I will be writing an occasional column called “Justice Matters” in this publication. My goal is to explore some of the issues of the day in the light of Catholic Social Teaching.
First a definition. Catholic Social Teaching is guidance for the practical implementation of the Gospel.
Let us take for our starting point that Jesus taught us that God is a God of love, freely bestowing love on each person and, in fact, on each created thing. We are called by the Gospel to love one another, even our enemies. Moreover, we are to love ourselves because God loves each of us. Even Barack Obama and Donald Trump. And we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.
To love Jesus, we have to love each other. He taught us that he IS the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the person who is ill or in prison (Matt 25.) Catholic Social Teaching is about how to do that.
It is wonderful to feel an outpouring of love for suffering children, or adults, or animals. But for the feeling of love to implement love, it has to turn into action. St. Teresa of Avila taught:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
And just how we put those hands and feet into motion is the whole point of the body of doctrine called Catholic Social Teaching, which guides Catholic Social Ministry.
Catholic Social Ministry has two feet: Charity and Justice. The distinction is that charity is directly giving to someone who is hungry, thirsty, etc. Examples of ministries of charity include food pantries, soup kitchens, clothing drives, visiting hospitals or prisons.
Justice, on the other hand, is about creating a world where there are fewer people in need of charity. Justice often involves advocacy for others, passing laws, changing policies, and moving toward a society where everyone has what they need to develop into the person that God intended. Work for justice has a clear intersection with politics.
A great example from my lifetime is the civil rights movement. When I was a high school student at St. Vincent’s Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1959, no African American student could be in a school with a white student; they had to attend overcrowded, sub-standard schools, and few graduated. No black family could live in a white neighborhood; they had to live in very bad conditions in the worst part of the city, sometimes even without plumbing. And the list goes on. It was almost impossible for a black person to vote, or to get a good job. Lynching was not uncommon. Today the world is different. Racism has not ended, of course, and there is still far to go. Still, significant progress has been made largely because of the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the involvement of churches. People of faith saw the moral imperative and took action. They saw that justice mattered.
Which is better – Charity or Justice? Which is better, your right foot or your left. We need both feet to walk in balance, and we need charity and justice to live in balance.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity and Justice for the Diocese. She is reitred and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.