August 19, 2018

One thing that is as certain and as sure as the Northern Star, is that at least once a month someone comments to me about the church getting involved in political matters. Sometimes, people are unhappy because the Church doesn’t weigh in on a particular issue. Sometimes people are unhappy because the Church does weigh in on a particular issue. The gospels remind us that there is a distinction in life between what is proper to Caesar and what is proper to God. This shouldn’t be misconstrued to mean that when Caesar is interested in a particular issue that the Gospel has to butt out.

In his Encyclical entitled “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict, reminding us of the interplay and relationship between the Church and the State in working for the good of society. “If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.’” Pope Benedict XVI went further and observed that “the mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competencies and fulfilling their own responsibility.”

 The Catechism also underscores the importance of working for the common good, with an understanding that we all have a role to play. Each person’s role is different, according to our participation in society, but all believers bear responsibility for contributing to a better world for all, guided by the light of the gospel. “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person” (CCC 1913).

What we refer to as “The Social Teaching of the Church” is deeply rooted in the tradition of scripture. This body of teaching is not an optional extra in the life of the faithful, but rather is a central and essential element of our faith. The Catechism reminds us very plainly that every time we participate in Holy Communion, we are committing ourselves, as followers of Jesus, to living differently from those who are not believers in his Gospel. As a Eucharistic people, we know that “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren” (CCC 1397).

Our appreciation for Catholic Social Teaching is built on the solid foundation of the dignity of the human person, fashioned in the image and likeness of God. In our times, it is sometimes difficult for us to reconcile competing political and social trends with gospel values. It can help sometimes if we avoid the labels used in political and social debates. Gospel values call us to first remember the person, the person who is brother and sister in Christ to us. We are called to see people first, not skin color. We are called to see people first, not legal or illegal. We are called to see people first, not rich or poor. We are called to see people first, not homeless or otherwise. It’s a great challenge for us, but nonetheless one from which we cannot shirk as believers. To walk away from our brothers and sisters is to turn our back on the heart of what it means to be Christian, of what it means to be able to share in communion.  

The challenging words of the first reading today, from Proverbs, are profound:

“Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!

Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”

We don’t get involved in social and political issues in order to be political. We do so because we are a Eucharistic people, and that has consequences for how we live and for how we treat one another. Not to work to make the world a better place in the light of the gospel would be for us to refuse the Bread of Life itself.



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