(RNS) — I am a millennial Catholic activist, but I didn’t grow up intending to be. I figured I would grow up to be a teacher like my parents. But on a service trip to Tijuana in college, our group headed to the border after Mass. I watched families separated by a fence pass food between the cracks during their Sunday meal. I didn’t realize it then, but something inside of me began to change.
My experience on the border was the moment my faith started to grow from the foundational Catholic faith my mother and grandmother handed down to me into one fueled by justice. I knew from that point forward I had to find a way to dedicate my life to working toward justice and that it came directly from my determination to live out my faith in the best way that I knew how. The two were intimately interconnected. At a time when statistically many millennials have left the church behind because they no longer feel welcomed, I reaffirmed my decision that day on the border to stay Catholic and to work for a church that fully promotes justice.
My faith has inspired me to do what I do as a “day job,” as director of campaigns and development at the Franciscan Action Network. But I realize that what I do also in some ways makes me an anomaly. To me, this is much more than just a job; it is a calling and a vocation. Not all Catholics are able to live out their faith the way that I do. I am extremely lucky, but I have also had to make sacrifices. Yet, I am called to do this work, and therefore I must.
Just like Catholics sometimes worship or pray in different ways — Franciscans and Jesuits have different charisms, for example — we must also live out our faith in different ways in our daily lives. For me, this means everything from writing opinion articles, to calling and visiting members of Congress on Capitol Hill, to marching in the streets and sometimes even risking arrest.
The binding thread is that all of these actions are rooted in prayer. Even if this were not my day job I would still find ways to incorporate these actions into my life. I also realize that perhaps not all Catholics agree with all of my activism, but I know that everything I do is rooted in the Gospels, love of neighbor and desire to follow the teachings of Jesus.
I was deeply inspired by the Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers at the U.S. Capitol last month. I knew many of those who risked arrest personally and it reaffirmed for me what I have known for a long time: Women religious are the true prophets of the church. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who calls women religious his heroes. Or look at the rock star status the Nuns on the Bus are given every year at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice — the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering — which is increasingly becoming younger and more diverse.
Women religious take Pope Francis’ call to go to the margins seriously. With their selfless work and dedication, these women truly “smell like the sheep,” a goal to which Catholic justice seekers aspire.
I also realize that I am a bridge to the past — I had the honor of meeting the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the famed Jesuit "radical priest" — and to the future: A decade after completing my year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I encouraged a friend from D.C. to take over that same position with Catholic Charities Refugee Services in Nashville, Tenn.
In Washington, I’m often looked at as a curiosity — as the only person of faith in meetings led by secular groups, or as “one of the good Catholics,” as some of my non-Catholic friends call me (an admittedly condescending phrase).
But I know there are more Catholics out there like me. Not everyone can risk arrest like I do, but all of us can call our elected officials about issues that are important to us. And not every Catholic goes to church on Sunday, but there sure are a lot of Catholics (and some non-Catholics too) who love Pope Francis. If we want to work for justice and advance the Kingdom of God here on earth as Jesus calls us to do, it’s going to take all of us, the entire body of Christ.
Join me, won’t you?
(Jason L. Miller is the director of campaigns and development at the Franciscan Action Network in Washington, D.C. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, he is a graduate of John Carroll University and a former member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)