and all darkness -- I cannot do that, for myself or for those I love. What I can do is be in solidarity, simply in presence. For me, that has been a friend sitting with me on a chapel floor, staring at the tabernacle with a friend. It’s been a cold walk around the lakes, or a meal that is longer than it “should” be, because of a conversation that needed to be had. It is, and ought to be, quiet prayer intentions, tight hugs, shared tears, vulnerable moments, and admittance of weakness that allows us to be more fully and completely human.
If we approach solidarity with compassion, if we “suffer with”, we might be able to set aside the instinct to fix, and settle instead for the presence and empathy that we can offer. And, if we enter into that compassion with consolation, if we are with those we love in their solitude, suffering ceases to exist in isolation. We then exist in solidarity, not because we offer solutions but because we are willing to be present.
Solidarity is difficult. Asking for the presence of others, even those you know love you, is hard -- I can be really bad at it. But by entering into real and intentional relationships, we find people than can, imperfectly and temporarily, help us to carry what we must. Those people, in turn, point us to the One that, perfectly and eternally, carries us. . . .