Discovering the Power of Catholic Social Teaching (even if you're not Catholic... and even if you are)


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One thing that drew me to the Catholic Church four years ago was the firmly established social teaching. From papal encyclicals (that’s a fancy word for formal writings of a pope to the universal Church) to bishops’ letters, and culminating in the massive Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, I was enamored with how steeped this tradition is in a deeply intellectual pursuit of an understanding and embodiment of God’s intent for the human person.

There has been so much written (over the past 130 years in particular) that seven defined principles have emerged in Catholic Social Teaching. They are:
  1. dignity of the human person
  2. call to family, community, and participation
  3. rights and responsibilities
  4. a preferential option for and with people who are poor
  5. the dignity of work and the rights of workers
  6. solidarity
  7. care for God’s creation
But Catholicism, as they say, is a big tent and although I have found many Catholics to be informed and passionate on these issues, it’s fair to say that most I encounter are somewhat oblivious to the crucial implications of them. There is still so much work to be done in educating our own baptized on these principles.

Jesus Christ came with a social Gospel. Whether or not we are comfortable with that frankly doesn’t matter. One simply cannot read the accounts of His life on earth and come to any other conclusion. He did speak of life after death, certainly, and of spiritual disciplines, an intimate relationship with God, and the importance of sharing the faith with others – but his concern for the systematic treatment of human beings and the social structures that we function in can’t be overstated.

The Good News isn’t just spiritual, far from it. The Good News carries radical and often uncomfortable social implications that challenge us Americans to our very individualistic cores. Your salvation is not just between you and God. Your salvation involves your fellow man. It was always meant to be this way.

For many of us, it can be hard to begin putting abstract concepts into practice in our daily lives. There are so many needs in the world and so many complexities that muddy the waters of important social issues. We can be duped into thinking the justice stuff is just not our “calling” or our particular brand of Christianity. We are sorely, tragically mistaken; but we’re not without hope.

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to be undertaking a study of Catholic Social Teaching here at the blog, taking it principle by principle, citing noteworthy sources, digging up Scripture, recommending modern resources, and bringing it all home to a practical application that will affect our daily lives. (And yes, I say “our” intentionally, because this is just as much for my benefit as for yours.)

But maybe you’re not Catholic. (If I’m proud of anything about this blog, it’s that it is a wide-open space. All people of goodwill are welcome here, Catholic or Protestant, Christian or non, and I love how united we find ourselves on the things that matter most.)

If you’re not Catholic, you might be thinking what the heck do I care about papal encyclicals and letters from bishops? Well as with so many things, the Catholic Church does a fantastic job of preserving universally traditional Christian teaching here. All of my life my dad (a Baptist theologian) always said, “all truth is God’s truth”, meaning we can extract Divine instruction from even unlikely sources. If Catholic Social Teaching is an unlikely source for you, I encourage you to stick with this series and see if you don’t find something beautiful in it.

I’m excited to explore these topics with you guys and wish I could promise to faithfully deliver a post in this series once a week for seven weeks, but life isn’t quite as predictable as that. If you’re new here (hi, welcome!), my family of five is preparing to move back to Texas in June to rejoin a Catholic Worker- a decision that you can read about here. So while I’d much rather be hacking at these keys and poring over the Compendium, life is demanding cardboard boxes and insurance changes.

So no promises about when in the next two weeks it will be published, but the first principle we’ll tackle will be the dignity of the human person. Such a good one. I’m thinking Jean Vanier and Peter Maurin will be making appearances.

And in the meantime, I’m sending out a monthly newsletter this weekend so sign up if you’d like! These typically include a little more personal writing, recommendations for things to be reading or listening to that pique the social consciousness, and sometimes we do really awesome book giveaways. When you sign up you get a heart-stealing printable of a Dorothy Day quote made by Erica at Be a Heart Design. So that in and of itself is reason enough to join us.

I’m thankful you’re here and honored to get to walk through these seven principles with you. Thanks for being my people.

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)