Is the Social Doctrine of the Church optional?
Jun 2, 2017
All human beings are created by God with a spiritual soul to be in His image and likeness. Human persons must be treated justly because of this special and unique relationship to God. Justice is the virtue that is primarily concerned with one’s relationship to the other. The virtue of justice is not only for the good of one’s self but for the good of building relationships with those around us. Being in right relationship with other is essential for happiness. Justice promotes right relationships with God, other people, and the larger society. The virtue of justice is giving to others what they deserve.
As human persons, acting justly is necessary for our happiness. As Christians, justice to God, individuals, and society is required for a life of virtue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right” (1778). Catholic social doctrine is the gift of the Church to all people and all nations to guide and form man in justice and righteousness. The goal of Catholic social teaching is salvation; it is the “integral salvation” of Christ which, “embraces all mankind” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 1). The social doctrine of the Church teaches that, “salvation…permeates this world in the realities of the economy and labor, of technology and communications, of society and politics, of the international community and the relations among cultures and peoples” (CSDC, 1). Catholic social teaching allows people to discover that they are loved by God (CSDC, 4).
Living according to Catholic social teaching is the right and responsibility of all Catholic Christians. Before Catholic social teaching was doctrine, it was lived and put into action. The social teaching of the Church is rooted in Salvation History. In the beginning, we see how the world ought to be. Adam and Eve are in right relationship with one another, God, and creation. As a result of the Fall, sin and disorder hurt those relationships. In order to help His people reorient their lives back to the ideal, God gave the Law. The Decalogue not only commands faithfulness to God, but, “also the social relations among the people of the covenant…regulated, in particular, by what has been called the right of the poor” (CSDC, 23).
The preferential option for the poor is proclaimed in the beginning of the New Testament with Mary’s Magnificat. At the Annunciation, the Blessed Mother sings, “He as filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” Later in the Gospels, Jesus teaches about judgement and salvation. He states that those who do not care for the poor, “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
Caring for the poor promotes their flourishing, therefore allows all individuals to contribute their gifts and talents to the common good. The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World teaches that the common good is, “the sum total of social conditions that allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (26). The common good requires that individuals and societies respect inherent human rights and promote the well-being of various groups. In order for this to happen, authority figures must promote peace to ensure justice (Pennock, Michael. Your Life in Christ., 45). The common good is rooted in the natural law that human rights come from God. Jesus Christ is the fundamental norm for Christian morality and the moral law finds its source in the Trinity, who is a perfect relationship of love. As Christians, we have a responsibility to follow the civil law, if that law is just. As citizens, we are responsible for, “build(ing) up the virtues of solidarity and social justice, and promote the dignity of each human person” (Pennock, 205).
We also have the right and responsibility to promote the Gospel in society and speak out against policies and laws that contradict the Gospel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “the citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospels” (2242). The social doctrine of the Church is for, “the religious and moral order” (CSDC, 82).
Catholic social teaching offers opportunities and challenges to the Christian person. We are called to bring all to Christ. It is our sacred duty to create a world where people have a chance to be the person God made them to be. We are to build a, “civilization of love” as Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed in 2001.