A Kairos Moment – the Call of Social Justice Sunday?

Last month Jim Wallis from Sojourners described this COVID-19 period as Kairos time. And it is such an apt term. We know that the Greeks had two words for time – Chronos: the chronological passing of time, and Kairos: an auspicious, precarious moment, when things come to a head and we’re called to a new place. Jim’s description really captures for me the reality of the Covid experience as one of Kairos time.

From the very beginning of the virus, we’ve heard this year described as unprecedented, unparalleled. Leaders have told us ‘we’re all in it together’, that ‘we’ll never be the same again.’ And in many ways, this is true.  It’s beyond doubt that it’s been a year like no other we’ve experienced in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated our lives and the media, and justifiably so. It’s been both a threat and an opportunity for us – personally, socially, economically, politically, spiritually.

Social Justice Sunday then, comes as a moment in this precarious year to look again – at the very heart of who we are and what our lives are really about. It reminds us of both the fragility and challenge of our days. It calls us to passion and compassion, those qualities at the core of the gospel, told in the story of the Good Samaritan, and embodied in the life, death and resurrection of the Jesus whom we follow.

Social Justice Sunday this year binds us together as a community in a distinctive way. At its core, it’s a profound time when once again, we are, in Pope Francis’ terms, learning to weep – as we experience the ravages of Covid; as we mourn with those who are suffering from the virus and its effects; as we grieve for those who have died alone, as well as for their families who feel bereft; as we anguish with those who have lost livelihoods and friends; as we experience particular anger at the devastating and unequal impact of Government assistance for those who have been totally excluded from financial assistance; as we lament the ongoing devastation of climate change.

The realities of this year remind us starkly that yes, we are “all in this together,” except that some are more “together” than others, and some safeguarded much more than others. And the temptation, as always in a time of crisis, is to batten down the hatches and protect what we have and who we are, in our defined community that is “all together”.

As I’ve reflected on Social Justice Sunday, it seems to me that this year, once again, we’re called in a very unambiguous way beyond our own “defined community.” We’re reminded that the gospel calls us to live our lives on the edge, expressing solidarity with those who are poor, and demonstrating practical hospitality, especially in this time when our lives are fragmented and when we’re confronted with our own fragility and that of our Church and Government.  The call is to build community, not just with those in our immediate environment, but with all those currently excluded.

For me, this is the sign of great hope. We read and hear every day of those who are expressing solidarity with those on the edge – the kindness of neighbours & strangers joining together in creative ways; the groundswell of goodness reaching out to families such as the Biloela parents and their two small children, imprisoned to enable the Government to make a point; those working against fossil fuel power and dishonesty; small groups advocating for endangered species; individuals donating goods and vouchers for those in desperate need.  There is so much inspiration, as well as challenge, in the pattern of our Kairos days.

Joanna Macy speaks of this as the spiral of justice work, beginning with ‘gratitude,’ moving to ‘grief for the world,’ to ‘seeing with new eyes,’ then ‘going forth.’

For me the “going forth” has particular meaning in this time of isolation and “social distancing.” It’s one I find illuminating in this Social Justice Sunday’s call to a new open weave of compassion and community for all who inhabit this fragile world.

Jan Barnett rsj
Josephite Justice Co-ordinator

You’re invited to view the Australian Catholic Bishops Social Justice Statement for Social Justice Sunday (30 August 2020) below:

Social Justice Statement 2020-21