Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
February 27, 2020 — “How will we understand what’s going on if it’s not in English?” Even though my husband and I take our kids to the Spanish Mass in town a few times each year, my six-year-old appeared slightly stressed.
I smiled and promised to help him along the way. “Also,” I added in what I hoped was an encouraging tone, “the great thing about Mass is that it’s always the same! So even if you can’t understand the language, you still know what’s happening.”
Here in the heart of central Iowa it is all too easy to go through our days without considering the experience of our immigrant neighbors. They are not entirely forgotten: our hearts break as we read headlines about human rights abuses at the border and cruel policies that deny mercy to those in need; we’ve contacted our representatives and donated to advocacy organizations like the Kino Border Initiative and others. But as far as our personal lives go, there seems to be frustratingly little we can do besides intentionally posture our hearts toward compassion.
I’m always grateful for the times the Catholic Church has something to say when I’m at a loss. These days I’ve been thinking a lot about church teaching on the place solidarity holds in the work of justice. Solidarity, says Saint John Paul II, “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people … it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
Solidarity, in Catholic social teaching, calls us to embrace the marginalized as brothers and sisters, rather than distancing them as the “other.” Positioning ourselves in solidarity with our Mexican- and Central-American born neighbors can mean something as simple as carrying them in our hearts as a daily prayer intention — but sometimes, as the African proverb goes, “When you pray, you must move your feet.”
Along the same vein, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, of Homeboy Industries directs us back to the Gospels, saying, “The Beatitudes is not a spirituality, after all. It’s a geography. It tells us where to stand.”
And maybe sometimes it tells us where to go to Mass.
I don’t delude myself into thinking my family’s attendance at our local Spanish Mass singlehandedly changes the life of my Mexican-born neighbor. But I do believe it matters. In a time when political rhetoric and immigration policies are creating great pain for such neighbors, it seems the very least I can do is show up to worship beside them: to pass the peace, to drink from the same cup and to make visible our oneness in Christ.
I believe that seeing their white fellow Catholics choosing to celebrate the Eucharist right beside them might just make the world feel a bit more friendly. I believe that putting seven butts in the pew of a Spanish-language Mass affirms to the diocese that it is valuable and important to continue. And I believe that bringing my family to worship with those on the margins is a critical element of our own faith formation. After all, if Jesus were an American today, I’m pretty sure I know the people he would be worshipping beside.
We made it through Mass that day as we almost always do: by the skin of our teeth. (Wrangling babies and toddlers is hard no matter what language you say the Our Father in.) Afterwards we sat — appropriately — at our favorite Mexican-owned restaurant, and as we stuffed our faces with chips and salsa, I asked my oldest two boys for their thoughts about the experience.
Shoulder shrugs. I tried again. “Was it hard to stay interested when you couldn’t understand the words?” They affirmed that it was. Seeing a teachable moment, I continued. “I wonder how it would feel to never be able to go to Mass in the language that you speak?”
“Um, not good?” My sons’ faces were looking somewhere between thoughtful and bored. Undeterred, I pressed on. “So, it’s important for us to be mindful of that and make everyone feel welcome; especially if they don’t speak very much English.” By now the two little faces across the table had completely drifted away from my attempt at an integral moral conversation. My husband Eric smiled. “It was a good try.”
I wish I could report that the experience felt profound and important to my kids, or to myself. By now I know that following Jesus in social justice is rarely going to feel like it’s changing anything. Yet I can’t help but think of how much fairer and loving the world would be if each of us practiced small acts of solidarity in our daily lives. After all, for our immigrant brothers and sisters who are suffering deeply, millions of small acts could add up to a lot.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.