As previously explained, I've enrolled in the University of Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) to pursue their Certificate in Doctrine. I've already taken three of the six required courses. I'm currently taking my fourth STEP course Catholic Social Teaching.
Week 2 is "The Principles of Catholic Social Teaching." Here are my answers to the discussion questions.
When you read the phrase
social justice, what comes to mind?
I would begin by comparing "social justice" to the Thomist conception of distributive justice, in that it relates to the just distribution of goods within a society. I use "goods" here not just in the sense of material objects and wealth, but more generally to include social goods such as political rights. Although that conception of social justice is at least partially correct, I do not think it is the entire story. Instead, social justice also speaks to the fact that we, as humans, do not exist as atomistic individuals but rather as members of many different "societies," such as churches, workplaces, clubs, organizations, and so on. Social justice therefore also speaks to how we relate to those institutions and, perhaps even more importantly, how the state relates to those institutions. A just state respects, protects, and nourishes these societies which serve as intermediating agencies between Leviathan and man.
Which one or two of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching would you be most interested to learn more about?
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person.
- Call to Family, Community, and Participation.
- Rights and Responsibilities.
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.
- The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.
- Care for God's Creation.
I'm particularly interested in CST and the economy, because that has been a key part of my vocational interest in corporate governance. I'm always interested in learning more about it, as a result.
Looking beyond my professional interests, however, I'm particularly interested in Human Dignity and Solidarity. I was an Army brat and have always been interested in military history. Given the unsettled state of the world, Catholic teaching on war and peace is something I'd like to study in some depth. In addition, in thinking about the hot political debates over immigration, learning more about the Church's position on solidarity seems an obvious candidate. The Church teaches that:
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.
But does that translate into a policy of open borders with no restrictions on immigration?
The lecture includes a quote from St. Basil the Great, which reads in part,
The bread, which you do not use, is the bread of the hungry. Do you agree?
Answering that question requires us to consider the full quote. St Basil went on to say: "The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor." Does this mean that we should only own one pair of shoes and one set of clothing? Does it mean we should not save for the future?
One is reminded in this regard of Jesus' advice to the rich young man in Matthew 19:
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect,* go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
If we take that as a universal command, we should all emulate Saint Antony of the Egyptian Desert who sold everything he owned and went to live in the desert.
That we need not all head to the nearest desert is confirmed, I think, by Pope Paul VI's 1974 Lenten message:
We wish therefore to stress today a “break” which is demanded by the spirit of Lent, a break from a too exclusive attachment to our worldly goods, whether they are abundant as in the case of the rich man Zacchaeus (cf. Lk 19:8), or meager as in the case of the poor widow praised by Jesus (cf. Mk 12:43). In the vivid language of the time, Saint Basil preached to the wealthy in these terms: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor: the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit” (Homily VI in Lc, XII, 18, PG XXXI, col. 275).
Words like these make us reflect at a time when hatred and conflict are caused by the injustice of those who hoard when others have nothing, by those who put their own tomorrow before their neighbour’s today, and by those who through ignorance or selfishness refuse to give up what they do not need for the sake of those who lack the bare necessities of life (cf. Mater et Magistra).
And how can we not recall at this point the renewal and reconciliation demanded and assured by the fullness of our single Eucharistic meal. If we are to share together in the Body of the Lord, we must sincerely desire that no one should lack what is necessary, even though this should involve us in some personal sacrifice.
If I read that correctly, it's not having two pairs of shoes that is the problem, it's hoarding. It's having more than we could possibly ever need, while doing nothing for others.
I think what Jesus and St. Basil are really getting at is priorities. One cannot serve two masters. Do we love God or possessions? "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Like 12:34) “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
The lesson, I think, is not that we must all become monks who take a vow of poverty. But that we must give and give sacrificially. As the Pope said, it "should involve us in some personal sacrifice." If our tithes and offerings don't pinch at least a little, maybe we need to do more. (Memo to self: Am I pinched?)
In the class chat, our facilitator asked which of the 7 themes of CST do we find difficult.
My answer is the one related to work. Work is seen in CST as a means by which we collaborate in God’s on-going act of creation. The Creator hid untold riches and possibilities within His creation, which it is Man’s vocation to discover and develop through work.
As an adult convert to Catholicism, I struggle with this.
Growing up, I was taught that Man may (and should) imitate God’s creative work, but Man does not share in God’s work as Creator. In the Genesis account, Creation was completed on the sixth day. “That is exactly why God could call it good and rest” on the seventh day. Instead of being part of an on-going process of Creation, work was a direct result of the Fall: When exiled from Eden, Man was condemned to “painful toil.” Work thus was not intended to be intrinsically fulfilling, but simply a necessary means of survival.
How would you explain the differences between
social justice and
charitable works to someone in your parish who hadn’t heard about the distinction before?
Charitable works are about meeting the immediate needs of specific individuals. Giving a hungry homeless person a $10 Subway gift card, for example.
Social justice is about working towards systemic changes that benefit many.
The Church teaches that both are an essential part of the Christian faith. I have heard some object that Jesus never talks about achieving political justice but rather about works of mercy. Even if that were true and even if we practiced sola scriptura, however, scripture still teaches us to strive for social justice. In particular, the works of the minor prophets--especially, but not exclusively Amos--are profoundly concerned with social justice.
Amos preaches that the Lord will condemn--and send temporal punishment--upon those "Who oppress the destitute and abuse the needy ...." (Amos 4:1) That his concern is with social justice rather than charitable works is further suggest by the passage in which he condemns those who "tax the destitute and exact from them levies of grain." Clearly, he's talking about an unjust government. And again in Chapter 6:
4 Those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge upon their couches; Eating lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5 Who improvise to the music of the harp, composing on musical instruments like David, 6 Who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the best oils, but are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph; 7 Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and the carousing of those who lounged shall cease.
Social justice perhaps is about creating a society in which nobody lies on a bed of ivory when some have no bed.