Franciscan Influences: Compassion and Justice — The Two Inseparables

Megan Nerz Features

This is the seventh in a series of essays from the Province’s partners-in-ministry who want to share their respect for Franciscan values. The previous one, written by Mary Corner of Greenville, S.C., appeared in the June 15 issue of HNP Today.

In the reflection below, Megan Nerz, a parishioner and former staff member of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh, N.C., describes learning from the friars the importance of advocacy — working to change social structures and laws that make life unbearable for the poor and the marginalized.

In 1963, at the age of 8, I entered third grade at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in New Jersey. Little did I know then that my experiences at this unique school would be the bedrock of some of the most important values I live by today.

The “Madams” of the Sacred Heart gently and persistently instilled in all their girls the idea that, within the framework of all we had been given as gifts from God, we were obligated to take into account the needs of all, especially the poor and the vulnerable. More than anything else, these beautiful women of faith inspired us to believe that what we wanted for ourselves could only truly be realized in the context of promoting the well-being of all.

In my own life, for more than 30 years, that translated into a commitment to social action, primarily through service-oriented ministry among people who were poor and marginalized.

And then I met David McBriar, OFM (pictured in the photo behind the above image).

He taught me the other equally important counterpart to service — advocacy.

In a new way, he inspired me and countless others in our community to reflect critically on the values of society and to act with justice. He motivated us to use our voices to strengthen the voices of those who had never before been heard. He helped us know and believe — as Francis knew and believed — that we are all brothers and sisters, no matter what job we have, what wealth we possess, or what race we belong to, because we all have the same divine source: God.

It was Fr. David who gently and persistently pushed me into understanding that, as important as it is to care compassionately for those who are standing in front of you in need, it is similarly important to work to change the social structures and the laws that make life so unbearable for them in the first place.

To not do so is simply another extraordinary kind of injustice.

mcbriarAnd so these days, I find myself in committee hearings at the state legislature, talking to my Congressional representatives, writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper, creating social action alerts and educational curriculum, and listening to the searing stories of those who are living life on the edge.

And in the end, what I’ve learned from the ever-so-wise Fr. David and those marvelous “Madams” of the Sacred Heart is that compassion and justice simply can’t be separated. The Kingdom of God happens in those moments when we live fully present in the world, acting with justice firmly rooted in compassion.

— Megan Nerz serves on the Province’s Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate and is the founder and former director of the Franciscan Coalition for Justice and Peace at her parish in Raleigh. She currently serves as a legislative advocate for the North Carolina Council of Churches.

The HNP Communications Office invites lay men and women interested in sharing their respect for Franciscan values to consider submitting a reflection for publication in HNP Today. Information is available through Jocelyn Thomas at 646-473-0265 ext. 321.