“This Good Work” is the Congregation’s bi-monthly e-newsletter to give witness to Precious Blood Spirituality through the lens of social justice, rooted in Gospel values and Catholic social teaching. In it we share real, legitimate information and ways Sisters are thinking about and living out many issues of peace, justice and ecology. This is curated by Peace, Justice and Ecology Coordinator Jen Morin-Williamson and features articles by Sisters.
Not just a drop
By Jen Morin-Williamson, Peace, Justice, and Ecology Coordinator
Wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods. Our precious planet is being abused, and extreme, catastrophic weather seems to happen nearly every day. It feels overwhelming. What can I, as one person, do that will make any difference? What difference will it make if everyone in my community can do one thing? How about two things? How about if everyone in my state did one thing? It’s hopeful to see the possibility of doing something — and then increasing that something — and then sharing those somethings with others and encouraging them to also do one thing.
I was encouraged by this approach many, many years ago. I took our parish’s youth group on retreat and saw a sign in the bathroom encouraging us to be attentive to how much toilet paper we used. So, I shared this with my students and got a big laugh. But I kind of latched on to that idea and told that story to friends and at parties (potty stories usually do get a laugh or at least a chuckle), encouraging all to “use one less square” of toilet paper when you go to the bathroom until you know exactly how much you need. Because we all know it is easy to just unwind the roll with a big old handful. We probably don’t even think about if we really need that much. It’s not a big idea or making a big impact, but if I do that and others also do that, then over the course of our lifetime, we would make an impact. We might even make an impact in the future if we teach this practice to our children. Read More
St. Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, had wisdom that can be applied more broadly than the “one less square” idea. She said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” In what ways are your good works adding to an “ocean” of goodness — even if it’s only one drop at a time? What is one more way you can add more “drops”?
My Happy Place!
By Sister Patty Kremer, CPPS
Most mornings, my day starts between 5 and 5:30 a.m. This is my favorite time of the day. I start the coffee, open all the windows (weather permitting), and feed our dog Cori, the birds and the squirrels. With all these morning tasks completed, the coffee is ready — and I am ready to fill a cup and head to my “happy place.”
Our backyard on Benchwood Road is, for me, one of the most peaceful places on earth at this time of the day — actually, at any hour of the day. All I can hear at that early hour is the timid chirps of the redbirds, the early risers joining me to welcome a new day. As the morning light grows, so does my morning gathering of friends. One by one, tufted titmouse, red and gold finch, blue jays, several variety of woodpeckers, sparrows and, of course, a number of very plump squirrels join me in this sacred space. Read More
Nature has always been an important part of my life. Between the incredible vegetable garden planted by my father and the spectacular flower beds created by my mother, our yard was an oasis.
Having two sisters who were biologists only enhanced my already-deep appreciation and respect for the importance of each living thing, plant, animal and all the tiny organisms created by God, yet hidden from the naked eye.
As humans we have placed all of the natural beauty that surrounds us in jeopardy. Each day, another sacred species disappears. Sitting in my sacred space each morning is a gift from a most creative and gracious God. As a creature blessed to have been created by God, I am called not only to enjoy the natural world in which I am blessed to live, but also to be an advocate for its preservation so that future generations will be as blessed as I am. God invites each of us each day to enjoy the natural gifts so generously given. All we need to do is give ourselves the gift of time to enjoy and be nurtured by it!
Photos at right and in slider above, Sister Patty’s backyard; Sister Patty Kremer photos
Introduction: The Problems with Plastic
By Jen Morin-Williamson, Peace, Justice, and Ecology Coordinator
The Sisters of the Precious Blood are in the early stages of collaborating with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to educate about and advocate for reducing plastic use. It is for this reason that we have a guest writer for this issue, Teresa Phillips, director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
As we are educating ourselves, I have discovered that in my zeal to be environmentally sensitive, my recycling efforts have actually been detrimental. Sadly, I “wishcycle.” That is aspirational recycling. If I wasn’t sure if something could be recycled, I still chucked it into the recycle bin. I have learned how this can be so bad. My wishcycle items can cause garbage services to throw out all of my recycle items, as well as my whole neighborhood’s. And the non-recyclable items can tear up the sorting machines or taint entire batches of items being recycled. Read More
Learn more about the problems with plastic in Teresa’s article below.
At right, Teresa Phillips; contributed photo.
The Problems with Plastic
By Teresa Phillips, Director of Peace, Justice and Care of Creation, SNDdeN, Ohio Province
In December 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on plastics. The more I learn about plastic, the more there is to learn. Plastic pollution is a huge problem globally, and there are no impactful ways of dealing with it. For many environmentalists, there are no impactful solutions down the recycling road. Yes, we are still encouraged to recycle, but we are asked to acknowledge only 9% of plastic made is ever actually recycled. Even all the plastic that is thrown into recycling bins isn’t recycled. Much is shipped off to places around the world that burn it (releasing toxins that affect local, often impoverished, populations), bury it (putting toxins into the soil and water) or send it out to sea (loading our oceans with plastic, killing birds and affecting the basis of our food web.) This leads to the problem of micro- and nano-plastics, which are the very small and microscopic particles of plastic that are everywhere. It is estimated that we each ingest a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. It is in our food and water. It is even in the air we breathe. Nano-plastics have been found in breast milk and recently they have been found in fetal tissue. Those chemicals that are released into our bodies contain endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs) that affect our hormones. Micro-plastic crosses the blood/brain barrier. (See this article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, under the direction of the National Institutes of Health.) Read More
And that is nothing compared to the carbon footprint involved in creating plastics in the first place. It is the stated objective of the fossil fuel industry that the production of plastic will increasingly be the source of their profit. These days, most virgin plastic comes from ethane, which is a byproduct of fracking. This gas is processed in “cracker plants” that produce the raw material for plastic production. If plastic production was a country, it would be the fifth largest producer of greenhouse gases.
We know that there are some uses of plastic that are essential, e.g., in the health care industry. But we must turn off the tap for new plastic and for single-use convenience plastics such as those in plastic packaging, food/beverage containers and mailing/shipping items. We have to move beyond plastic, especially single-use convenience plastic, if we do not want to be swimming in a sea of it.
You can find a lot of information on plastic at www.beyondplastics.org. Globally, the UN is pushing for a global plastics treaty. Nationally, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act (SB 984) is currently being considered in the Senate. These are good topics for advocacy. On a state level, targets for eliminating single-use plastics can be plastic bags, plastic beverage bottles and plastic containers in the produce section of the grocery store.
Photos at right and in slider above by Jen Morin-Williamson.
By Sister Mary Garascia, CPPS
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… .” Created equal? These words from our Declaration of Independence are not true. We know this. Gifts and talents, health, advantages of country of birth and families of origin — these and other things are not given equally to each person. And because of this, some people cannot exercise what we are equally given at birth — our rights.
Women religious in the U.S. are among those committed to social justice, but what really does this loosely defined term mean? Social justice focuses on the common good, and it promotes actions that help produce a more even (equitable) playing field for the exercise of the rights given us all by our Creator.
What these rights are has expanded over the years. Today most nations of our world accept the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which our American first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had a hand in getting adopted in 1948. More recently other “rights” have been adopted by some countries — but not by all — such as the right to universal health care, the right to privacy, the right to a healthy climate, the right to electricity. Read More
In the early 20th century, Catholic social justice teaching began to focus on economic issues as a major cause of inequity. In earlier centuries, giving to poor people out of charitable love was mandated by the Church as a remedy for material inequity. Many wealthy saints throughout our history exemplified philanthropic, sacrificial giving, as do many of today’s wealthy Catholics. But the abuses of laborers in the industrial age, and the development of fields of study such as political science, economics and sociology, shone light on how individual actors — and, even more how corporations, economies and governmental policies — create great inequality and injustice. The Catholic Church has made, and continues to make, a major contribution to discussions of these matters. Today, charitable work, although necessary, is considered only a provisional “fix.” For example, donating to a food charity helps low-income workers supplement their income. The problem, however, is their initial low (non-living) wage. The Catholic Church regards a living wage as a human right, and so it advocates not only charity, but also actions that influence governments and economies and corporations to make even starting pay a living wage. Working for systemic change is today integral to the definition of social justice.
Fifty years ago, U.S. women religious founded a lobby called NETWORK: Advocates for Catholic Social Justice. Check out its website to read more about the Catholic Church and social justice. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) website also has material about Catholic Sisters and their participation in social justice and systemic change.
A word of caution. On the web, lots of material is dismissive or hostile to social justice. One historical reason is that 20th century Catholic social justice theory and Marxism developed at the same time. Both criticize capitalism as a system that exacerbates that uneven playing field, so some people equate Pope Francis and Karl Marx and label social justice as “socialism.” Any reading of actual papal documents on social justice would confirm that our Church and our popes have always affirmed the right to private property, robust business activity and the appropriateness of wealth.
As Catholic social justice thinking began better to understand systems and the need for systemic change, it led to a rethinking of sin. Today the Church speaks of “social sin” as well as individual sin, and it asks us Catholics to examine how we participate in it. For example, the U.S. Bishops speak of racism as the “original sin” of the United States. Slavery was a system, an essential element of commerce, protected by laws and promoted through international trading companies. As a system, it was more powerful than the individual owners who benefited from it. The Catholic Church was slow to recognize the systemic evil of slavery, slow to recognize damage to native peoples by the system of colonial appropriation of land, slow to recognize the systemic causes that produced the Holocaust.
The emphasis on social justice became more prominent after Vatican II (1962-1965) and continues today. Social justice thinking helps keep us conscious of the effects social systems have on people and on the global ecosystem that makes our human life possible. But Catholic social justice also asks us to take the next step: join with others to reform economic, political and cultural systems and so promote human dignity and equitable possibilities for the exercise of human rights by all. Because every social justice issue is so complex — prison reform, immigration, poverty, climate issues — it’s helpful to join an organization that researches the issues and refines effective courses of action.
We Sisters of the Precious Blood of Dayton, Ohio, have prioritized several issues we pay special attention to. We study and pray about these issues, donate to groups working on them, advocate about them to policymakers. We pay special attention to the problem of poverty and the systems that produce it; our foundress Maria Anna Brunner was a benefactor of poor people. We pay special attention to the problem of violence; Jesus’ blood was violently shed because he was unjustly condemned to death. We support efforts to end the death penalty in Ohio and in our nation. More recently, we’ve prioritized combating climate change and made consequent decisions about our buildings and land.
“Social” is the key word in social justice. In a perhaps too long and wordy encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, Pope Francis contexted everything he says about social justice within the theme of social solidarity. We belong to one another. We must be converted to this appreciation, he says, if we want to work together for the common good. Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community (90). Pope Francis goes on to speak of political charity [which] is born of a social awareness that transcends every individualistic mindset: Social charity makes us love the common good, it makes us effectively seek the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons, but also in the social dimension that unites them” .
I think the pope is saying that living social justice is a path of holiness for us 21st century Catholics, along with all the other rich ways we have of becoming those images of God, our spiritual goal. Pope Francis wants us to keep giving to our local food banks, but also to work for systemic changes that would lessen food scarcity, for example. He wants us to do the work of social justice. What do you think?