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The social message of the Gospel must not be considered
a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for
action…. Today more than ever, the Church is aware
that her social message will gain credibility more
immediately from the witness of actions than as a result
of its internal logic and consistency.
Pope John Paul II, The Hundredth Year, 1991
Office for Social Justice, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
328 West Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102 651.291.4477
Moving from beliefs and values to action is a fundamental requirement of our faith.
But how do we accomplish this move? What steps are required?
This brief workbook is a tool to answer these questions. More specifically, it is intended
as a guide for decision making about current social issues or for reflecting on the
experiences that Catholics have in everyday life or through working with social ministry
projects or volunteer opportunities in their parishes. Use this workbook as a tool to
deepen your understanding of these experiences and to help identify available
opportunities to act on behalf of justice.
The material in this booklet describes a reflection-action process. It is based on a very
traditional Catholic methodology that is often described as the “observe-judge-act”
process. This process was initially promoted by a Belgian priest named Fr. Cardijn.
Prior to World War II he inspired many Catholic social action groups such as the Young
Christian Workers, Young Christian Students, and the Christian Family Movement.
This observe-judge-act method was also recommended in the 1961 encyclical letter
entitled Mother and Teacher:
There are three stages which should normally be followed in the
reduction of social principles into practice. First, one reviews the
concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of
these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances
can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the
three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: observe,
judge, act.
Pope John XXIII, 1961, Mother and Teacher, #263
Reflection /Action Process
Here is a brief sketch of the key elements of the reflection-action process:
1. Observe – Seeing, hearing, and experiencing the lived reality of individuals and communities.
Carefully and intentionally examining the primary data of the situation. What are the people in
this situation doing, feeling, and saying? What is happening to them and how do they respond?
2. Judge – This is the heart of the process and it involves two key parts:
a. Social Analysis — Obtaining a more complete picture of the social situation by exploring its
historical and structural relationships. In this step, we attempt to make sense of the reality
that was observed in Step 1. Why are things this way? What are the root causes?
b. Theological Reflection – Analyzing the experience in the light of scripture and the Catholic
social tradition? How do biblical values and the principles of Catholic social teaching help us
to see this reality in a different way? How do they serve as a measuring stick for this
(Obviously, the word “judge” is used here in a positive sense, meaning to analyze the situation.
It does not imply that we judge other people or that we are judgmental in the pejorative sense.)
3. Act – Planning and carrying out actions aimed at transforming the social structures that
contribute to suffering and injustice.
2. Judge
— Social Analysis
— Theological Reflection
1. Observe
3. Act
It is important to remember that this is a process. It is a cycle that is continually repeated. That is,
after completing Step Three, the participants return to Step One – observing new realities, making
new judgments, and finding new ways to act. This process is intended for groups working
collectively, rather than for single individuals. The group process allows for a richer reflection, a
deeper analysis, and a more creative search for effective action.
Importance of Social Analysis
Social analysis is a key element of this reflection-action process. Since the concept may
be new to some of us, it is worth exploring a bit further.
First, note that social analysis is an essential part of our mission as believers and
disciples. Our faith compels us to work for a more just world, and social analysis is a
necessary element of carrying out that mission. In the words of Pope Paul VI,
It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation
which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s
unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and
directives for action from the social teaching of the Church.
Pope Paul VI, 1971, A Call to Action, #4
Similarly, Pope John Paul II has urged us to go beyond the symptoms and effects of
injustice and seek out the root causes:
We should not limit ourselves to deploring the negative effects of the present
situation of crisis and injustice. What we are really required to do is destroy the
roots that cause these effects.
Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace Message, 1985
Benefits of Social Analysis
It forces us to go beyond the interpersonal level and to think systemically.
Systems are interrelated parts that form a whole, and social and economic
systems act and react with other systems to produce the social conditions in
which we live. By using social analysis, we begin to see the connections between
social institutions and we begin to get a fuller picture of the social, economic, and
political forces at work in our world.
It enables us to make a proper diagnosis of the social problem. In doing so we
avoid spending time and energy on activities that will not really change the
situation. In this way, social analysis is a tool that leads to effective action.
It helps us identify potential allies and opponents in the search for a just
resolution of the situation.
The pages that follow are worksheets to guide you through the observe-judge-act process.
Reflection/Action Worksheet
1. Observe:
What do you know about this issue or what did you observe?
What specific facts can you cite about this issue or experience?
What did you learn or observe?
How do you feel in the face of this issue or experience?
How does it touch you personally?
2. Judge:
a. Social Analysis
From your experience, what is your understanding of the following:
Why does this situation exist? What are the root causes?
Economic factors — Who owns? Who controls? Who pays? Who gets? Why?
Political factors – Who decides? For whom do they decide?
How do decisions get made? Who is left out of the process? Why?
Social Factors –
Who is left out? Who is included? Why?
Historic Factors – What past events influence the situation today?
Cultural Factors – What values are evident? What do people believe in?
Who influences what people believe?
b. Theological Reflection
What lessons or values from scripture can help us to interpret this experience?
E.g. the prophets, the Beatitudes, the example of Jesus himself, and the parables
he told.
What key principles from Catholic Social Teaching apply to this situation.
E.g. human dignity, the common good, human rights, the option for the poor.
3. Act
Do you have enough information and analysis to act?
If not, what additional research is needed?
If you were to act to change this situation, what root causes would you attack?
How would you transform the structures and relationships that produce this
How can you act to support the empowerment of those who are poor or
Chadwick, Justin (Director). (2011). The First Grader [Motion Picture].
United Kingdom: Soda Pictures, Ltd.
Focus: Based on the true story of Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, the keywords for this film are rights,
freedom, education, grace, and sacrifice. With a series of interwoven present day choices and
flashbacks of both personal and societal tragedies, Maruge’s life and discernment puts flesh on his
words: “We chose. We paid.” Look for ways that these words unfold as the film invites you into the
story. Remember, our course is entitled Christian Spirituality- Life Journey. One
question might be – how is this film a perfect match to that title.
“What it’s about:
When an old villager insists on attending school so he can learn to read, everyone learns that it’s
never too late to dream. Set in a mountain village in Kenya, the film tells the remarkable true and
uplifting story of a proud old Mau Mau veteran who is determined to seize his last chance to
learn to read and write – and so ends up joining a class alongside six-year-olds. Together, he and
his young teacher face fierce resistance, but, ultimately, they win through and find a new way of
overcoming the burdens of the colonial past.
What we thought:
The First Grader is an inspirational true-life story about Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, who at 84
years of age decides to attend a primary school to learn to read once the Kenyan government
makes education free for all.
The story is intercut with flashes from Maruge’s past, some 50 years earlier, as a Mau Mau rebel
fighting for independence from the British and caught in a battle against colonial sympathizers.
These scenes reveal an incredibly violent and tragic chapter in Kenya’s history, one that British
director Justin Chadwick admits he himself did not know about until he came to researching the
Set in a stunning remote village, the movie focuses on a ramshackle primary school, classrooms
overflowing with young minds eager to learn at this first opportunity at an education. Maruge’s
presence is not appreciated by some parents who believe he is taking a valuable place in the
classroom that should go to a child who “doesn’t have one foot in the grave”. The school’s dutiful
headmistress, Mrs. Obinchu (played by future Bond girl Naomie Harris) rebels against her
superiors and does all she can to help Maruge achieve his dream.
It emerges that the reason Maruge is so determined to learn to read is so that he can finally
understand a letter he had received, many years ago it would seem by the state of the document.
There’s a sense that whether the letter brings good or bad news, it will only serve to re-open the
deep, gaping wounds that Maruge has battled to keep sealed over the course of his long and
difficult life.
Though the gravity of some of the flashback scenes are hard to bear at some moments, these are
balanced with some truly wonderful scenes of Maruge enjoying his time at the school,
interacting with his six-year-old classmates, teaching them old war songs and finally enjoying
the promise of a future – for his country, if not for himself – that he was never able to in his time.
The cast all give soulful and touching performances, and the school kids in particular, who are all
from the village where the film was shot, are a joy to watch. They will steal your heart with just
one smile.”
Taken from: http://www.channel24.co.za/Movies/Reviews/The-First-Grader-20110907
For reflection & Discussion Board Conversation: Choose ONE of the following
and post your answer on both:
1. Blackboard (“Discussion”) and in the
2. “Assignment” section of Bb
A. From the film, choose the character with which you most identify.
Use the worksheet from the Reflection-Action Process as discussed
in class and explain the significance of this character for you and the
spiritual journey. Use quotes from the character, your texts, and
your own life experiences to add clarity to your response and
explanation of the significance of this character. If you can, find a
quote from Scripture to integrate your thoughts to this aspect of
Christian spirituality and/or life journey.
B. Identify a social or spiritual issue which touches you most from the
film. Use the worksheet from the Reflection-Action Process as
discussed in class and explain the significance of this issue for you
and the spiritual journey. Use quotes from the film, your texts, and
your own life experiences to add clarity to your response and
explanation of the significance of this issue. If you can, find a
quote from Scripture to integrate your thoughts to this aspect of
Christian spirituality and/or life journey.
Discussion Board Rubric – USED FOR FILM (PDE) as well
UERS 235 Christian Spirituality: A Life Journey
Points (up to 10 points per week): _______________
_____ (1 point) Student posts on time.
_____ (1 point) Student posts an original response with BOTH theological and sociological
analysis points
_____ (3 points) Student participates with depth in the original response; response reflects a
critical understanding of the readings and/or other resources, and at least 4-5 “chunky”
paragraphs (75-80 words per paragraph), including quotes from readings cited in APA
style (see sample posted on Blackboard). Please note you need to cite from at least 2
authors and/or the film here… allow their voices to add depth to your own with quote
chosen to ground your work… in every assignment.
_____ (2 points) Student responds to at least 2 peers; peer responses are grounded with
examples from one’s experience or citations (APA style) from the readings as one agrees
or disagrees with respect.
_____ (2 points) Student checks comments made by instructor and adds any suggestions
_____ (1 point) Student edits work for spelling, grammar, and the mechanics reflective of
collegiate writing.
Additional Comments:
In Silf’s book (2009), the author explores the pain associated with human life and
suffering. In particular, in the first and second chapters, the book explores the pain of undergoing
changes and transitions. Similarly, the chapters provide insights on pain and suffering through
personal accounts and close friends. As noted in the book, “everywhere we turn, we see the
immediacy of the danger. Across the street, a house stands empty, repossessed by the bank
because the people who called it home defaulted on their mortgage repayments” (Silf, p. 12).
The interaction with the two chapters’ themes has evoked hope in me, knowing that all human
beings are subjected to suffering. In turn, this book has strengthened my resolve to overcome
daily challenges and the suffering of my current circumstances of grieving.
The interaction with the book’s contents has also contributed to an affirmation of redemptive
suffering’s theological concept. According to Ellsberg (2009), redemptive suffering can offer the
fair punishment for one’s sins and contribute to perpetual fulfillment. Narrated Abu Huraira (RA):
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “”The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by
his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”
Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 78, Hadith 1
for my sins, thereby contributing to the atonement of sins. Similarly, the Islamic view of
suffering as an opportunity for human beings to follow in the example of Prophet Muhammad is
also consistent with the book’s teachings. In particular, I consider feelings of suffering a constant
occurrence in human life, which is compatible with Allah’s suffering (God)persevered for the
Deen in Islam which is similar to the commitment the faith to christiany faith. As noted in the book,
we should “trust that breakdowns in our personal lives might be the beginning of a
breakthrough” (Silf, 2009, p. 14).
Completing this week’s assignment has opened up new opportunities for Allah’s
manifestation ( God )in my personal life. Also, I have attained a better understanding of Allahs
work in islam by interacting with this course material. Indeed, I have learned to trust Allah in
all situations, even when they seem unbearable to me. Even during profound challenges and
suffering, Allah is still working in use, and we are required to trust Him for a breakthrough.
Moreover, the benefits of suffering in affirming God’s strength in our lives is also an imminent
lesson from this course material. In particular, God has previously used my experiences to
communicate that He is still in control . That God manifests Himself to others through us is a
valuable lesson for me from this week.
Deen of Islam – Islamway. https://en.islamway.net/article/8397/the-deen-of-islam
Ellsberg, Robert (Ed). Modern Spiritual Masters. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008.
Morality in Islam – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_in_Islam
Silf, M. (2009). The Other Side of Chaos: Breaking Through When Life is Breaking Down.
Chicago, Illinois: Loyola Press.

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