The Role of Laity in Catholic Social Teaching (Part 1 of 4)
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
Let’s explore the role of laity in implementing Catholic social teaching.
The question “what must I do” might best be considered in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s insightful observation: In a society that loses sight of God, “man tends to fall back ever more on himself, to close himself in an airless existential microcosm.”
The result of this social ‘self-referencing’ leads to “extreme individualism or to relativism” leaving us “in a prolonged infancy or adolescence”.
“On the other hand, man who overcomes himself and does not allow himself to be closed in the narrow confines of his own egoism is capable of an authentic contemplation of others and of creation.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
This is where Catholic social teaching comes to the fore!
WHAT DOES IT LEAD TO?
Pope St. John Paul II called for the Church to announce, “Christ to leaders, men and women alike, insisting especially on the formation of consciences on the basis of the Church’s social doctrine.” (Ecclesia in America, 67)
He saw how, “This formation will act as the best antidote to the not infrequent cases of inconsistency and even corruption marking socio-political structures.” (Ecclesia in America, 67)
He also noted that, “Conversely, if this evangelization of the leadership sector is neglected, it should not come as a surprise that many who are a part of it will be guided by criteria alien to the Gospel and at times openly contrary to it.” (Ecclesia in America, 67)
THE ROLE OF LAITY: CHANGE THE STRUCTURES OF SOCIETY
One way to express Catholic social teaching’s purpose is: To inform lay Catholic leaders’ consciences on how we are to interact with and impact upon the framework of society with the principles of Catholic social teaching – Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
This was echoed by Pope Benedict XVI (Homily) when he also encouraged Catholics to become acquainted with the social teachings of the Church so that we can change:
- Our lifestyles.
- Our models of production and consumption.
- The established structures of power which today govern societies. (Centesimus Annus, 58)
Why? Because “decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38)
THE ROLE OF LAITY: TO DESTROY AND BUILD
There are structures of society that need to be destroyed. There are structures that need to be built. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “To destroy structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience.” (Centesimus Annus, 38)
In summary, this is what Catholic social teaching is about – to have Catholics form their consciences on its principles so that they may change their own lives first, and then change the world.
Catholic social teaching is not a theory, it is “above all else a basis and a motivation for action.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 57)
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)