No man is an island, entire of itself. —John Donne
One of the most beautiful teachings the Catholic Church has to offer to an as-ever polarized and divided world is the idea that we are all connected to each other. Embedded in our Eucharistic doctrine is the concept that it is metaphysically and spiritually possible to be connected to people we have never met, and never will meet—and although in the Sacrament this is believed to be true—in a specific and concentrated way—as it relates to Christ and Christ’s Body, it reveals a fundamental understanding in the Faith about the kinship of all humanity. We are not free agents, nor are we autonomous—even when we wish to be. Our beliefs, our ideas, and our choices have a ripple effect beyond just ourselves or even our local communities. (This is one of the several reasons why there is such a priority placed on all Catholics being present for Sunday Mass.)
One of the great errors into which we often fall as Eucharistic people is to fail to see how this reality ripples outward from the Sacrament and into the mundanities of our everyday living. We are all too quick to leave the altar and go back to our daily lives as if the Sacrament’s healing work does not extend to the dustiest corners of our hearts and homes.
One place I see this error play out in my own life is in the way I buy my food, clothing, and other goods. So much of what we wear is made in sweatshops and so much of what we eat is destructive to the earth and unjust to the animals or farmers involved. We are not told of this by big box stores and large chain retailer or grocers, presumably because it would turn our stomachs and zip up our wallets—or cause us to spend our dollars elsewhere. Or would it?
I still find myself buying these items far too often: beef cut from unhappy and imprisoned cattle, shoes sewn together by poor or even enslaved factory workers. Why is it so easy? If we saw these things transpire with our own eyes, perhaps we would be changed by them. As it is, though, we are so far removed from the sources of our food and clothing and coffee and alcohol and diamonds and on whatever else we spend our money, that we are often totally ignorant of how and why these things have come to exist—and at what cost, whether that cost be ecological or human or both.
When I am cognizant and attentive to the fact that much of what we are sold by our nation’s retailers and grocers is destructive, unsustainable, and too far removed from its sources to be ethically traded and distributed, I am dumbfounded by the tragedies involved. Buying and supporting ethically made goods and ethically farmed and traded foods is an act of justice. As I grow older and grow more conscious of the footprints left in real human lives and on living, growing soil by these goods, I am less comfortable with purchasing them.
When we make the choice to spend our hard-earned dollars on goods that are grown, made and traded fairly, ethically, and justly, we are living out our Eucharistic faith in another very important way—such choices preach and practice the dignity of every human being, and help us to participate in Christ’s work of justice for the poor and vulnerable.
Copyright 2017 Audrey Assad
About the author: Audrey Assad is the daughter of a Syrian refugee, an author, speaker, producer, and critically lauded songwriter and musician. This article first appeared on CRS Ethical Trade. To learn more about ethically made products and Catholic Relief Services’ global impact, visit the CRS Ethical Trade Shopping Guide and Global Impact page. To learn more about Audrey, and hear her music, go to audreyassad.com.