My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The phrases “social justice” and “solidarity” could hardly have been more unwisely coined or adapted by the Catholic Church in my opinion. From the moment I heard them, they turned me off. I always thought they sounded like some lame department name you’d read about in a spy novel set in communist Russia. I mean really – solidarity? What does that even mean to the average person? Nothing.
However, if one digs deeper beneath the stiff, offputting phrases, one finds the heart of Christianity. They mean treating each person as if they belong, going out of one’s way to find Christ in each individual, and following God’s will (with Christ’s help) to help each person one encounters. In other words, fully living your Christian life, whether as an individual or as part of the larger community.
“It’s good that you exist” — carries great power. To someone struggling with alcohol, who drinks away his loneliness, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To someone who loathes her body and thinks she’s too fat, too skinny, too short, or not good enough, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To the addict, the slave, the homeless man, even the murderer, we say, “It’s good that you exist.”
This phrase reminds people that they have intrinsic value, regardless of what they produce, or how they look, or if they have it all together. It echoes what God said immediately after creating the first man: “[He] looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Gn 1:31).
Next time you want to uplift someone’s dignity, remind them of that wonderful truth: “It’s good that you exist.”
This is ably illustrated by Brandon Vogt’s book, which highlights 14 different saints whose lives were spent giving dignity and aid to the less fortunate. Ranging from housewives to priests, in all sorts of different life situations, these people were open enough to God’s wishes to do extraordinary things. Vogt also does a great job of helping us relate by contrasting each saint with another one or two who lived out similar “missions” in different ways. He ends each section by relating these saints’ larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn’t occurred to us previously.He ends each section by relating these saints’ larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn’t occurred to us previously. This is important because these saints achieved so much that we might feel any small drops of help we can achieve are not going to make a difference. Vogt’s gentle questions and examples helps us see that our drops matter because all of them together add up to a large ocean.
And this, no matter what stupid phrase is used to describe it, is something dear to my heart, a lesson I’ve been learning a little better every day in my 14 years as a Catholic. Each time I’ve followed that internal prompting, despite my fears of not knowing enough or being rejected or looking stupid, I have been rewarded. My efforts have had effects, in their own small way, which I never could have imagined. And I have grown and changed for the better myself along the way.
I found this book really inspiring. I especially enjoyed the amount of detail Vogt gave for each saint. Even the ones I knew about, like Peter Claver, Frances of Rome, or Dorothy Day, took on unexpected meaning for me because I hadn’t realized there was so much I didn’t know about them. Of course, there were some who were brand new to me and I really enjoyed learning about their lives.
This is a well written and inspiring book and one that should help us understand that “social justice” and “solidarity” mean “living as a Christian” no matter what your condition in life.
Please Mr. Vogt, may I have another? Perhaps one about the martyrs? You pick the subject. I’ll read it.
REVIEW COPY PROVIDED FREE
The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books. My review is my own based solely on the book’s merits.