Simple Ways to Help the World: The Practice of Catholic Social Teaching
Dorothy never thought of her hospitality as Catholic social teaching, but she modeled it perfectly. She and her husband, Wally, had the means to build a country home ninety minutes from their suburban St. Louis, Missouri, neighborhood, but they never thought of it as theirs in any exclusive sense. They understood the principle of the common good and shared their country home with anyone who needed space and time away. Local peace and justice groups and Catholic Worker residents, as well as extended family members and friends, treasured it as a place for personal renewal.
This principle of the common good is at the core of Catholic social teaching and is elaborated in seven other principles: care for God’s creation; the life and dignity of the human person; the rights and responsibilities of the human person; the dignity of work and rights of workers; the solidarity of the human family; the option for the poor and vulnerable; and the call to family, community, and participation.
Simply put, Catholic social teaching helps us understand and put into practice the two great commandments Jesus proclaimed: love God totally and love our neighbor as ourselves. As the story of the Good Samaritan and the ministry of Jesus reveal, our neighbor is everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable. And Catholic social teaching makes it clear that this extensive love of neighbor expresses itself in two forms of action: the works of mercy (direct service, such as donating to food pantries) and the works of justice (social change, such as legislation to expand the foodstamp program).
Catholic social teaching is nothing more or less than bringing the Gospel message to the social issues of our time. Reflecting on the types of people that Jesus embraced "the least of these" (see Mt 25:31-45) should help us resist cultural messages of who is valuable and put into practice the first principle of Catholic social teaching, which is the dignity of every person. Praying daily for the poor and marginalized people of our community, nation, and world, and for the grace to be able to serve them, will lead us to learn more about them and find ways of reaching out.
Our friend Sandy does this in part through the prayer group that she and her husband, Bob, have belonged to for almost thirty years. It’s out of this prayerful center that Sandy occasionally prepares and shares meals with the women and children at the Karen Catholic Worker House in St. Louis. Through these encounters, personal relationships began to develop. It is precisely such relationships that motivate all of us to loving and sacrificial action over the long haul. Moreover, when these relationships become mutually enriching experiences, then justice is being done. Christian service means "doing with" more than "doing for." This means eliciting people’s stories and learning to listen with our hearts. Such opportunities are readily available if we are watching for them with a prayerful and generous heart.