October 20, 2019

In this month of October, when the Church in the United States highlights our commitment to life issues as a people of faith, we have an opportunity to consider why the Church involves itself in a broad array of issues that can seem so controversial, and perhaps even seem political, at times.  In last weeks column we observed that the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life is grounded in its conviction that all human life is sacred, and that any issues that contravene the dignity or rights of persons are rightly within the purview of consideration by all believers. We often hear a criticism leveled at our Church that we are only concerned with babies being born, and not with what happens after birth.  This charge is not at all supported by the facts. 

In 2004, in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and at his request, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in which it gathered together in one document “a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching.  This overview allows us to address appropriately the social issues of our day, which must be considered as a whole, since they are characterized by an ever greater interconnectedness, influencing one another mutually and becoming increasingly a matter of concern for the entire human family.”

In making the content of the social teaching more accessible, we can speak of different themes that are all interconnected.  Depending on how the lists are written, writers identify seven to ten themes.  The U.S. Bishops identify them as follows:

  • Life and Dignity of the Human Person - The Church teaches that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
  • Call to Family, Community and Participation - The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society - in economics and politics, in law and policy - directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.  We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
  • Rights & Responsibilities - Every person has a right to life and to those things necessary to uphold their dignity. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities - to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable - A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment

(Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.

  • Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers - The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.  If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected - the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
  • Solidarity - We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. 
  • Care for Creation - We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith.  We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation.  This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored. 

 (Adapted from Catholic Social Teaching 101,      published by the USCCB and CRS)

Our commitment to life and the related issues is not simplistic. The Church’s social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society.  Our teaching is not made for sound-bytes, but rather is quite comprehensive.  Its depth and richness can be more fully appreciated by reading the relevant documents in their entirety.  This summary might serve to whet our appetite for such. 


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