It was an ugly sign, honestly. But the declaration could not be mistaken: “No grapes!” The bumper sticker on the back of our Subaru was both a proclamation and an invitation for discussion.
“Why don’t you like grapes?” the conversation would inevitably begin.
“Oh, no. We love grapes,” one of us would respond.
“But we will not buy them until the growers in California agree to treat the farmworkers with dignity and offer them safety from pesticides.”
From there, the conversation would either evolve into something deeper—or completely end!
The boycott on California grapes by the United Farm Workers of America began the year our second child was born—and lasted for 16 years. In Church time, 16 years is the blink of an eye. But it is a long time in family time. For our family, 16 years translated into the entire time we were birthing and raising our son and three daughters and ended during the years they graduated from high school and moved away to college. So, you could say that the grape boycott was always a part of our family.
When Michael and I made the choices to involve our children in pro-life rallies in Washington, DC, grape boycotts, and protests in front of the South African embassy, we were standing against injustices of our time. It brought Romans 12:4–5 to life for all of us: “For as in one body we have many parts . . . so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.”
On a practical note, it was also a deliberate attempt to expand our family’s awareness beyond our own everyday lives and concerns. I did not know if our awesome foursome would even remember any of it, but I prayed it would instill in them a concern for and an interest in our brothers and sisters around the globe. After all, this is the heart of what it means to be Catholic.
We are, indeed, the living body of Christ, always becoming one in him who is our Lord and salvation. This reality may be mystical, but it is also real. When one hurts, we all hurt. When one thrives, we all thrive. There is no separation, only an evolving and ever-expanding heart: individually, as a family, a community, and a Church.
Perhaps no other time of year reminds me more of our universality than Lent. As the readings on the first Sunday of Lent note, however, the devil works overtime to make us forget and to alienate us from one another. From the beginning of time, the evil one has been deceiving humanity with the lure of selfish and self-absorbed rewards. Why? Because when we are focused on ourselves exclusively, we begin to believe that we are the center of our lives, that our desires and our needs deserve most of our energy.
If the awareness that we are the living body of Christ, united with our brothers and sisters around the world, makes our hearts expand and grow in the awareness of God’s love, then the opposite is also true. When we focus on the “I” in an unhealthy and obsessive way, when we make ourselves the center of our concern, we separate ourselves from God and God’s generous love.
Even the appealingly self-focused propaganda that leads us to believe that “no one can understand what I am going through” is a big lie from the devil, who aims to separate us from one another, to divide us, and, finally, to make us think that we can be and do all things if we concentrate on ourselves first. The only answer to this temptation, no matter how attractive it may seem, is to pray the same words that Jesus said to the devil after his 40 days in the desert: “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve’” (Mt 4:10).
Paraphrasing Matthew’s conclusion of this Gospel story, when we proclaim God as first in our lives, it is then that the devil will be forced to retreat. And the angels and the communion of saints will come and minister to us, blessing our desire to see and honor in one another the “God-in-the-skin” person standing beside us.