I am away of vacation and so I thought for a couple weekends I would address, once again, some basics of the moral and Catholic Social Teachings. I am doing so in response to suggestions of some parishioners.
As you know these teachings are presently hanging in banner form in our worship space. I write these articles with the help of our Church’s document entitled the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and an article from the National Catholic Report by Jessie Bazan.
Please continue to pray and act for peace in our world!
In peace and courage,
SOME BASICS OF CATHOLIC MORAL and SOCIAL TEACHING
Catholic social teaching is rooted in the biblical belief that all people are created in the image of God—and should be able to live as such. There are rights and responsibilities that need to be upheld in order for everyone’s dignity to be respected. The teachings call forth the Lord’s demand for justice for the poor and vulnerable from the Old Testament. It also puts Christ’s criteria for the final judgment front and center: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned.
The term Catholic social teaching refers to the body of doctrine created by the church to help apply the teachings of Jesus Christ to the modern world. It serves as the moral compass for justice issues related to economic, social, and political life.
Catholic social teaching emerged in a formal way with the rise of modernity, when Christian values no longer dominated societal thought. Church leaders began to lay out church social teaching in published encyclicals and pastoral documents, beginning with Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The most recent Catholic social teaching document is Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).
The social teachings of the church grow and develop over time, as do the ways people live them out.
Life and dignity of the human person - God created humanity in God’s own image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). As God’s beloved creation, we—all people—have dignity that’s inherent to our human person. Nothing and no one can take our dignity away. The principle of human dignity is the foundation for all Catholic social teaching. It affirms the sacredness of every person, recognizing that within our different abilities and backgrounds we share a common humanity and a common brokenness.
Human dignity must be respected always. Catholic social teaching is clear: “Every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).
Call to family, community, and participation - We all have abilities to make a difference. Catholic social teaching demands we use our gifts to better the common good—the good that comes when all in society can live fulfilled lives.
The authors of the Pastoral Constitution note, “Citizens, for their part, should remember that they have the right and the duty to contribute according to their ability to the true progress of their community.” By our participating in the community through work, parish involvement, political action, and family life, we take responsibility for our development as individuals and society.
Rights and responsibilities - Society acknowledges human dignity by ensuring people have the rights to live dignified lives (Justice in the World). This includes rights to food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and economic security in times of hardship (Peace on Earth).
Catholics view such rights in the context of community. Individuals contribute to the common good when they can live out their callings to the fullest. It is hard to make the world a better place on an empty stomach or without a place to sleep. We are responsible for helping one another flourish.
Option for the poor and vulnerable - Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Following his message, Catholic social teaching asserts whenever we are given a choice, we should choose the option that best serves those people in greatest need.
In his apostolic letter The Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope Paul VI looks beyond charity and urges society to address the larger systemic issues that perpetuate poverty so that people in poverty will not be in their situations forever. Further, the synod of bishops notes in Justicia in Mundo that it is the church’s responsibility to promote justice and fight against injustices. They say the church must be a church of the poor. Pope Francis continues to preach this message today.
It is important that all of us move these teaching from concept to reality. Perhaps start with one or two concrete ways you can honor human dignity and better the common good. Together we will bring forth the kingdom of God one step at a time.