The term “social justice warrior” has taken on a negative connotation in contemporary conversation. Urban dictionary defines a social justice warrior this way:
A person who uses the fight for civil rights as an excuse to be rude, condescending, and sometimes violent for the purpose of relieving their frustrations or validating their sense of unwarranted moral superiority. The behaviors of Social justice warriors usually have a negative impact on the civil rights movement, turning away potential allies and fueling the resurgence of bigoted groups that scoop up people who have been burned or turned off by social justice warriors.
As Christians, we are admonished to be warriors for social justice. (Mt. 25:31-46 NAB) We are not only to demand justice for our fellowman, but to work for it. We are called to WILL it, not merely to want it. So what do Christians me an by social justice? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gives us a beautiful outline that includes the dignity of the human person, rights of workers, social responsibility, solidarity with all people but especially the poor and suffering, care for creation, and the rights of family and community – all of the things that this apostolate strives to work for.
We must not allow our frustrations with the challenges and obstacles to make us rude, condescending, and most definitely not violent. We must with humility and love – remembering Whose will we are doing. We must will the good of opponents by shining a light on true Christianity, so that they will come to know the joy of the Gospel. If we use kind words, if we speak eloquently in the Truth, only then will we evangelize. Only then will we have a chance to win justice for ourselves and for all.
I know that the food you will eat for breakfast this morning will not nourish your body even if it does quell the pain in your stomach. I know that you will watch the other kids at school, the kids who have parents, enjoy a hot lunch while you take the trash out in payment for your cheese sandwich. I know that you will feel fortunate to have a plate of lukewarm pasta before bed – if the orphanage bully doesn’t get it first. I know that the orphanage workers are downstairs in the office taking coffee instead of watching over you. I know that if he gets your dinner, there won’t be anything to replace it.
I know that you won’t sleep tonight because the orphanage abuser prowls the hallways and bedrooms all night looking for someone to molest. And I know that the orphanage worker that is working the night shift is safely locked up in the staff bedroom with a television on so that she won’t be bothered. I know that the sounds of the other kids fighting him off – or just fighting each other – keeps you awake. I know that you haven’t had a real night’s sleep since being left in the orphanage.
I know that they don’t call the doctor when you’re feeling sick, if they ever take you at all. I know that when you’re hurt, no one comforts you or bandages your cuts. I see the huge gashes on your elbow and knee and I know it’s more than a scrape from falling off a bicycle or stone wall. I know about the self-harm that leaves your face bruised and your skin bleeding. I know that you have an infection raging inside your body that makes your stomach hurt, gives you diarrhea and the kind of bad breath that makes people stay far away from you.
I know that you are often punished for something you didn’t do. I know about the chair in the basement, and the time you and the others were stripped naked and sent outside on display for hours until it got dark. I know about the bottles full of cleaner that they spray in your face if they think you’re lying. And I know how they burn you with the electrical cord. I know about the electroshock therapy that was meted out for a broken window. I know you heard the screams of your brother, or sister, or friend. I know about all of it.
I understand why you are afraid to use the toilet in the night. I know why you crouch in a corner to relieve yourself quietly in a pile of clothing, or out of the window. I know why you are afraid to take a shower even though it means you will smell bad, so the kids at school tease you. I understand why you can’t wear a nightgown or a dress unless you also wear pants underneath it.
I know why you haven’t learned how to do more than simple addition. I know why you can’t write your own name, much less an essay, or even a sentence. I know why you gravitate to picture books. I know why you can’t even properly speak your mother tongue. I know the teachers think that you aren’t worth teaching. I know that the other kids take your books and papers from you. I know that you are so scared all of the time that you can’t think, you can’t concentrate.
I know why you can’t make friends, and why you aren’t even friends with your own brother or sister. I know why you don’t trust women – or anyone. I know why you lie and why you steal. I know why you turn on the charm. I know why you scream and rage, why you kick and bite and run away.
I know that you sit alone sometimes and wonder where your parents are, and why they left you there. I know you wonder if they’ll come back – pray they’ll come back. I know you wish someone – anyone – would come and rescue you. I know that you want a do-over. I know that you want someplace safe and clean to live, somewhere where there is always food and heat, maybe somewhere with a lock on your bedroom door. I know that you want someone to spend time with you, to tell you stories and teach you things like how to read and knit and draw… and live. I know that you want someone to tell your story to – someone who will comfort you and tell you that it’s going to be alright. I know that you want someone to MAKE IT ALRIGHT.
I know – even if you don’t – that you need to know The One Who graced you here. I know that you need to experience His mercy, His kindness, His joy, and His abundance. I know that you need a miracle in the guise of a mother and father, and brothers, and sisters, and friends. I know you need to be surrounded by people who never leave – not ever. I know that you need the gift of a new beginning, a second chance, a beautiful life.
I can’t come for you, though my heart aches to. But I promise you this: Not only will I pray for you, but I will be your voice. I will tell people everything I know about you. I will help them to see you. I will explain it all. I will tell them that you are waiting for someone just like them. I will tell them that you are worth saving. Because you are.
I don’t know why God chose me to carry your cross. But I carry it willingly however heavy it is. Some days it brings me to my knees. But God has provided abundant graces and many helpers for those times. At those times we all carry your cross together.
You are never far from my mind, my sister. Every day, I look into their deep brown eyes and wonder if those eyes came from you. I wonder if your eyes show the same sadness and fear, if they’ve ever shown the same warmth of love that our son’s show when he looks at me.
He’s a miracle, you know. He has come through God-only-knows-what and still he loves. Still, he trusts. He’s one of the bravest people I have ever met. When he looks at me and says “I love you, Mama” I am shaken to my very core because I know that it has cost him everything to tell me so. It should have been yours to hear. And I treasure it all the more because of that. He’s so smart. He works so hard in spite of the struggles he has. He tries new things even though the starting terrifies him. He drinks in every new experience like a much younger child. But he is also maturing into an amazing young man, a sweet and caring older brother to his new brothers and sisters. He is tender and patient and kind. He talks to me about growing up to help people, to rescue other kids like him. I mourn for your loss, my sister. You’re missing this.
Your daughter – our daughter – is buried deep inside herself. She lives in a constant state of terror. She’s safe here but she doesn’t understand that. Her wounds will take a long, long time to heal. And until they do, she can’t move forward. She can’t learn, or mature, or love. Not truly. She doesn’t know that family is a safe place, that adults are trustworthy. She doesn’t know that the world is a place full of love and joy. Because of this, she may never be able to fall in love –with a worthy man, with God, with herself. She may never experience for herself the love that mothers have for their children, that fierce, primal love. You couldn’t have known what would happen to her. I pray you didn’t know. Or maybe the same thing happened to you and you couldn’t give these two children what they needed. And if that is the case then I am so sorry for what happened to you. I am so very sorry. I wish someone had been there to rescue you, too. Thank God someone rescued her. By the grace of God, she will triumph.
I will carry this cross, your cross, now my cross. I will care for the children you could not care for. I will heal their bodies, and work to heal their broken spirits. I will do this for you and for them. I am blessed to be entrusted with this ministry.
These children link us together, you and me, dear sister. We have never seen each other’s faces, never spoken a word to each other, never taken each other by the hand, but we are so very close. I wish you love. I wish you all that is good.
One day, when we have both finally laid down our crosses, I pray, we all will meet in Heaven. On that day, I will embrace you, my sister, and I will introduce you to my children, your children, OUR children. His children. And we will see the fulfillment of His plan for all of us and how He has brought all things to good.