As the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization that builds power with workers through faith-rooted organizing and advocacy, my faith and values are what ground me and call me to do this work. I'm Catholic and feel deeply connected to my faith, which has been a constant presence in my life, and is the core to who I am.
I know that the joy, hope and love I feel within my faith is no different from the joy, hope and love others experience within their own faith tradition. I feel this way because we share a set of common core values, such as respect, dignity, dedication, sacrifice and love.
It is because of these shared values that I've decided to join my Muslim friends as they fast from sunup to sundown during this holy month of Ramadan. I also join them in embracing the blessings one receives during such an important time of fasting, charity, prayer and introspection.
Fasting during Ramadan is not just about fasting from food but also from the things that can take us away from being our best selves, such as gossip, insults, lies, negativity & disrespect for others. Ramadan helps us look inward by challenging and encouraging us to be better people, by being more conscious and aware of our place in the world and how we relate to those around us.
In my Catholic tradition I have fasted many times and have seen the benefits of choosing to go without in order to focus on what's inside. Fasting helps make space for other things to come into greater focus, such as a deeper connection with those less fortunate, a greater emphasis on my relationship with God and being more disciplined about the choices I make.
Similarly, fasting during Ramadan is as much about filling ourselves with prayer, empathy and love as it is about fasting from the things that separate us from our true nature. It is through Ramadan's intentional sacrifice of food that we are fed an abundant spiritual buffet.
Ramadan also gives us an opportunity to be more charitable to others. But it's more than just about giving alms to the poor -- it's about broadening our awareness and understanding of the systems that make and keep them poor. More importantly, it is about deepening our connection with those less fortunate.
We practice real empathy and compassion by reaching out and seeking to understand why people struggle, and acting on it. "Why are they hungry?" "Why are they homeless?" By asking these questions we also challenge ourselves to think of what we can do: "How can I do the most good for the most people?" "How do I impact the real problem and make ongoing change happen?"
Fasting and Prayer
As someone once told me; "Fasting without prayer is just going hungry." How true! Many Muslims pray fives times a day, and especially during Ramadan. Prayer feeds the soul and helps sustain the meaning behind the fast.
Several years ago, I was walking through the Minneapolis airport and saw a young airport worker go into a corner and pull out a small rug to pray. He wasn't trying to draw attention to himself, but he caught my eye anyway. I was moved by his act of devotion, discipline and love. I then asked myself, "Why don't I do that?" "Is my faith enough of a priority that I go out of my way to pray to make room for it?" Inspired by the young Muslim man's public display of faith and prayer, I began to pray the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at 3 p.m everyday, regardless of where I was. Now I also include my morning prayers, Rosary and evening prayers each day. The young man's powerful example has inspired and challenged me to deepen my own faith and be a better Catholic.
It is through sharing experiences and practices that we discover we have more in common than we have differences. One of the many values that we have in common is a shared sense of respect for workers and the value of the work they produce. Across faith traditions, the teachings are clear: respect workers and treat them fairly, as we would want to be treated, or even better. Kind of sounds like a golden rule doesn't it? For good reason, as we all do better when we all do better.
So as I begin Ramadan in honor of the values that it represents, I am filled with humility and gratitude for this blessed opportunity to deepen my relationship with God and those around me. It will give me chance to turn down the noise and focus on what's most important in my life and once again, help me to be a better Catholic.