What is Catholic Social Justice?

I think many of us can recall growing up having to read George Orwell‘s Animal Farm. Even though we might not enjoy reading it when we were young, it contains many elements of truth with what is going on in many parts of our modern history, as well as many learning points for our current social and political states. We tend to think that we are better people than people in the past, that we have better ideas than those ignorant, unjust, and cruel people who were inhumane and hypocritical, yet we often end up being the same people that we hated — if not more self-righteous, erroneous, and hypercritical than them. We love revolutions and changes, but we often end up making things only beneficial for ourselves in the end. Revolutions come and go, rocks were thrown and many violent uprisings occurred, people got caught in between and got hurt in the struggles, more laws were added to justify the winners’ actions and condemn the losers, but we mostly ended up making similar mistakes as people in the past.

Furthermore, I find it sad that many Catholics allow themselves to be caught in between these political uprisings and social revolutions because they have not taken the time to learn from history nor really do not understand what the Church really teaches about social justice. I often hear one yell at the other for being a “socialist” while another accuses others for the lack of charity and being too trustful of political or social organizations. Too many people rather let their political ideologies dictate, warp, manipulate, and constraint our rich Catholic beliefs but they do not understand what the Church really teaches.

We often let political parties or particularly right or left-biased news media outlets tell us what we need to believe instead of doing our duties to be informed, especially forming our society and its social consciousness through the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition. In doing this, we have cheapened and politicized our faith instead of letting its richness formulates and transforms our need for true theocentric social justice. When we do not know what our Catholic faith teaches, we let the political parties manipulate and turn us into pawns with their either/or dichotomy and divisive approach, hence ending up with less and less actual freedom to really choose because they slowly give us lesser choices to choose. Sooner if not later, we have seen that — even now — our usual “lesser evil” approach becomes invalid because that evil is becoming greater each day.

When we put our political ties as being more important than our Catholic faith, we become people who are “in name only” but have not allowed our faith to form our conscience. We let our particular or immediate goods dictate reactive measures and laws. Hence, adding more burden and contradict our true principles and understanding of humanity in the scope of eternity, especially our total beginning, motivation, and end grounded in faith and reason. In the vocal political arenas and preemptive social shows of life, we become manipulated into what we try to avoid, getting played by empty sophistry and political lies, hence losing our true dignity and rights as children of God.

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Nevertheless, Catholic social teachings reminding us that we are not the beginning and end in ourselves. We are created by God who is the Master of our hearts. Hence, all other idolatrous, worldly, and lesser things want to enslave, manipulate, and control us by making themselves our masters, even in fake ways to make us think that we are in control and our own masters. Therefore, it is important to understand our genuine Christian totality, which is our teleological beginning and end in the scope of eternity. Indeed, our actions and deeds have consequences, and they speak louder than our empty words and their typical ego-centered, hedonistic-driven agendas, politics, or worldviews.

The Church in her teachings throughout millennia tries to proclaim our fundamental human dignity and essential rights as children of God, made in His image and likeness. In her teachings, she tries to guide and form our conscience with the foundational truths that come from Sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Furthermore, she has the duty to defend the unrecognized and their violated rights, especially those of the poor, the least and the weak, and those who have no voice. She speaks on behalf of all as the mother protecting her children from violence and injustice, abuses and imbalances, manipulations and enslavements– whether they recognize or accept her or not. She speaks with and on the grounds of moral and religious convictions to free her children from false teachings and liberations that enslave and oppress humanity. Her scope of care is extended to political, economic, and administrative realms as well because true maternal care involves every aspect of her children’s wellbeing.

The Church teaches on many different levels: first on the foundational level with proper catechesis, formation, and motivations; second on the directive level through cooperation with secular organizations, political and social leaders to formulate greater care of people with everyday norms for life in society; and on the deliberate level by forming conscience so the faithful can learn how to apply proper teachings in different concrete and particular social situations. Her teachings are holistic because we are not just corporeal or spiritual beings, we have both spirit and body, created in the image and likeness of God, made for relationship with Him and with other human beings and creatures entrusted to our cares. We are the people of both faith and reason, not radical in the either/or mentality, but to use the gifts that have been endowed to us by the Creator to pray, reflect, discern, and build our society in the truth given to us by our Lord and Savior. We are not some abstract nor merely spiritual fanatics for we use our faith with reason to respond in the context of history and of the world at large, especially salvation history that encompasses and embraces all. We are called to let our faith be enlivened for the common good with an authentic commitment to true human liberation, freedom, and advancement of our dignity and rights as God‘s children.

Each and every one of us who are the faithful has the duty, therefore, to respond to the gift of salvation and divine love with total self-giving service of one another, not just a partial, abstract, or mere verbal acceptance, so that we can genuinely proclaim the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ in each and every instance, sharing what we believe to every person we encounter. Our faith dictates, formulates, and motivates each and every aspect of daily life so that our society is built upon the truth of the Gospel, shedding light on our earthly existence and social institutions, so that we are not just defined as political, manipulative, or self-centered beings but as children of our Heavenly Father, disciples of Christ Jesus, and instruments of the Holy Spirit.

In our social teachings, we emphasize the dignity and right to life of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, therefore to be respected and protected in all stages of life — from the moment of conception until natural death. We are also called to protect the family, which is the foundational nucleus of society and the Church, building a healthy community and society through proper education, formation, and cultivation of personal and communal rights and responsibilities. We are not called to simply live for ourselves, worrying about our own particular goods, but in solidarity and communion with one another, caring for all, especially the poor and vulnerable, as well as God‘s creations who have been entrusted to us. As a society and responsible individuals, we are also called to respect the dignity and rights of the workers, especially those who are often forgotten, have no voice, or taken advantage of by their employers. Those who work hard to provide for their families and earn their livelihood through the sweats of their brows need to be cared for, protected, and be aware of their dignity, especially those who are vulnerable and poor. Our social teachings teach us to be mindful, aware, and keen on building and nurturing communion and solidarity with one another through humble service, honest conversation, transparent dialogue, and respectful exchange, discernment, and decision making for the common good and greater wellbeing of people.

The Industrial Revolution produced a dramatic social, political, and cultural impact that changed centuries-old social structures, raised up many serious problems and challenges. Our modern and post-modern consciousness, politics, and society have been greatly changed by that phenomenon, and the Church has responded with maternal care from the get-go, trying to discern with the secular and political spheres to find appropriate solutions to unfamiliar and unexplored problems. She began with the fundamental cooperation between morality and law at all social levels, from grassroots to international capacity, as to promote proper dignity of the human person — not just their immediate needs. She understood the need to establish a world with truth, justice, love, and communion for the promotion of peace. We, therefore, as people of faith, are called to work for justice on a global scale, to protect humanity and promote a holistic humanism guided and founded by spiritual values so that we become reciprocal people that recognize God in every person and every person in Him, hence serving one another out of self-donating love. We have both a natural and supernatural vocation that is not only based on political or theoretical motivations but with genuine dialogue, communion, pastoral and theocentric concerns for all.

The Servant of God Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan (pictured in the featured image) was given the task to compose a compendium of the social teachings of the Catholic Church by St. Pope John Paul II. Even though he never saw its completion, he was very adamant about making it known and readily available to the universal Church so we can know that our faith motivates us to be both reflective and proactive in forming individual responsibilities as well as the social consciousness in proclaiming the Gospel values, protecting the rights of all human beings, and denouncing the evils, abuses, and manipulations that infringe upon the people that she has been entrusted to care and be a mother in this world.  You can find the link to the Compendium on the Vatican‘s website or by clicking here.

I hope you can take some time to study up on what the Church really teaches about social justice through this compendium or other reliable means of integral formation of conscience with faith and reason. Indeed, all of us have the personal and communal responsibilities to be good stewards of His loving care for all creation, from the least to the popular, from the moment of conception to natural death, from social, organizational to personal, faithful levels. May we, therefore, truly understand, appreciate, live, and commit ourselves to what the Church teaches as people of faith so what we profess will be enlivened by our very own words and actions, lives and deeds.