Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Social Justice and the Paschal Mystery

April 10, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching provides glasses to look at the world. It gives us principles by which we can judge the failings and successes of a social situation or political plan. Concern for the poor, the respect of human dignity from conception until natural death, the just distribution or resources, the duty to be peacemakers, economic freedom, religious freedom – all of these and more characterize a just society. Most of all, the social magisterium allows us to unite our public life with center of our faith, the Paschal mystery. The first part of the Paschal mystery is the suffering of Christ. Love for our sorrowful Lord spurs us to compassion. In light of Catholic teaching, we see the crucifixion lived out in so many places. There is the tremendous poverty of the developing world; the repression of so many beaten down and imprisoned by the Roman soldiery of political repression or the Pharisaical energy of religious extremism; and the untold millions lost to the horror of legalized abortion. Catholic Social Teaching calls us to look upon such sorrow and, like the Blessed Mother gazing at her crucified Son, be moved with a compassion that only faith in God can save from despair. St. Katherine Drexel used to travel the country by train with her wealthy family when she was a child. She was moved by the sight of the suffering of two of America’s beleaguered minorities: African Americans and Native Americans. Inheriting the equivalent in today’s money of tens of millions of dollars, she would found a religious order dedicated to helping those peoples and giving away virtually every last penny of her fortune. St. Katharine’s experience of compassion as a child bore fruit in a way that gives a powerful lesson to the wealthy countries of the world: riches are meant to be shared. The second part of the Paschal mystery, so to speak, is the Resurrection. As we suffer with the needy in the world, we also have the promise of Christ’s victory. Too much reading of the news and pondering the failings of political leaders can lead to discouragement. But justice and peace can spring up in the most unexpected ways. Martin Luther King, Jr,. quoted Amos 5:24 so memorably: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” True progress – what the popes like to call “integral development” – comes from God and can come in a life-giving flood. No doubt there was Divine power in the successes of the civil rights movement and we can hope for similar victories in other areas. Indeed faithful Catholics played the leading role in one of the most astonishing victories for social justice in the twentieth century: the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. The memorable symbol of this momentous reversal was the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the movement’s success was spurred by the Solidarity union in Poland and energized by the election to the papacy of Blessed John Paul II. Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa led this movement against Communist repression under the banner of Our Lady of Czestochowa, culminating in the election of Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki as Prime Minister. Thereafter, in a series of events which should still cause wonder, one virtually bloodless revolution after another brought down Communist tyranny in central and eastern Europe. It is hardly a stretch to call this historic turn of events an instance of the Resurrection manifested in human events. The Paschal mystery is lived out in the lives of individuals but also in the world at large. As Christians we are called to enter the mystery of suffering in the world, just as our Savior came from heaven to be with us. The glasses given to us by Catholic Social Teaching attune us ever more to the wrongs that exist. But, in light of the our Easter faith, our interaction with society should be marked by a hope that that justice and truth can ring forth anywhere. We strive for this so that the world we live in will ever more resemble the Kingdom to come.

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