The problem with Catholic Social Teaching today is not that it is unknown, but rather that it is almost too commonplace.
[This post was originally published by the author at the St. Augustine Catholic Parish (Oakland, CA) Young Adult Blog.]
It used to be said that Catholic Social Teaching was the “best kept secret” of the Catholic Church. I am not sure that is really true anymore. My experience as a Catholic school teacher and my conversations with many friends in the same field make it clear that anyone who has gone through Catholic High School in the past decade has a thorough instruction in the social tradition of the Church. Catholic colleges under the rubric of Catholic Social Teaching were far ahead of the surge of mission trips and volunteer opportunities that have now become a normative part of the “college experience” even at non-Catholic schools. And in the past decade or two, social justice ministries have become standard in most Catholic parishes, with some larger parishes even employing a full-time social justice minister. Here at St. Augustine, incidentally, “social justice” (a heading that includes our Corazon mission, St. Vincent de Paul, and our Kenya Project) was our second most popular answer to “Where do we want to grow at St. A’s?” and our eighth most popular response to “What do we value at St. A’s?” in our recent parish transition meeting.
It seems to me, that the problem with Catholic Social Teaching today is not that it is unknown, but rather that it is almost too commonplace. We take it for granted that as Catholics we stand for human life and human dignity and that we stand on the side of the poor and the vulnerable without ever really reflecting on how special that is, or what that really ought to require of us. Like most faiths, Catholicism has a set of moral standards for how individuals ought to act: rules of individual behavior like “thou shall not kill” and “honor thy father and mother.” But unlike many other belief systems, our faith also teaches us a vision of society that we are to work toward together – a vision of what God’s Kingdom ought to look like. This was the subject of most of Jesus’ parables: “The Kingdom of God is like… a mustard seed… a good Samaritan… the feast for the prodigal son.” Our Church, in the body of encyclicals and conciliar documents that has come to be known collectively as Modern Catholic Social Teaching, has brought these teachings forward, examined the “signs of the times,” and identified the most pressing social concerns of our day so that we may each do our part to work toward the Kingdom of heaven. Continue reading