The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities: to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.
When a family member is reduced to poverty, we have an obligation to help.
35When one of your kindred is reduced to poverty and becomes indebted to you, you shall support that person like a resident alien; let your kindred live with you.
Give from what you have received and do not turn away from the poor.
5“Through all your days, son, keep the Lord in mind, and do not seek to sin or to transgress the commandments. Perform righteous deeds all the days of your life, and do not tread the paths of wickedness. 6 For those who act with fidelity, all who practice righteousness, will prosper in their affairs. 7 “Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, so that God’s face will not be turned away from you. 8Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little. 9You will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. 10For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness. 11Almsgiving is a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who practice it.
Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
16Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; 17learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. 18Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool. 19If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; 20But if you refuse and resist, you shall be eaten by the sword: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!
A legitimate government upholds the rights of the poor and vulnerable.
13Woe to him who builds his house on wrongdoing, his roof-chambers on injustice; Who works his neighbors without pay, and gives them no wages. 14Who says, “I will build myself a spacious house, with airy rooms,” Who cuts out windows for it, panels it with cedar, and paints it with vermilion. 15Must you prove your rank among kings by competing with them in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And act justly and righteously? Then he prospered. 16Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, he prospered. Is this not to know me?—oracle of the LORD.
Seek the welfare of the city, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 4Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.
Just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.
Matthew 25:31-46 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, 32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ 46 And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The rich man has a responsibility to care for Lazarus.
19“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. 22When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ 25Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. 26Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ 27He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ 29But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
God’s gifts are given to be shared.
6Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. 9As it is written: “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, 12for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. 13Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, 14while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Faith without works is dead.
14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? 17So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18Indeed someone may say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups, applying the principle of subsidiarity. Outstanding among those groups is the family, as the basic cell of society. Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good. (Pope Francis, On Care for Our Common Home [Laudato Si’. . . ], no. 157) Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. . . . Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. (Pope Francis, On Care for Our Common Home [Laudato Si. . . ‘], no. 25)
A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centers. The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. (Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth, [Caritas in Veritate. . . ], no. 43)
The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights, for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture, is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (St. John Paul II, On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful [Christifideles Laici. . . ], no. 38) We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. (St. John XXIII, Peace on Earth [Pacem in Terris. . . ], no. 11) In human society one man’s natural right gives rise to a corresponding duty in other men; the duty, that is, of recognizing and respecting that right. Every basic human right draws its authoritative force from the natural law, which confers it and attaches to it its respective duty. Hence, to claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down with the other. (St. John XXIII, Peace on Earth [Pacem in Terris. . . ], no. 30) As for the State . . . It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the working man. (St. John XXIII, Christianity and Social Progress (Mater et Magistra. . . ), no. 20)