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Mercy for Justice

Critical Considerations

A monthly series of in-depth, curated articles exploring Mercy's Critical Concerns and their intersection with current events and the work of justice.

June 2024

This month’s articles:

Are we creating a prison-industrial complex? (Karen Donahue, RSM)

Conscience (Joanne Lappetito, RSM)

Mercy student videos address the Critical Concerns (Bob Keenan, Communications and Mike Poulin, Mercy Justice Team)


Are we creating a prison-industrial complex?

Karen Donahue, RSM

In his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning that has turned out to be prophetic. He said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” These words were even more significant as they came from a five-star general who had served as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II.

A recent article from The Intercept discussing factors driving prison expansion, hinted at a kind of prison-industrial complex. Journalist Amada Abrams noted that architectural firms are often hired to conduct feasibility studies regarding prison expansion even though they have no expertise in criminal justice. They make the case for larger prisons and then are hired to design and build them.

She observed that “Such blatant conflict of interest is occurring in counties all over the country, particularly in rural and conservative areas where local public safety agencies often operate with little scrutiny. These studies rely on thin data to justify spending millions of dollars in public funds. The most significant consequence, though, is that more people wind up incarcerated. As a common industry refrain goes, ‘If you build it, they will fill it.’”


Conscience

Joanne Lappetito, RSM

To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, is a call to grow and to embrace the daily challenge to change one’s heart. Recognizing that God first loved us and sustains us, Christian morality is not a commitment to abstract principles, but to a personal loving God. The ultimate norm of Christian conduct is Gospel love: what does love of God demand of me in these circumstances? How a person perceives her relationship to God and God’s judgment is the starting point for understanding the meaning of conscience and how it functions.

A definition of conscience

As Americans look forward to their national elections, it is timely to review an understanding of how personal conscience functions. Vatican II provides us, perhaps, with the most definitive explanation of conscience in Gaudium et Spesparagraph 16:

In the depths of our conscience, we detect a law which does not impose, but which holds us to obedience. Always summoning us to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to our hearts more specifically: do this; shun that. For we have in our heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of being human; according to it we will be judged (2 Cor 6:10). Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There we are alone with God, Whose voice echoes in our depths (John 1:3, 14). In a wonderful manner, conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor (Eph. 1:10). In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of humanity in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships.

The document, Gaudium and Spes, states clearly that that each person is graciously endowed with a conscience. It is integral to human nature; it resides within the inner most depths of our spirit and it must function free of any outside pressures.  Conscience possesses an almost intuitive sense of the fundamental moral principle to do good and avoid evil. Basically conscience is a guide for behavior.

How conscience functions

Ironically conscience is called upon in times of conflict when there are not clear or direct answers to an issue. Sometimes important issues are in conflict or competing with one another. In this election cycle, immigration, abortion, racism and gun control each make a rightful moral claim upon us. Conscience then, seeks out the truth factually in a thoughtful and objective process. When appropriate, a perceived good is selected. The choice is both subjective and affective, producing a sense of peace in having made the best possible choice.

The search for truth

The search for truth is a complex process, especially given the cultural, political, social and economic dimensions of our current American society. Finding accurate information is a first step. Uncovering real facts is difficult simply because there is so much disinformation and untruth on line and in social media. Too, so many issues are contentious that half-truths are often offered as solutions.

Applying time tested principles to an issue is a traditional method for arriving at the moral assessment of a social dilemma. Human dignity, the common good and justice are moral principles that are an integral part of the Catholic social tradition. Do the political platforms of each party respect, protect, promote and defend human life seamlessly across each issue? Or do some proposals respect the dignity of human life selectively in some issues, and denigrate life in other issues? Do some social proposals promote the common good, helping a broad swath of the population? Or will some proposals create chaos and economic uncertainty precipitating new levels of poverty? In such instances it is appropriate to ask: who gains; who loses?

Conclusion

Making a decision in conscience is not simply a matter of a cost benefit analysis. The Christian’s stance toward God is that sense of ‘metanoia’, continuously opening one’s heart to God. Conversion, as that ever-deepening process of seeking God, is made possible because of Jesus’ redeeming mission initiating the reign of God. Our positive actions acknowledge, participate and extend the reign of God, God’s love and justice. In the light of God’s reign of love and justice, the ultimate norm for Christian behavior is to ask anew a fundamental question: What does the love of God – who has so freely graced me – ask of me in this set of circumstances?


Mercy student videos address the Critical Concerns

Mike Poulin, Mercy Justice Team

For the seventh time since 2017, the Sisters of Mercy have invited students at Mercy high schools, colleges and universities to participate in a video contest focused on social justice. Participants in this year’s contest were given a choice of two topics, immigration and voting, around which to create a video that was no longer than 90 seconds. All of the videos honored in this year’s contest, and winning videos from previous years, can be viewed here.

The grand prize was won by students Jaylyn Remolona and Myra Alvarez from Mercy High School in Burlingame, California, near San Francisco, for their video titled Sacrifice for Family.

Second place went to three students (Carli Amos, Aiden Arrington and Luciana Elliott) from Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, for a video titled Use Your Voice! Third place was earned by two students (Riley Wichman and Angela Thiel) from Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut; their video was titled Vote with Faith and Mercy.

Honorable mentions went to two other submissions: Our Journeys Began with Them, from Leilani Duong-Vasquez, Sophia Hiebert, Taylor Rovetti and Caroline Phillips of Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut; and Be a Hero and VOTE with Faith, from Calliope Beatty, Malley Connor, Addison Foster and Grace Tronoski of Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.

The video contest was launched in 2017 as a way to connect high school and college students at Sisters of Mercy-sponsored schools with the Mercy Critical Concerns. The short videos will be used on social media and in other venues to educate others about the issues of voting and immigration.