Activity 9 and 10
Some people look at Catholic doctrine as a set of rules that Catholics are obliged to follow. Catholic teachings on social and economic issues are a very important dimension of the Church’s life and have their own long history. the Catholic Church has developed a significant body of teachings on peace and social justice and that is catholic social teachings. Through these teachings, which are geared to our time and culture, we learn through reason what God’s plan is for us as men and women, and brothers and sisters to each other. In a most compelling way, they lead one to understand true love and true freedom, and ultimately lead to the very center of the Holy Trinity.
Catholic Social Teaching (often referred to as CST) has sometimes been called ‘The Church’s Best Kept Secret”. CST is the Church reflecting on its mission in the world today, helping us to think about how we relate to the world around us and the problems that we face. In fact it is one of the greatest treasures of our Catholic tradition. However, it’s also true that these insights are sometimes called the Church’s ‘best kept secret’ because there’s such a gap between teaching and practice—between what people hear in the pew in Sunday homilies and the application of these principles to the daily lives of Catholics.
Catholic Social Teaching isn’t well known (even in the Church!). It was not always taught because some considered it a bit too radical. A second reason is that encyclicals are lengthy and complex – and many people just find them hard going. Catholic social teaching could become a tremendously effective tool for making that better world — where justice, peace and love would be the norm — if we would commit to regularly reading it, praying with it, teaching it, preaching it and living it. Many Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith, but not all parishes offer opportunities to do so. Therefore, lay Catholics need to evangelize their priests and parishes in social justice terms as well as the other way around. Catholics don’t need to wait for the go-ahead from their pastors to engage in works of peace and social justice. That way, the Church’s social teachings won’t be a secret anymore.
Guadium et Spes clearly states the task of Christians—to save this world by following the teachings of Christ. But it acknowledges our weak human nature and recognizes that we will never do this perfectly, that we are a pilgrim people who will have many stumbles on our way to achieving the perfection of our world.
The document is realistic about our humanity and our sinfulness. When Christ became human He ennobled our human nature and raised it to great heights but this same human nature is still darkened by sin. Our actions often cause disorder in our own lives, in our relationships with others and in the wider society.
The document tells us that, in all our actions and decisions, we have to take the legitimate aspirations of others into account and these “others” are the entire human family. We have a duty to respect the universal and inviolable rights of everyone; the right to food, clothing, adequate housing, freedom in choosing a state in life and setting up a family, education, work, a good name, proper knowledge, following the dictates of one’s conscience, privacy and religious freedom. These rights are frequently violated in Irish society as evidenced, for example, by the homeless, the unemployed and the extent to which the media make incursions into people’s privacy and, in the process, often destroy their good name.
Pacem in Terris provides many insights into achieving this peace that we desperately want. First and foremost it states that peace cannot be established unless the order laid down by God is dutifully observed, an order based on truth, justice, charity and freedom. I would venture to guess that most people do not understand what this order is, much less follow it if they do understand it. Many of these rights are incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. However, the reality is that human rights are not emphasized enough in this nation or the world in general.
Pacem in Terris teaches that we not only have rights, we also have duties toward our fellow men and women. Just as we have a right to life, we have a corresponding duty to preserve life. Just as we have a right to a dignified life, we have a corresponding duty to promote the welfare of others, what is often called the “common good”.
At the international level, we will not achieve peace on earth if there are wide disparities in the economic status of people around the globe. These economic disparities must be reduced, and we must be willing to reduce them even if it means sacrifice on those of us who are more fortunate. Where natural resources are scarce, they must be equally shared so that all people benefit. We must see all people as part of the human family. We need to develop a global vision.
The encyclical stresses the importance of virtue, he said. “Rerum Novarum says virtue is a common inheritance of many, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor, and that virtue and virtue alone will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness.” One reason compelling Leo XIII to write Rerum Novarum was his conviction that the present age has handed over the working poor to inhumane employers and greedy competitors
Leo was careful to point out that the poor are equal in citizenship to the rich (a. 49) and that their work is the source of the nation’s wealth (a. 51). In making these points, he challenged the position of those who belittle and look down on the poor, considering the poor, even the working poor, a burden on society. The working poor, Leo asserts, should be liberated from the savagery of greedy people (a. 59). Those who seek to assist the working poor can do so through three types of institutions: associations for giving material aid, privately-funded agencies to help workers, and foundations to care for dependents
The message to the working poor up to this point seems to be aimed at calming and consoling the poor, encouraging them to accept their position in society without rancor and without doing harm to others. Leo XIII was particularly concerned about harmony in society, and he sought to enlist the aid of the working poor in preserving good order. Rerum Novarum also contained a message to those who deal with the working poor. Early on in his encyclical, Leo XIII declared that the working poor must be cared for. Leo XIII wanted very much for workers to claim their rights, but he also wanted harmony and peace in society. He took the position that strikes are evil and should not be permitted (a. 56), placing his hopes on the ability of employers and employees to sort things out amicably with the help of the government and the Church.