By Liz Quirin and Tom Sheridan Catholic News Service
This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: How is Catholic social teaching relevant today? Liz Quirin, editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., says we must hold ourselves accountable to and for the least among us. Tom Sheridan, former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., says that a faith that proclaims love will challenge injustice.
Holding ourselves accountable to and for the least among us
By Liz Quirin
Paying attention does not require shouting; sometimes silence accomplishes more than noise. We live in a noisy world with so much distraction that sometimes the quiet can call us more clearly than a commanding voice. Prayer also requires a certain silence so God can speak to our hearts.
I attended several of the annual protests against the U.S. Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia, where Catholic social teaching was being lived, and what I recall most vividly is the silence.
Over the years, thousands of people, many still in high school or college, went to rallies and to teach-ins with Jesuits who have long been against wars and against nuclear armament, favoring peaceful discussions and the uplifting of people instead of destruction.
After the assassinations of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in San Salvador, El Salvador, the Jesuits became much more visible in their strong support for social justice.
At the protests, the air thrummed with the energy of conversation, of dialogue, of song and of a yearning for peace.
But the most striking part of the weekend was the Sunday morning marches when 10,000 people stood in silence, holding white crosses inscribed with the names of people who had "disappeared," mostly in Central and South America at the hands of cruel dictators and their military henchmen, some of whom attended the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
The silence was as powerful as any speaker or any message; it spoke volumes about loss and respect.
One of the seven themes of Catholic social teaching is solidarity, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website:
"We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers and sisters keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.
"Pope Paul VI taught that if you want peace, work for justice. The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict."
Catholic social teaching remains relevant and perhaps more important today than ever before as some of our young people search for their purpose and their place in an increasingly violent and chaotic world that seems to value life less and less.
What would our champions of social justice such as Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa call us to do today? They would urge us to stand and speak for those who have no voice, no place at the table.
We have so many areas where justice is being denied here and abroad. Our immigrants from the south who are living in the shadows need safety and security. Refugee families from war-torn areas in the Middle East have lost so much, some even their lives. They're fleeing and dying while we try to figure out what to do. They can't wait.
Problems with water -- too much or too little or too polluted -- plague many areas of our country. Too much development without an eye to conservation hurts present and future generations. The planet is suffering, some would say dying.
We can no longer afford to wait for someone else to resolve these crises. While we wait, problems escalate. While some people have begun to act, we need everyone, an "all hands on deck" philosophy, with every voice joining a chorus of those clamoring for justice.
Our pope calls us all not only to advocate for justice but also to roll up our sleeves and do the work. We must hold ourselves accountable to and for the least among us, the poorest and most vulnerable.
While some of our champions have gone to their eternal reward, our world remains a "work in progress" with people who need us to recognize them and to mitigate their pain, to find ways to reach out to them in love and friendship.
We can make a difference locally, nationally and internationally if we are guided by a faith that puts God's word above any other.
(Comments are welcome. Contact Liz Quirin at [email protected])
The contradiction of Christianity
By Tom Sheridan
The church preaches mercy and forgiveness but hates injustice with a passion.
That's the contradiction of Christianity: Faith shows a face of meekness and love while proclaiming a fierce and radical worldview.
It's a contradiction that too often gets overlooked by the people snoozing in the pews on Sunday while Father So-and-So or Deacon Whoever talks about those nice stories from the Bible.
Except ... those "nice" Bible stories can be pretty radical, making the Gospel a troublesome thing.
The Gospel energizes some people, frightens a few and generally makes a whole bunch of others very, very uncomfortable. It goes beyond a few words from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.
It's working a food pantry or homeless shelter. It's protesting war. Or griping about corporations more interested in creating stockholder wealth than good jobs and a living wage. It's raising voice for life issues such as abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia. It's advocating for a viable and just immigration policy that doesn't break up families.
It often means going against the grain of culture.
Need an example? In late May, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Dylann Roof, the young South Carolina racist accused of slaughtering nine people during a Bible discussion at a predominately African-American church, will face the death penalty. Many Americans, including Catholics, still support the death penalty.
Yet, Pope Francis, citing evolving Catholic social teaching and echoing other popes and bishops, has called for abolishing capital punishment. "Justice will never be reached by killing a human being," he said in March.
The crime Roof is accused of is indeed a heinous one. But adding one more death to nine is senseless.
This is the prophetic voice of the church. Not just about capital punishment, but also about the poor, the marginalized and many of life's rampant injustices.
It's a voice too many Catholics don't like to hear, let alone heed. Nor is the contradiction truly a contradiction: A faith that proclaims love will challenge injustice.
Preaching about Catholic social teaching is frequently unwelcome. There's very little worse for a homilist than to stand at the door of the church following Mass and have parishioners shake your hand and tell you how much they just "loooooved" your homily about Catholic social justice.
More than once I've wanted to scream, "If you loved it, you weren't paying attention. It was supposed to make you squirm!"
The Gospel is a troublemaker.
Back when the agitation was beginning to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein, it was patriotic to support the war effort. St. John Paul II was wary about the need and the goal, and feared for the long-term stability of the area and the population. He decried further war. Few people cared.
My suburban parish wasn't much different. There was support for the invasion. Preaching about peace and pope's plea one Sunday was uncomfortable. And ended with protests that my homily was political and unpatriotic. It was neither, and surely reflected Catholic social teaching. And it got me lots of cold shoulders after Mass.
It's not only homilists who are called to proclaim the Gospel. That's because very few of those injustices the Gospel calls for radical actions against actually take place at Mass. It all happens in the real world, in the public square, where people live the rest of their lives.
And bringing faith to the public square is what the Gospel is all about.
Too many Catholics at Mass (perhaps especially those snoozing ones) don't realize that they, too, are prophets. Or are supposed to be.
Mass may begin with the entrance rite, but must not end with "Go in peace ..."
(Comments are welcome. Contact Tom Sheridan at [email protected])[[In-content Ad]]