“I am feeling confused right now about what I want to give my neighbor.” A letter from a friend captured the feelings of many Americans this spring. This was back when “the Head Cheetah” – the only name I’ve heard her use for President Donald Trump that could also be called a term of endearment – sent out relief checks. My friend wanted to give hers away; her husband wanted to keep it against an uncertain future. Meanwhile, she worried that they were falling short in love of neighbor by “aggressive self-focus.”
“It’s funny I’m telling you this, of all people,” her letter concluded, “since I believe you’ve dropped out of society more than my husband has.”
I often hear comments like this about my cloistered life in a Dominican monastery. As a contemplative nun, my days are spent away from mainstream society – no commute, no trips to the grocery, no family vacations. And yet, hard as it is for some to understand, as a nun I do have a vocation to fulfill in solidarity with a hurting world.
In the tradition of Catholic social teaching, solidarity is a modern word but not a new concept. Building on the natural law tradition of great thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas, popes in the twentieth century spoke increasingly of the need for “friendship,” “social charity,” and a “civilization of love.” It was Pope Saint John Paul II, survivor of both Nazi terror and Communist oppression in his native Poland, who began preaching this doctrine with urgency for the new millennium.