Ethics and action

For some people a gap between their beliefs and daily actions simply doesn't exist. Joseph Cardijn, Dorothy Day and Adam Michnik would be on my personal short list of individuals for whom this simple fact appeared to be true.

For some people a gap between their beliefs and daily actions simply doesn’t exist. Joseph Cardijn, Dorothy Day and Adam Michnik would be on my personal short list of individuals for whom this simple fact appeared to be true. Their personal ethics demanded action and they responded.

Joseph Cardijn grew up in Belgium in the late 1800s. The very visible dehumanizing effects of the first waves of industrialization on workers and their families couldn’t be hidden or denied. Early on while studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood Cardijn decided to dedicate himself to the cause of working people.

Using whatever openings he found, he organized. Girls’ clubs, a union of apprentices, or war-relief efforts provided the initial experiences that helped him develop a method of social action and analysis rooted in the social teachings of his church. His ‘See, Judge, Act’ methodology sought to place the individual worker in a constant process of reflection and action for social justice.

Through this method each individual seeks to observe a situation and work to uncover the economic, political and social causes influencing it. At that point they judge the facts uncovered in light of the values they hold. This analysis then provides the foundation for informed, emancipatory action based on their own capabilities. The experienced gained then initiates another See, Judge, Act cycle of reflection and action.

Fr. Caridijn’s active engagement often saw him at odds with the lay and ecclesiastical authorities of his day. German occupiers of Belgium jailed him during both world wars for his defence of worker’s rights. The movements he sparked influenced later generations activists such as Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and social theorist.

Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, also provided an uncomfortable challenge to authorities. Her blend of anarchism, pacifism and Catholic social teachings led to a life of nonviolent direct social action. A movement of autonomous houses of hospitality providing a warm bowl of soup to the hungry and a bed to the homeless sprang up modeled on her work in the Bowery of New York City.

Beside my computer I have a poster with a photo of Dorothy Day at a United Farmworkers’ protest. She is facing determinedly ahead at two policemen. Her support for struggles’ such as Cesar Chavez’s movement to organize low-paid Chicano and Mexican immigrant agricultural workers in the 1970s often won her a cot in jail. But her beliefs demanded action.

To not act in effect would signal her acquiescence to the powers that be. Day could not do that. As the quote from her on my poster reads, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” Righting systemic injustices began with simple acts of charity.

Adam Michnik, the Polish dissident and political essayist, shares a lot in common with both Cardijn and Day. His belief that the totalitarian system that held Poland down for a generation and a half could be pushed aside through a principled commitment to nonviolence put him in jail many times. Michnik, though, during the struggle to liberate Poland, continued to call on citizens to live as if the society they wished to see was already there. By doing so their practical daily witness would create the sought after community.

Surely many other names could be placed on my list. You, undoubtedly, have some. However the key is, as well as we are able, to add our own names to it.

Bishop Luc Bouchard from the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Paul will present a talk entitled “The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Tar Sands” on Thursday, October 1st at 7 p.m. in the CYO Hall at 406 Steele. Bishop Bouchard’s diocese encompasses the area immediately impacted by the environmental and social effects of this mega development.

KYOTOplus, a national petition campaign leading up to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December, aims at sending a million signature petition to our leaders urging them to support a bold, strengthened second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. For more information

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste notes

Sunday, September 27 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48.

Monday, September 28 – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a time of intense prayer and fasting for Jewish people seeking forgiveness for past transgressions on this most solemn day of the year.

Monday, September 28 – Dasara is the Hindu festival commemorating the victory of good over evil manifested by Lord Rama slaying the evil Ravana.

Monday, September 28 – Birth of Confucius or K’ung Fu-tzu in 551 B.C.E. whose social teachings and moral ethics profoundly influenced Asian reality, is celebrated.

Thursday, October 1 – International Day of Older Persons celebrates the 10th anniversary of its designation by the United Nations with the theme: Towards a Society for All Ages.