March 17, 2010 // Local

Social justice as the Church defines it

With the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, as wells the traditional news outlets — newspapers, television networks, radio and cable TV — it doesn’t take long for a message to travel the world. We saw that recently with the quake in Chile. Families were utilizing the Internet to check on loved ones.

But sometimes in this age of instant communications, it is necessary to know the truth and beauty of our Catholic faith. Last week, radio and TV personality Glenn Beck encouraged Christians and Catholics to leave churches that preach “social justice” or “economic justice.”

Also in his program, the TV-radio personality held up cards, one with a hammer and sickle — symbolizing communism; the other a swastika, symbolizing the Nazis. Beck noted in the program, “Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That’s what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. … But on each banner, read the words, here in America: ‘social justice.’ They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls social justice “the respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity and guarantee it. Society must provide the conditions that allow people to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and vocation.”

The truth is neither communism or Nazism represent social justice as we see it in the Catholic Church. Neither came anywhere near the “respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity and guarantee it” as the Church defines social justice.

Beck, who no longer practices the Catholic faith and claims the Morman Church as his religion, might mean well and perhaps has not explained himself well, but his words may cause some confusion about Catholic social justice teaching, which is at the heart of practicing our faith.

Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, “Caritas In Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) says, “‘Caritas in veritate’ is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action.”

When, for example, we see suffering from a massive earthquake in Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, we are called to action. We take up a collection — the second highest in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend with funds reaching $561,000 — to assist Catholic Relief Services in their efforts to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless — to answer their present needs. We see fellow Catholics taking action, such as Ann-Marie Thomas, an operating room nurse, who left South Bend to assist those in Haiti wounded by the quake. It is a call from God, our love for God and neighbor, that pulls our own hearts to assist in any way we can.

In any given week in Today’s Catholic, we see stories about our diocese, people of our faith, taking a role in social justice — assisting and taking up collections for the Women’s Care Centers; taking a stand through prayers or promoting the dignity of every life, including the unborn; coming to the aid of fellow parishioners who face tragedy; feeding the hungry at the food pantries that many of our parishes or our communities sponsor. These are examples of the Church’s role in social justice.

In James we read, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and 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? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Could you imagine if Jesus would have turned his back on the hungry thousands of people who gathered to hear His words? He would have never said, “Fend for yourself.” Rather, the opportunity of fives loaves and five fishes was multiplied with baskets left over. God in His glory fed the masses of the hungry — those who hungered for our Lord’s words and hungered physically.

It is important for Catholics to know their Church and her teachings. It is important to know the truths of our faith and to incorporate our faith into our daily lives, not just a Sunday obligation, but an everyday obligation. Living the Church’s definition of social justice is living as Jesus taught each of us to live.

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