Overview of Catholic Social Teaching

We Catholics live both in the Church and in the world. It is the same person who goes to Mass, receives the sacraments, and who works in the home, in the factory, in the professions and the marketplace. There can be no split between faith and life, between religion and reality.

Catholic social teaching(CST) is the means the Catholic Church uses to help people see how the Gospel pertains to the world they live in, how faith relates to the world.

Jesus teaches us how to live the Christian life. A Christian is one who follows in the way marked out by the Lord. Jesus tells us "Call no man your teacher; you have only one Teacher," and Jesus is that Teacher. He says: "I am the Way, the Life, and Truth" (In 14:6). He continues to teach His morality, His code for good living, through the Church He established. One of the principle duties of the Church is to form our conscience by teaching us the values and moral principles of the Gospels. This conscience accompanies us everywhere

The Church has two competencies, two areas where she has full authority, given to her by God. These are: faith and morals. Faith includes God's plan for His human universe, the most important universe, and we find this expressed in the Creed and the catechism. Moralitv presupposes this understanding, and applies this to all the choices and action we perform from moment to moment. Sacred Scripture assures us, that at the end of time, at the second coming of the Lord, we shall all have to give an accounting for our time, talents, and treasure. This present life then, is not a vacation or free time. It is a time for purposeful planning and action on behalf of the good, the true, the honorable, the dignified, whatever fulfills us as human persons.

Catholic social teaching deals with morality, but in a way not often thought about by many people. Most think about morality in terms of a personal, or private, morality, for example, the ten commandments and how they pertain to my personal life. And this is extremely important. Nothing can substitute for personal morality. But, as persons, we are not only individuals but also social. We are individual persons with a social nature. This calls for, then, a public morality, a social morality, with a corresponding social conscience. This is where CST comes to our help.

Jesus calls his followers both to lead a life of personal integrity and to help construct a just social order a just society.

What does a just society look like? What is a model for a just social order which could be proposed to all the citizens of the world, who live in 160 sovereign nations? This is what CST was devised to do.

God has a plan for the human race He created. He has a design for how all the people on this earth can live together in peace, in solidarity, in justice, in a "civilization of love" to us a phrase of Pope Paul VI. That plan, call it the moral order, can be known by each of - us. After all, it can be found both in Sacred Scripture and by the use of clear-headed thinking. We should know this plan. Something is wrong with us if we do not know it (Jer 31:33; Rom 1: 19-23).

Here is a very simple, maybe deceptively simple, model of a just social order as presented by CST:

What are the services to society that each of these components must provide? What services must the economy provide, the Church, the state, education, if a society of people is to flourish and pursue its authentic fulfillment?

CST takes up all these components and analyses and explains what their contribution is to the whole.

For example, what does authentic marriage and family life look like? If a society is only as good and healthy as its families and the quality of family life, then what makes for good marriages and family life? Another example: if a sound economy is a basic prerequisite for a mater) ally healthy society, then what must be found in a just economic order, a just economy? This applies to liberal capitalism, collectivist Marxism, welfare socialism, and many shadings in between.

A term often used to express the ideal towards which all the components of a just social order are directed is the "common good." This is defined as the "sum of all the social conditions whereby persons, families, and peoples, can readily pursue and achieve their fulfillment." Thus, all the components in a just society must keep the Common Good uppermost in their decisions and their actions. The Common Good involves each person, and the whole society. It is "all for one, and one for all."

Another way to explain CST is to contrast it with other ways of explaining the world we live in. Let us contrast it with the term "humanism."

"Humanism usually means secular humanism, a way of thinking coming out of the 15th century Renaissance. It is a doctrine, or way of life, centered on human interests or values. As a philosophy it usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses the individual's self-sufficiency and autonomy, and our capacity for self-fulfillment by the use of human reason. The flaw in this explanation of the world, this secular humanism, is that it shuts out God and anything "beyond this world," The world of the supernatural. Some varieties of secular humanism, e.g., existentialism, hold that if there is a God, then we cannot be free; we cannot pursue self-fulfillment; we cannot become masters of our own destiny. In short, if there is a God, such as the God of Revelation, then we cannot be gods.

The Catholic Church, in her social teaching, holds that a true humanism must be open to the transcendent, open to God, open to realities which suppress us. A Christian view of the human condition realizes that we are creatures, not the Creator; that everything we have is a gift to usówe are not completely autonomous or self-sufficient; that we live on this planet only 70-80 years, while our spirits yearn for immorality. A Christian humanism holds that the human person is the highest of God's material creation. We are above all the other creatures on this planet, while remaining subordinate to higher creatures, pure-spirits like the angels. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and this is seen primarily in our highest gifts and powers: the use of reason and the use of free will. Our minds were designed to know the truth: the truth about God, about ourselves, and about the universe we live in. Our free wills were designed to pursue the good, to love the good, I and to do this freely. God never forces His plans, or His will, upon us. He always respects our freedom, our status as free agents, our personhood. Think of Mary, the mother of the Savior; think of the Apostles, most of - whom accepted martyrdom rather than reject God; think of St. Francis, of St. Teresa of Avila.

Secular humanism does not do justice to our human condition. John Dewey, an American philosopher, and "patron saint" of the American public school ; system, strongly supported secular humanism. It is inevitable that this way of thinking, this ideology, leaves it mark upon young people in public schools.

A second contrast to CST is Marxist collectivism. A third contrast is liberal capitalism. Like secular humanism, these ways of explaining the world compete for the hearts, the loyalties, and the imaginations of millions of people throughout the world.

Liberal capitalism emerged around 1750 with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. It attempts to explain all human affairs in terms of economics, and is very material minded. Raising the material standard of living for everyone is admirable, but if this becomes the sole purpose in life, then it results in crass materialism, and consumerism. Liberal capitalism stresses the absolute autonomy of the individual capitalist, or owner of capital. The capitalist could do anything he wanted with his wealth and property. It suffers the same defects of secular humanism. The worst form of liberal capitalism was "laissez-faire capitalism," which stressed self-made men, cut-throat competition, mere subsistence wages for workers, and no protection for the workers by social legislation. Over the years, the worst aspects of capitalism have been removed. The form of capitalism in the United States today would I be called "democratic" or "welfare." It has many checks end balances, with many in-built self-correcting measures. As a way of organizing the economy order, it has much to its credit. The eastern European countries are all turning to open-market varieties of democratic capitalism.

Marxist collectivism was the brainchild of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who were both appalled at the plight of the workers throughout 19th century Europe. Their concern for the social question is admirable. Their solution to it, however, has proven to be worse than the original problem. Marx thought that every capitalist, every owner the means of production, exploited the workers who owned no property. He thought that the original sin was private property. If only we can destroy private property, he argued, and restore it to the people, the collectivity, the proletariat, then the economy will work.

Marx was an atheist. For him, the only heaven there is will be found here on earth. Religion distracts people from the real work at hand and allows them to long for a heaven elsewhere. Thus his maxim: "Religion is the opiate of the people." Following this line of reason, Joseph Stalin closed thousands of churches, convents, monasteries and religious institutions all throughout the Soviet Union. He prepared to build the "workers' paradise," where the "dictatorship of the proletariat" would govern all, and the "state would eventually wither away," leaving a heavenly "classless society."

The Roman Pontiffs, beginning with Pope Leo XIII, have roundly condemned a Marxist worldview as being atheistic, crassly materialistic, suppressive of natural human rights, among which is the right to own property; as being a totalitarian state, and as having a view of society completely at variance with Christianity.

CST, especially in Pope John Paul II's On Social Concern (1987), is highly critical of both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism. Both are seriously flawed. Anatole Konalski, an expert on the Catholic Church for the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, in an interview on Nov.25, 1989 in Moscow, praised the pope's "new way of looking at the world, putting Marxist collectivism and capitalist economics on the same plane, and placing Catholicism above states and systems." He said that the pope's social encyclical, On Social Concerns, made possible the dialogue between the Pope and Soviet President Gorbachev.

As Catholics, and as Christians, we are citizens of the world, and called to be citizens of heaven. Our faith gives us a sense of direction as to how we are to work, influence, shape, develop the world. Our faith, in turn, is based upon Jesus Christ, His teachings, His sacraments, and the Church He established. CST helps us understand the social dimension of our faith, and the requirements of our social conscience.

Useful documents which give further background on the topics covered in this first segment on CST include the following:

 Roger Charles, S.J., and Drostan Maclaren, O.P. The Social Teaching of Vatican II: Its Origin and Development San Francisco, Ignatius Press: 1982

 Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (Libertatis conscientia. March 22,1986). Order from the Daughters of St. Paul, or see Origins, April 17, 1986

 Congregation for Catholic, Education. Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Teaching in the Formation of Priests, June 27, 1989. See Origins , August 3, 1989.