Like most parents, when my kids were growing up I read my share of Dr. Seuss books to them, and one of my favorites was "The Lorax." It is the story of the Once-ler who discovers that he can make a garment called a Thneed from the beautiful Truffula trees - and creates an entire industry that decimates the Truffula trees, pollutes the air and water, and forces the animals to migrate in order to survive.
It was written in 1971, just a year after the first Earth Day and just as so many people were awakening to an environmental awareness. It is a wonderful fable of the danger that corporate greed poses to our natural world, our "common home," as Pope Francis calls it.
But in addition to this strong message on the environment, there is another important message that comes from the character called the Lorax. The Lorax is the one who opposes the Once-ler's actions, and defends the rights of the Truffula trees. He says, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
The Lorax, the voice of conscience of the story, stands up for the trees. The Lorax is the voice of the voiceless. The Lorax is an advocate.
Advocacy is an important part of our responsibility as Catholics. By our baptism we are called to be "salt of the earth" and "light for the world." We put our faith into action by walking with the Two Feet of social justice, as the U.S. bishops call it - both charity and justice. Our efforts toward charity take care of individuals in immediate need. Our efforts to create a just world and build up the kingdom are more long-range and involve using our voices to speak for the voiceless.
Effective advocacy requires an understanding of the problem or issue, solid analysis of the political environment and a coherent proposal for its solution. We have an obligation to learn more about policy issues affecting our brothers and sisters around the corner and around the world, and then to advocate for changes in existing unjust policies and the creation of new policies that benefit the common good.
Finding reliable and trustworthy resources to get the truth about issues in order to advocate can be quite a daunting task. Fortunately, the Church has a variety of official and related organizations to help us do just that.
For overall issues in the Church, you can visit the USCCB Action Center. For domestic policy issues, you can go to Catholic Charities USA and get the "Washington Weekly" that gives you opportunities to advocate. On international issues, visit Catholics Confront Global Poverty and sign up for Action Alerts. The New York State Catholic Conference has the Catholic Action Network. If you want help in accessing any of these, or sites on other issues, please feel free to contact me at the email address below.
The Lorax spoke for the trees because they had no tongues. For whom do you speak?
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services.