A Glimpse into Catholic Social Teaching (by some super rad nuns)

12/22/16

I've been friends with the Dominican Sisters of Hope for about a year now and I'll tell ya what, these ladies are the real deal.  They make me proud to be Catholic and inspire me to continue pressing on towards a more just world.  It is with eager fingers and full heart that I introduce you to them today.  Consider it your Christmas gift from me.  ;)

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Google Catholic Social Teaching and you’ll get pages-long responses talking about justice as it relates to everything from the Earth to solidarity. No doubt, Catholicism’s relation to justice is important, but it’s not the most succinct teaching of the Church. That’s because living a just life —treating every individual with respect, caring for the Earth, and ministering to the poor and marginalized— isn’t clear-cut or formulaic.

According to Pat Jelly, OP, a Dominican Sister of Hope, Catholic Social Teaching focuses on the concept “that we are not here alone.”

“We have a responsibility to each other,” Sister Pat explains, “And not only those immediately around us. We have a responsibility as members of a community, whether we are speaking about our family or a larger community that we happen to be a member of: our family, our congregation or parish, our town, our world.”

Catholic Social Teaching calls us simply to ask what we can do or plan to do to bring God’s reign closer for our community at large.

Chicago Daily News photo, courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries.

As a congregation, the 150+ sisters spread throughout fifteen states and Puerto Rico that comprise the Dominican Sisters of Hope have a dynamic perspective on this. Our mission is to preach the Gospel of Hope to the world, especially to the poor and marginalized. But, as each sister pursues her own unique skills and talents, the practice of Catholic Social Teaching plays out in a myriad of ways.

Sister Pat Jelly advocates for education rights, immigrant rights, and victims of human trafficking.

As a retired professor of Philosophy, Sister Ann Stankiewicz lists tuition costs or themes of study as her take on Catholic Social Teaching.

Sister Monica McGloin is devoted to workers’ rights. 

Sister Nancy Erts, who traveled to Iraq in 2001 in order to get a view of true life there and share it with American media, now ministers in eco-justice and eco-spirituality, which means she leads retreats and serves on multiple boards to help protect and preserve the Hudson Valley area.  “Catholic Social Teaching relates to what Jesus taught in the Gospels: practicing equity and mercy, and living collegially,” Sister Nancy Erts explains.

Sister Mary Feigen, who serves as the community’s Justice Promoter, shares petitions, marches, and other activism opportunities with the community at large.  

“We ourselves, and all of creation, are the Universe unfolding and revealing itself,” Sister Mary says. “We respond as Dominican Sisters of Hope to the call to a right relationship with all. We stand together against the named injustices and global concerns.”

Sister Pat Jelly, center

But how are these “named injustices” chosen? And who chooses them, specifically? In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter called Rerum Novarum, raising the issue of the common person and his/her inherent dignity.  Pope Leo XIII highlights seven themes on which workers for peace and justice might concentrate: 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; Solidarity; and Care for God's Creation.

Rerum Novarum doesn't stand alone. Our community has frequently used documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops such as Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions and even a document on Faithful Citizenship, both of which have served as foundations for us in our years of teaching.

Over one-hundred years later, these teachings on caring for the poor, solidarity, protecting and preserving the Earth, believing that we belong and are responsible to a global community, standing for economic justice, family support, workers’ rights, and overall human rights are more pertinent to our world than ever. 

We have this expansive teaching, beginning with a single document but branching out to centuries of history, that calls us to work for global justice. Where do we begin? 

In this way, perhaps the Dominican Sisters of Hope are most instructive in their example. Dominican Sister of Hope Lois Dee summarizes Catholic Social Teaching by saying: “It’s not so much a topic that I study, it’s the way I live.” 

This fall alone, Sisters Sharon Yount and Diane Trotta went down to New Orleans to help build houses for folks who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. Sister Bette Ann Jaster is on the front lines of the fight to stop the Algonquin Pipeline, a major fracking threat in New York. Sister Mary Headley traveled to Haiti to deliver goods to help rebuild and get people food, water, and medical care after the hurricane. As a community, we collected stamps and stationery for families in detention so that they can communicate with family members back home over the holidays. And, we’re currently working with local parishes and Cardinal Dolan to change the local landscape for refugees.

Right now, Sister Beth McCormick is seeing hope in prison. Sister Debbie is finding hope in Nicaragua's poorest communities. Sister Beth Jaspers is discovering hope in the persistence of the people of Appalachia.

Sister Bette Ann Jaster

How might you get involved in a way that’s genuine to you? 

The best way is to simply get started: find a cause that speaks to you and attend meetings, participate in online activism, join a community, reach out to others. Joining an active group should give you a sense of particular issue for you and what needs to be done. Our Cultivating Change page has a multitude of justice stories outlining causes that are always seeking support. 

Beyond just getting involved, of course, it’s crucial to consider the attitude with which you’re getting involved. Are you acting prayerfully? Are you acting humbly? 

And, as Sister Pat Jelly reminds us, “we’re called to not be overwhelmed by it all,” but to approach these issues with daily prayer as well as action.

“We’re called to be touched by the pain of others [including the environment] and to see what we can do,” Sister Pat says. “We can’t fix the world, but we can do something. And we should pray everyday to become aware of that which we can change. We have a responsibility today, and all we have is today.”

That’s the thing about Catholic Social Teaching: even though it’s a big, bulky concept, it makes it clear that, however you want to do it, the time to start working for justice is now. Pray. Research. Commit to some sort of volunteerism or activism, no matter how small. Commit to, as Rerum Novarum reads, “loving God and [each other] with a love that is outstanding and of the highest degree.”

Indeed, in a fragmented world, Catholic Social Teaching just might be the answer to alleviating suffering and achieving justice. What would happen if we further inculcated ideas of solidarity, of caring for the poor, of protecting the Earth, of defending each individual’s human dignity into our daily lives?

As Rerum Novarum asks: Would it not seem that, were society penetrated with ideas like these, strife must quickly cease?

The Dominican Sisters of Hope 150+ Catholic Dominican sisters who are committed to living and preaching the Gospel message of hope. We now live in fifteen states and Puerto Rico where we serve largely in justice, social, healthcare, and education ministries. We’re excited to share with you the ways we bring hope to it all: www.ophope.org

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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