Catholic Social Teaching Corner

March 21, 2012

Preaching Catholic Social Teaching in an Election Year

“Something to Offend Everyone”

Speaking about social issues during a presidential election year can be difficult, even counter-productive. Many in the pew have already aligned with a side and can view statements from the pulpit to be a subtle endorsement of a candidate. If it is not their candidate, they will close their ears or become angry. But Catholic Social Teaching is truly non-partisan. It has elements that seem liberal and elements that seem conservative, but it is not encompassed by either side. One strategy in preaching about social issues might be to take a poke at the failings of both sides–even if one’s main point is more one way than the other. It gives the clear impression that one is not partisan and it shakes people out of their merely political categories to open them up to the fullness of Catholic truth. Here is my own attempt – the “Pastor’s Column” in the St. Denis parish bulletin shortly after the HHS contraception mandate came out. For what it’s worth! Dear Parishioners,Archbishop Oscar Romero Last week before the homily I strenuously condemned a new regulation from the Obama administration that mandates coverage of abortion, sterilization and abortifacients by employers, including many Catholic institutions. I also read a passage from a letter by Bishop Libasci protesting the rule. Some may wonder if the Bishop and I violated the separation of church and state in so directly addressing an act of the government. We did not, and let me explain why. For the record, I have a strong distaste for religious rhetoric that implies too much confidence in political parties. For instance, there are certain “Catholic” voter guides that put an exclusive emphasis on issues like abortion and traditional marriage, as if there are no other aspects to Catholic Social Teaching. They all but direct the reader to vote Republican. On the other side, there are factions within the Church who put such an emphasis on social justice, as to ignore life issues. They give the impression that they the Church is “the Democratic party at prayer.” The Gospel is bigger than any political camp. It challenges everyone. We should never let a party or politician be our messiah or magisterium. So can the Church say anything about politics? Ponder this question and you will know the answer: does God have anything to do with politics? Of course He does. And so the Church must announce the Good News of Salvation not only as it pertains to individuals, but as it pertains to society. What the Church proposes in political matters are basic principles that should be the foundation of any democracy: the right to life, concern for the needy, the essential importance of the traditional family, justice and peace, etc. Catholic Social Teaching is not about politicking but rather offering moral truths that form the basis of Christian political participation. It is one thing to say you must vote for this or that candidate – that is interference; it is another to say that the state must protect unborn life – that is necessary for civilization.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko
Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko
Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko preached religious freedom and democracy in Communist Poland in the early 1980’s. The government believed he violated the separation of Church and state and they killed him. Around the same time, the Servant of God Archbishop Oscar Romero declaimed the abuses and violence of a right-wing military regime, unfortunately backed by the United States. Of course that government thought he was meddling and he was killed while celebrating Mass. We can’t leave it to government to determine what we can speak about. If we do that, we are letting the Beast (cf. Revelation 13) roam freely. Injustice must be denounced. Truth is to be proclaimed from the mountaintops. During this election year you will never hear a partisan message from the Church nor from the pulpit of St. Denis. But you will hear things that will make members of both sides uncomfortable. We can choose to listen to the voice of Christ, as spoken by His pastors, or we can choose to give ourselves totally to a political ideology – and you might not like where that takes you! Catholic Social Teaching is sometimes called the best kept secret in the Church. Consider joining our monthly meetings as we ponder this timeless wisdom. The next one is March 5th. In Christ, Fr. Francis, OP

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