Practicing Catholic Social Teaching is Personal and Spiritual
The practice of Catholic social teaching is both personal and spiritual.
“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.” (Pope Francis, 3.1)
Indeed, “Those engaged in charity (in whatever form) are called on to “give to others not only something of my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.” (Deus Caritas Est, 36)
“It is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance.” (Deus Caritas Est, 31)
Pope Francis reflects this point when he said “there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.” (Message for Lent, 1)
In fact, “it is quite impossible to separate the response to people’s material and social needs from the fulfillment of the profound desires of their hearts…It is clear that no economic, social or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed…He who does not give God gives too little“. (Pope Benedict XVI)
Here we hear an echo in Mother Theresa who wrote, “Pray – I must be able to give only Jesus to the world. People are hungry for God. What [a] terrible meeting [it] would be with our neighbor if we give them only ourselves.” (Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., Ed. Mother Teresa: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta (New York, Doubleday, 2007) page 281.)
Remember, practicing Catholic social teaching is personal and spiritual.
We are warned: practicing corporal works of mercy or Catholic social teaching is important – but has limits: “The primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material or technical solutions. Rather it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ“. (Pope Benedict XVI)
This “Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity…without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.” (Caritas in Veritate, 2)
So “simple activism” is not enough, even if the level of activism is “heroic”. If the exterior action is not born of a profound and intimate communion with Christ” it can be pointless. (Pope Benedict XVI)
As Pope Benedict XVI said: “Truth opens and invites our minds in the logos of love: This is the Christian proclamation and testimony of charity.” (Caritas in Veritate, 4)
That is why “we must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world, but should rather be guided by the faith which works through love.” (Deus Caritas Est, 33)
IT REQUIRES PRAYER
While “it is clear that we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity“, (Pope Benedict XVI, 3) “It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work.” (Deus Caritas Est, 37)
Why? Because, “Without daily prayer lived with fidelity, our acts are empty, they lose their profound soul, and are reduced to being mere activism which in the end leaves us dissatisfied.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
In fact, “Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.” (Deus Caritas Est, 18)
Practicing Catholic social teaching is personal and spiritual!
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
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