So, it’s Labor Day. To most people, that means BBQs, long weekend trips, and no more white shoes. But, like so many holidays, the real reason for the long weekend lies in something deeper. This year’s Labor Day statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is a response to some of the biggest problems facing not just America, but the entire world today: workers’ rights (especially immigrant workers), the dignity of work in a time when jobs are scarce, and economic inequality (to name a few). “Who asked them?” the uninformed might ask, “Since when was the Catholic church interested in all that?” Well, since, like….Jesus was around. All you have to do is flop open the Gospels to a random page and you’ll find Jesus caring for the poor, calling out the authorities on behalf of the vulnerable, caring for creation, and affirming the dignity of each person. Catholic Social Teaching is the natural progression of this example, and it’s (in my opinion), Catholicism’s dirty little secret. I say “dirty” little secret because it is literally just that…dirt-y. Like, with dirt. From the ground. And surprisingly few people know about it or what it really teaches.
Much of Catholic Social Teaching deals with care for the environment, workers’ rights, care for and solidarity with the poor (check out the main themes here)–the stuff of life that often takes place in the homespun, muddy places of the world. Often, the topics that we hear about and the moments we experience in our church have to do with highly spiritual experiences, or ritual, or even gossip. But the beauty of Catholic Social Teaching is that in its humility, in its care for the things and people that are often the subject of that gossip, we experience a ritual that is highly spiritual. Daily attention to the tenants of Catholic Social Teaching is a ritual that will greatly enhance the daily experience of our faith. By caring for the poor, supporting businesses, establishments and practices that uphold the dignity of workers, standing in solidarity with the oppressed, respecting the dignity of every person, etc. on a daily basis, we will be acting as Jesus did when He walked the Earth. We’ll be participating in the ritual of being Christ-like, which is really the entire point of calling ourselves Christians, isn’t it?
Here’s a little primer on the main themes of Catholic Social Teaching:
Dignity of Human Life--It’s from this theme that we get the most popular aspect of CST, the pro-life movement, which stands for not just the rights of the unborn but also the rights of the elderly, prisoners, and the differently-abled–basically anyone that society often views as “undesirable”
Common Good, Solidarity and Community–“We’re all in this together” is the easiest way to summarize this theme. To use a Biblical phrase: we are our brothers’ keepers, so what is hurting our brother is hurting us and we have a duty to step up and do something about it.
Care for the Poor and Vulnerable–It’s been said time and time again that the test of a society is how it treats its weakest members–the poor and vulnerable. We are mandated to treat these members with respect, care and dignity. Why? Because of the first two themes above.
Rights and Responsibilities–Each human being, because of their inherent worth and dignity, has a set of rights which our American forefathers classified as “unalienable”. Same idea here, plus the idea that corresponding to those rights, we also have responsibilities to ourselves and our community.
Role of Government and Subsidiarity–Government exists for the good of the people and is morally bound to promote that at the lowest level of intercession possible. We have a duty to be involved in this function of government.
Economic Justice–This theme is particularly applicable to our lives today. It’s also particularly politically sticky. CST on economic justice includes the rights of workers to decent work at a livable wage in a safe work environment, the right to form unions, the rights of people to amass wealth while keeping in mind the responsibilities they bear to the poor, and the necessity of a regulated and balanced market system to ensure that the needs of all in society are being met.
Stewardship of God’s Creation–The Earth was created by God. It was around before us, and it’ll be around after us, so we can’t use it as consumers and users; we have to use it as stewards and trustees. This has MANY practical applications today.
Promotion of Peace–“If you want peace, work for justice,” said Blessed Pope John Paul II. It is the Christian’s moral imperative to work toward the Kingdom of God being enacted in our world today–and that Kingdom does not include war or conflict resolution via violence. We are called to pray for and work toward peace in all things–our government, our communities, our daily interpersonal interactions.
For ways to live out the Christ-like rituals of Catholic Social Teaching on a daily basis, click on the “Social Justice Resources” tab above.
For a history of papal encyclicals on issues of Catholic Social Teaching (there are at least 11!), click here.
For more information about the Newman Center’s Alternative Spring Break Trip to the Bethlehem Farm, where we’ll learn much more about Catholic Social Teaching and how to live it out, click on the “2014 Alternative Spring Break Trip” tab above.