Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Solidarity” was an important theme for St. John Paul II. He once defined it as “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.” (“Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” #38)
For Pope John Paul II, solidarity was not just a Polish political movement, but a Christian virtue. Some of our readings and celebrations this week help explain why.
For example, St. Paul says: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church. (Colossians 1: 24) Yes, in that sense, anything that is “lacking” in the sufferings of Christ needs clarification. But what’s clear is that St. Paul does not define his life in terms of rugged individualism. He’s aware that he’s a member of a body, and he acts for the good of that whole body.
We celebrate the birthday of Mary this week (Sept. 8). Mary is an embodiment and a fulfillment of Israel as the chosen people of God. Israel was asked to carry the covenant with God, not simply for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world. Mary, too, was asked to carry something — God Himself within her womb! As the perfect fulfillment of Israel’s mission, Mary didn’t carry Jesus for herself alone. She undertook her mission for the salvation of all.
Jesus Himself is the perfect embodiment of the virtue of solidarity, not coming to earth for His own sake, but for the good of others. As Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by His wounds we were healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) As the Catechism says of Jesus at His baptism: “He allows Himself to be numbered among sinners.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 536) As St. Athanasius says in one of the readings for the week, “Scripture shows that the Word assumed a body for the purposes of offering it in sacrifice on behalf of other bodies like his own.” And as Blessed Isaac of Stella says, referring to the marriage of Christ with fallen human nature: “All that belonged to the bride was shared in by the bridegroom … Thus, sharing as he did in the bride’s weakness, the bridegroom made his own her cries of distress, and gave his bride all that was his.”
In His Incarnation and on the cross, Jesus expressed His complete solidarity with fallen humanity. He showed a “firm and persevering commitment to the common good.” Solidarity, then, has a solid claim to a place among the Christian virtues.
In light of that, I must confess that I am disappointed in how we — as Church — have conducted ourselves and our conversations on matters related to the pandemic. A lack of solidarity has characterized our conversations and actions in too many ways.
In the midst of legitimate disagreements, voices have been shrill — on both sides of things. A spirit of divisiveness rather than a spirit of solidarity has too often pervaded and characterized us.
In the midst of considerations about masks and vaccines, the first concern of many — on both sides — has been “what’s best for me?” not “what’s best for all?” That, too, is a lack of solidarity.
The Catholic way — the way of Jesus — is the way of solidarity. It’s time for all of us to step back, examine our consciences, and ask whether we have “a firm and persevering determination to commit ourselves 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.”