The Church’s social teaching is a rich treasury of wisdom about promoting justice and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Catholic social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliar, and episcopal documents. (“Papal” means from a Pope, “conciliar” means from a Church Council and “Episcopal” means from a Bishop or a group of Bishops.)
Each week there will be a brief presentation of portions of several of these documents, but if you are interested in more information, most of them can be found online in their entirety. In these weekly reflections, we will highlight key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition. We will also read various passages of scripture to verify and support these teachings on social justice.
Sept. 26: Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Oct. 3: Call to Family, Community, and Participation
Oct. 10: Rights and Responsibilities
Oct. 17: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
Oct. 24: The Dignity of Work and the Right of Workers
Oct. 31: Solidarity
Nov. 7: Care for God’s Creation
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church proclaims that human life from conception to natural death is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion, doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. The Church teaches that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
God created man and woman in his image
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. 27God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. 29 God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; 30and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. 31God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.
Catechism #355 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is “in the image of God”; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created “male and female”; (IV) God established him in his friendship.
God loves the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the immigrant.
17 For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. 19 So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.
God formed each of us and knows us intimately.
13You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. 15My bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. 16our eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down, my days were shaped, before one came to be.
The Lord is the maker of both rich and poor.
2Rich and poor have a common bond: the LORD is the maker of them all.
The good Samaritan recognized the dignity in the other and cared for his life.
25 There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” 27He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 32Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. 33But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. 34He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ 36Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 37He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Love one another, contribute to the needs of others, live peaceably with all.
9Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. 11Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
You are holy, for you are God’s temple and God dwells in you.
16Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
All Christians are one in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Honor the poor.
1My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please,” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs? 5Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? 6But you dishonored the poor person. Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you? 8However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
See what love the Father has for us, that we should be called Children of God.
1 John 3: 1-2 1 See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Let us love one another because love is from God.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. 8Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. 9In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. 10In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. 12No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. (Pope Francis, On Care for Our Common Home [‘Laudato Si’. . .], no. 117)
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised, they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium. . . ], no. 153)
The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner. (Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth [Caritas in Veritate. . . ], no. 32)
Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are. (St. John Paul II, On the Hundredth Year [. . . Centesimus annus]. . . , no. 11)
The basis for all that the Church believes about the moral dimensions of economic life is its vision of the transcendent worth — the sacredness — of human beings. The dignity of the human person, realized in community with others, is the criterion against which all aspects of economic life must be measured.
All human beings, therefore, are ends to be served by the institutions that make up the economy, not means to be exploited for more narrowly defined goals. Human personhood must be respected with a reverence that is religious. When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred. For that is what human beings are: we are created in the image of God (Gn 1:27). (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, no. 28)
Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15). (St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [. . . Evangelium vitae. . . ], no. 3)
As explicitly formulated, the precept “You shall not kill” is strongly negative: it indicates the extreme limit which can never be exceeded. Implicitly, however, it encourages a positive attitude of absolute respect for life; it leads to the promotion of life and to progress along the way of a love which gives, receives and serves. (St. John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium vitae. . . ],no. 54)
This teaching rests on one basic principle: individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution. That is necessarily so, for men are by nature social beings. (St. John XXIII, Mother and Teacher [. . . Mater et Magistra. . . ], no. 219)
There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel. Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. . . , no. 1938)
Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. (Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World [. . . Gaudium et Spes. . . ], no. 27)