The Role of Laity in Catholic Social Teaching (Part 3 of 4)
THE ROLE OF LAITY IS A PUBLIC AND PRIVATE RESPONSIBILITY
The role of the laity in implementing Catholic social teaching concerns public and private life.
As Pope Benedict XVI asked us: “Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?
“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
This connects with long-standing Church teaching going back to, at least, Pope Leo XIII who declared in 1885 (Immortale Dei, 47): “[I]t is unlawful to follow one line of conduct in private life and another in public, respecting privately the authority of the Church, but publicly rejecting it”.
Why did the Holy Father use such strong language (unlawful)? Because such inconsistency “would amount to joining together good and evil, and to putting man in conflict with himself”. (Immortale Dei, 47)
Indeed, we “ought always to be consistent, and never in the least point nor in any condition of life to swerve from Christian virtue.” (Immortale Dei, 47)
129 years later we find Pope Francis fully agreeing with his predecessor: “’Christian consistency’ is a chief trait of being a Christian. In all things of life, he said, we need ‘to think like a Christian; to feel like a Christian and to act like a Christian’”. (Homily, February 27, 2014 – L’Osservatore Romano, March 7, 2014, #10, pg. 14)
Our “inner, spiritual unity must be restored, so that faith may be the light and love the motivating force of all their actions.” (Pope St. John XXIII, 152)
VOTING AND ‘TRUTH’
While every Christian in a plural, democratic society has a responsibility to practice Catholic social teaching “in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields” (Pope Benedict XVI, 7) at the minimum this requires we exercise our right to vote.
The role of laity is founded on Truth, and we are called to shape our political positions on a well-formed conscience – based on the principles of Catholic social teaching.
Therefore, we must engage in a heartfelt and thorough investigation of what is right and just prior to exercising our political will and then by voting for candidates and positions supported by the tenets of Catholic teaching.
IS THERE ‘TRUTH’?
“It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 46)
If nothing is objectively right or wrong, nothing prevents those with more power from inflicting their ‘truth’ on others.
Building on this insight Pope Francis observed that “It also needs to be kept in mind that apart from the pursuit of truth, each individual becomes the criterion for measuring himself and his own actions…so that the concept of human rights, which has an intrinsically universal import, is replaced by an individualistic conception of rights.” (Pope Francis)
“This leads to an effective lack of concern for others and…to human impoverishment and cultural aridity” where-in “we no longer have the capacity to build authentic human relationships marked by truth and mutual respect.” (Pope Francis)
THIS IS NOT EASY!
Whether it be 1st Century Rome or 21st Century America “Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking. And ”Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
Living and defending the Truth has never been easy.
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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