QUESTION: In an adult education talk in my parish, the presenter said we should know the social teaching of the Catholic Church. It was more of a passing comment, but it struck me that I was not sure what she was talking about. Is it a document or set of issues, or what?
ANSWER: From the New Testament time to our own, the church of Christ has spoken out on many issues related to a disciple’s life in the world. Thus, abortion, war and violence, slavery, the role of women and children in society, education, freedom of religion and so much more became a part of the teaching of the Catholic Church.
There is a 500-page volume that has gathered much of that teaching (especially that of more recent centuries). It was compiled by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and published in 2004. There one can find much of the more modern teachings of the Catholic Church on a wide array of topics.
In addition, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has provided a brief summary of the social teaching of the church under the title of “Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching” (go to www.usccb.org and search for “seven themes.”). This very brief survey is an excellent beginning for those who want to explore this significant part of the church’s teaching.
The first of these themes is “Life and Dignity of the Human Person.” This theme is not specifically about any one issue but lays the foundation for everything the church believes about living out our baptismal call. This theme roots all of the others in the fundamental teaching that every life is sacred and that all life has dignity.
The second theme is the “Call to Family, Community and Participation.” Not only is the individual sacred, but the way in which our life together is organized is critical if we are to live out our mission. Our social structures, beginning with the family, must provide an environment for the growth of each person.
The third involves “Rights and Responsibilities.” This theme challenges us to look beyond the legitimate call to rights by adding the balance of responsibility. Therefore, we must account for what we have been given in this life now and at the moment of judgment.
“The Option for the Poor and Vulnerable” is the fourth theme. While there are many needs in our society, some have priority. These are those relating to the most vulnerable.
“The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers” is the fifth theme. While productivity and a solid economy are a concern for us all, the church believes that these aspects must ultimately be at the service of the people.
“Solidarity” is the sixth theme and is at the heart of the church’s appreciation for the bonds that unite us, as people come into this world as the image and likeness of God. Whatever our differences, we are fundamentally brothers and sisters in the human family
Finally, “Care for God’s Creation” is the final theme. Not only do we share bonds as one human family, but we also inhabit the same earth. Care for our common home is not optional.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.