by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
July 17, 2022 – One of the imperatives of active Gospel life in the modern world, and particularly in the United States of America, is social analysis. We cannot be true to our vocation as disciples of Jesus the Christ without consistently seeking to find out what is going on in every dimension of our world – personal, interpersonal, and political (in the sense of the root meaning of that word: “the construction of the ‘polis’, of a society in which the people can live in solidarity.”) We are called – and constantly try – to do this. Perhaps we have not been as accustomed to social analysis as our Latin American counterparts, as they have had the benefit of liberation theology, processes of “conscientization,” and an institutional church which has based its post-Vatican II pastoral practices on a reading of the signs of the times. Still, we know instinctively that there is value in reflecting on reality in the light of the Gospel to orient our ministries.
This summer we have seen two events which lend themselves to a social analysis. One is the series of congressional hearings dealing with the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Congress. Even a cursory recall of that startling event has demonstrated not only its ominous nature, but how well serious and capable Congressional personnel can work. The hearings have also pointed to the crucial role which dedicated public servants play in a functioning democracy, and the absolute need for people of integrity at every level of government. We have seen courageous people risk their careers – and perhaps their personal well-being in service to the truth.
The second (and connected) event of the summer has been the publication of Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission, a book by veteran journalist Mark Leibovich. He chronicles the dark side of the January 6 insurrection, especially the people in powerful positions who set the stage for such an incredible thing to happen. The book reveals in detail what happens when people “sell their souls” for cheap and transitory power.
We have seen with enormous clarity the age-old struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, truth and falsehood.
The task following these two events is that extensive reflection, and soul-searching – social analysis – need to be done. This process entails four steps, based on the traditional “see, judge and act” formula. More recently these steps are called the “circle of praxis.” To apply it to the January 6 insurrection, the first step is to learn as much as possible about what happened that day; the second step is to judge the event’s underlying causes. (The hearings and Leibovich’s book give us extensive insights into this.) The next step is to ask ourselves, what insights does the Word of God’s offer about all of this? In this respect we might remember, “The truth will set you free”; “Blessed are the pure of heart”; “Woe to you… hypocrites… you are full of plunder and self-indulgence”; “I have set life and death before you today: both blessings and curses. Choose life…”
Finally, the circle of praxis called social analysis poses this questions: What are we called to do, what actions need to be taken by us? To start, let us remember that the locus our movement is by definition the United States of America. That makes us responsible here for what is described above as “the construction of a ‘polis’, of a society in which people can live in solidarity.” This understanding is already operative in Pax Christi USA.
The reality of this moment in our nation’s history, symbolized by the events of January 6, 2021, gives us further specifics to guide us. For example:
- Act not only locally but especially nationally
- Re-invigorate anti-racism efforts in a society profoundly divided over white supremacy
- Join every effort toward nonviolence in our personal and national life.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.