UN Dispatch: Planting Seeds of the Kingdom

December 22, 2016

Photograph of a UN General Assembly meeting on the environment by Agencia Brasil and used under CC-BY-3.0-Brazil.

This post was written for the Catholic Social Teaching Corner by Fr. Francis Belanger, OP, the promoter of social justice for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph.

This winter and spring, while on sabbatical, I am working with the Dominican Leadership Conference at their United Nations office in New York City. Accredited by them, I have been privileged to attend various U.N. meetings and conferences – on human trafficking, on migration, on the question of Palestine, on clean energy, etc. The problems of the world can seem overwhelming. What can a few religious and their collaborators do against the great social and economic forces of the world? Yet Dominicans are preachers, and perhaps it is smallness that is the very power of the preacher. We can change the world by planting the seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The U.N. emphasizes large scale and directed action to confront world problems such as human rights abuses, poverty, war. It engages workers, collaborators and peacekeepers all over and collaborates with its member states. Acknowledging the necessity of this, preachers work differently. We start simply with the Word and, typically, a single congregation. We seek to transform a small group of people, but it is an effort with a universal relevance. Abstracting from the nitty gritty of all the world’s troubles, preachers introduce Christ into people’s lives, just as Christ came – small and insignificant – 2,000 years ago. Every sermon, talk, or lecture is another Bethlehem, with its long-lasting ramifications.

The biggest change needed in the world is the conversion of the human soul – from selfishness to love and from error to truth. Preaching the Gospel thus has a twofold power to effect big changes. First, since every social evil involves a network of sin and ignorance, it can be undone when just a few key people, having heard a forthright preaching message, say “no”. Thus the chain of sin is broken. But more than that – since the Christian’s fundamental word is “yes” – those who have heard the Word of salvation and liberation should themselves be the main actors on the world stage – impelling governments and societies by sheer moral force towards the good. Christ taught that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed…” (Matthew 13:31) With the small seed of a homily, God can bring great trees of justice and peace.

Emphasizing simplicity doesn’t mean one ignores the problems that are talked about at the U.N. or demean the institution’s efforts. The Church’s whole body of social teaching throws light on questions of political and economic reality and reflects much common ground with the U.N. The Dominican Constitutions exhort friars both to study sacred Tradition and to “open their mind to contemporary discoveries and problems.” (LCO 81) To fail to include social questions in preaching is to derogate from the Truth. But one must also remember Christ’s admonition to be the “salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) There are moral and social agendas favored at the U.N. which are inimical to Catholic teaching.  Without detailing them, one can mention that the Church seems like the “voice of one crying out in the desert” (Matthew 3:3) in regard to the irreplaceable role that the traditional family plays in the social and moral fabric of nations.

“We proclaim Christ crucified…” (1 Corinthians 1:23) St. Paul asserted this central message of Christian preaching and it applies to the Church’s social message today. We are to preach about God cognizant of the problems of the world. This is precisely what the Crucifixion is: God in the Person of the Son taking on the evil and sufferings of wounded creation. Looking at the world around us, taking on its troubles through a studious mind and compassionate heart, the Preacher proclaims God’s Word of salvation, with faith in its transformative power.

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