The term Catholic social teaching was created by the Church to help apply Christ’s teaching to the modern world. Beginning in the Old Testament, we are reminded by the prophets of the importance of justice for the poor and vulnerable. Christ gives the criteria for the Last Judgement; feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the imprisoned.
The Social Teachings of the church grow and develop over time, as do the people who abide by them. At St. Vincent de Paul our most sincere efforts are to serve the poor and vulnerable. These seven principles of Catholic social teaching are what we follow. They help guide our works of charity and give us a lens with which to see our place in society.
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church has always taught God created humanity, and that all people are made in God’s image and likeness. It also affirms that each human person has dignity which cannot be taken away from them. This is the foundation for all Catholic social teaching. Human dignity must always be respected. Every type of discrimination whether based on sex, race, or religion has to be overcome. (See Genesis 5:26-27)
In whom is it easy for you to see God’s image? Are there people in whom you struggle to see God’s image? If so why?
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
We all have the ability to make a difference. Catholic social teaching reminds us that we are to use the gifts we have to better the common good. People have the right to choose which direction they want their life to go. They can accomplish this by being involved in the community through work, parish involvement, political action, and family life. One can, for example, schedule a family night. Families are the first teachers of the faith. You can call the parish or look in your bulletin for opportunities to volunteer. Can you also think of other outreach possibilities that you want to be involved in?
Rights and Responsibilities
We can acknowledge human dignity by assuring people have rights to live a dignified life, by justice in the world. This includes the rights to food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and security in times of hardship. There are numerous ways in which you can help others preserve their human dignity. Would you be willing to talk to local, state, or federal leaders to enact polices that protect people's rights and responsibilities?
Options for the Poor and Vulnerable
How are the most vulnerable members of our society progressing? In our society there is a growing division between the rich and the poor. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. It also serves as a key building block for St. Vincent de Paul’s mission. Who are the least brothers and sisters in our community? How are you called to serve them? You can give directly to an organization that helps people in need. If someone you know is struggling tell them about St. Vincent de Paul.
Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Concerns about working conditions prompted Pope Leo XIII to write Rerum Novarum on May 15, 1891. This document is the first firm social teaching document from the Catholic Church. One of its major themes is that people work to provide for themselves and their families. It contends that work is a way to discover our God given abilities. This sentiment is also supplemented by other encyclicals from Pope Pius XI (1931), Pope John XXIII (1961), Pope John Paul II (1991) and Pope Francis (2020). The Church challenges employers to honor laborers with fair and just wages, and safe working conditions. In addition, Catholic social teaching favors labor unions to work for justice in the workplace. The next time you go shopping, look for fair trade labels on your items. This signals that the workers, often in developing countries, were paid a just wage and had a safe work environment. Are you willing to pay an extra dollar or two to help these workers?
Solidarity is understanding that we are all part of one family, regardless of what our national, racial, ethnic, economic, or ideological differences may be (USCCB). We need to take care of all individuals, especially the poor and vulnerable. Many people throughout the world live with less than we have. Can we forgo a special coffee, fast, or give up a dessert one day a week? Save the money and then donate it to an organization that helps the poor.
Care for God's Creation
All the Earth's creations are gifts from God. Catholic social teaching invites us to find good in rustling leaves, chirping birds, snow, and babbling brooks. Sometimes it is easy to take the world we live in for granted. The Church challenges us to be good caretakers of the Earth's resources. Can we be more aware of recycling items we do not need, instead of sending them to the land fill? Can we pick up litter?
I know all of these suggestions seem overwhelming and a lot of work to do. But start with one or two of them. We can honor human dignity and better the common good. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. Together we can make the world a better place one step at a time.