Social Teaching of the Church

October 12, 2012

Sr. Tony Harris, OP

Our speaker today, Sr. Tony Harris, is the Dominican Order’s International Coordinator for JPIC. She is from USA and currently the Director of the Dominican Sisters’ JPIC Institute in Rome.

As an introduction to her topic — “Catholic Social Teaching” — Sr. Tony presented the list of countries where the SSpS Sisters are.  Out of the 193 member states of the world, the SSpS are present in 48.  And we are serving in 9 out of the 42 world’s poorest countries or countries with lowest human development (from the United Nation’s 2010 Human Development Report).

Further categorizations of countries reveal some where there is actual or potential conflict, and numerous where the conflict situation has remained unchanged.  The presence of the SSpS in a number of these countries shows the Congregation’s strong commitment to JPIC.  A commitment that is inherent to our identity as stated in our Constitutions and General Chapter Directions.

Part I

Sr. Tony emphasized that we (the consecrated men and women), whose primary task is “the proclamation of Christ to all”, are challenged to work in order to bring our reality into closer conformity with Gospel demands.  That challenge means working toward the elimination of everything in our reality that does not respect and sustain the basic dignity, fundamental rights, and decent quality of life for all persons.

Justice means:

  • to establish equality in our relationships with others
  • “right relationship”  — to do the good due one’s neighbor, community, creation, and God
  • to avoid doing evil by inflicting no injury on one’s neighbor, community or creation

Justice and Charity…

“Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account …. Let no one attempt, with small gifts of charity, to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice.”    Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris (1937)

Responding to immediate human needs (hunger, shelter, clothing, etc.) is not the same as working to change the systems that create injustices in society.  This distinction may be understood as the difference between charity and justice, the difference between works of mercy and works that change oppressive social systems.

Powerpoint presentation on the Catholic Social Teaching – Part 1  (click here)

Reflection points:

  • Of what particular injustices are you aware in the places where you live and serve?
  • Recall efforts that the Congregation, through its members, have made and are making to create a better world.

Part II

Social Doctrine is rooted in the Scriptures and Tradition.

From the Scriptures…

  • Isaiah – “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
  • Matthew –  “Jesus himself proclaims:  ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’”

In biblical faith, the doing of justice is the primary expectation of Yahweh. (Walter Brueggeman)

Justice in the biblical sense is achieved when each person has what she or he needs to survive, to develop and thrive, and to give back to the community.

From Tradition…

Ancestors of Faith:

  • St. Ambrose – “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.  For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”
  • St. John Chrysostom – “Would you honor the Body of Christ?  Do not despise his nakedness; do not honor him here in the church clothed in silk vestments and then pass him by unclothed and frozen outside.”
  • SSpS Ancestors – St. Arnold Janssen, Bl. Maria Helena and Bl. Josepha – their word and witness that support the SSpS work to promote JPIC.

Major Themes from Catholic Social Teaching

1.    Human dignity
2.    Community
3.    Rights and duties
4.    Option for the poor
5.    Participation
6.    Economic Justice
7.    Stewardship of Creation
8.    Solidarity
9.    Role of Government
10.  Promotion of Peace

Some Documents of the Church

•  Rerum Novarum, Encyclical of Leo XIII, 1891
•  Quadragesimo Anno, Encyclical of Pius XI, 1931
•  Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965
•  Populorum Progressio, Encyclical of Paul VI, 1967
•  Justice in the World, World Synod of Bishops, 1971
•  Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic Exhortation of Paul VI, 1975
•  Redemptor Hominis, Encyclical of John Paul II, 1979
•  Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Encyclical of John Paul II, 1987
•  Centesimus Annus, Encyclical of John Paul II, 1991
•  Deus Caritas Est, Encyclical of Benedict XVI, 2005
•  Caritas in Veritate, Encyclical of Benedict XVI, 2009

Powerpoint on the Catholic Social Teaching – Part 2 (click here)

Part III

Social Teaching in the SSpS Constitutions and General Chapter Directions

From the Constitutions…

  • (112) we stand for justice, freedom and peace
  • (112.1) recognition of the dignity and intrinsic value of the human person
  • (112.2) we follow Catholic social teaching
  • (412) world events and our contact with others stimulate our dialogue with the Lord
  • (502) formation has to be… open to the needs of the world

From General Chapter Directions…

  • building communities and societies of Gospel justice, reconciliation and healing where personal and social violence in any form has no place
  • personal and communal commitment to care for Mother Earth, taking conscious and concrete steps toward sustainable development
  • being women disciples centered in God, living our identity as women bringing forth and nurturing life in joy and pain
  • being women who, mutually touched and formed by realities of life, especially that of the poor, join with them in a search for ways to be co-creators of a society rooted in Gospel values
  • valuing life and, networking with others, to responsibly protect and promote life in all its forms

Working for justice is not optional, nor is it simply a dimension of our lives.  Rather, it is a dynamic perspective that informs both our being and our doing.  This perspective shapes our prayer, our life in common, our living of the vows — all that we do.

Powerpoint on the Catholic Social Teaching – Part 3 (click here)

Part IV

Important Church Documents related to JPIC

  • Justice in the World – 1971
  • Catholic Social Teaching and Integrity of Creation
  • The Instrumentum Laboris  for the Synod on the New Evangelization
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