Catholic Social Teaching

Pacem in Terris is an encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963. It portrayed important ideas also expressed in the Second Vatican Council. There were some important events going on around the same time. The most prominent event was the erection of the Berlin Wall which took place two years prior, 1961.The Berlin Wall separated East and West Germany. The Berlin Wall was a physical manifestation of the term, “ Iron Curtain”; metaphorically, the term, “Iron Curtain” separated Eastern and Western Europe. The Cold War had “started” and there was deep tensions between these two sides. The risk of attack was high and the Pope John XXIII realized that danger. The document says man cannot relate the laws that govern the universe with the laws that govern man. To find those laws man must look within himself, only there will he find the forces that govern man. When one looks within him/herself that person finds can find the answers to human interactions and how to act and be moral. Wanting a family through marriage is the natural inclination of most humans and that should be considered the natural structure of human society. This encyclical clearly expresses the dignity and respect that should be given to every human especially the working class, women, people of different race, and people from all socio-economic backgrounds. “54. The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities.” This statement summarizes the whole point of a democracy. People today forget and overlook the fact that by participating in politics one should always get whathe/she needs or wants if in the majority. People need to be reminded that they have a responsibility to partake in government if they want to see change. I personally love this quote because it is so simple yet I don’t think this way often, if ever.

Gaudium et Spes or On the Church in the Modern World was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965. This encyclical was approved and written during the Second Vatican Council. It was a response to an increasingly secular world with people forgetting about religion and even denouncing it’s beliefs in larger numbers than previously seen. This document speaks to the unique challenges of the modern world. For example, man has so much more power and intelligence, but at the same time that intelligence causes him/her to question, doubt, or even refute what he once held as his most important beliefs. Also, man has much more wealth in general while a substantial percent of our population is starving and illiterate. While people may meet and socialize with more people they are connecting on a personal level. Much of the beginning of this encyclical tells us of how the modern world is a paradox: while we may know more and have more things we lose our faith, so we are, “both powerful and weak”. When man was created he knew his creator but instead of honoring him man abused their liberty. Man has always been curious and greedy for knowledge to this day and forever after. (I skipped to “The Role of the Church in the Modern World“) The church is here to help us in our search for God and true meaning. It’s purpose is to guide us through the journey that life offers us in search of the Kingdom of God. Christ did not instruct the Church to act socially, politically, or economically but religiously. This is not to say that when the opportunity presents itself the Church should not help the marginalized in any way. In other words there are really no limits to how the Church can help people. “For Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created “to the image of God,” is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures(1) that he might subdue them and use them to God’s glory.” This quote about man being an “image of God” is one of the most widely known concepts of the Church. It highlights our responsibility to take care of our planet and it’s inhabitants, stewardship.

Rerum Novarum (more commonly known as “On the Condition of Labor”) was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. A combination of Capitalism and Industrialization had produced a working class that lived in horrible conditions and also worked in horrible conditions. The unskilled labor of factory work made for small wages that in most cases could not support a family’s needs. Pope Leo advocates the forming of worker’s unions and acknowledges the despicable living condition for urban workers. This document offers ideas on how to protect everyone’s interests. The Church must work together with the state, workers, and owners. Pope Leo defends the right of private ownership(capitalism), and expresses disapproval of socialism. Private ownership is justified because God did not specifically pass out the land to individuals; he left it there for man. Man, then, cultivates the land in which to do so he must own it. Pope Leo XIII was really sticking his neck out like no other pope had done before. He applied Catholic teaching to social aspects of the world and is still highly respected for it today. “14. The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.” This quote denounces socialism as wrong and gives good reason. The government or state does not have the right to intrude into personal life and control any part of it that should be left to the individual.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on Racism was released in 1979. In the decades previous to this African Americans had made what seemed to be huge progress in America. In reality laws were changed but people were still racist and laws could not change that. This document talks about people exhibiting indifference as compared to the rallies and protests witnessed in years past. Minorities are taking a majority of the burden of economic distress not proportional to it’s size. Because this form of racism is at fist not seen it is more troubling because it can just be ignored without too much guilt by those in a position to change things. Racism is not only a sin but it goes against what he founding fathers wrote in our Declaration of Independence. Racism is a sin in the Church because it does not allow the full dignity to all of God’s children that is owed to them. It is also a blatant act of disregard of Jesus’ teachings of, “treat others the way you would have them treat you.” To rid the world of racism we must look to Christ for inspiration because Christ sees all with equal dignity and worth. Racism is a social sin with no individual to blame. That is exactly why it lives on because no person feels they are to blame. Everyone know that they share the blame and that is fine with them. Racism is a social structure that is widely accepted as a part of life but that should not go on because it is needless and painful for those who it affects. These assertions are backed with figures of unemployment. Minorities were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than white people. “Racism is a sin; a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” This quote is effective in attacking racism because of the emotional language used . If one sees humanity as a family than how can one discriminate one’s brothers and sisters. By discriminating, holding prejudices, or stereotyping one is “blotting out” the message of God.

Economic Justice for All written by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was released in 1986. This Pastoral Letter was written when the U.S. economy was around it’s peak. This letter aimed to express ways of judging our economy on how it affects individual’s lives not just how much it produces. Although America was overall prosperous not everyone felt the wealth the same. Another way in which the economy could be measured was if it treated all people with dignity and if it enhanced or took away from family life. The letter was not meant to make people think but actually act to solve problems. “Preferential option for the poor” plays a big role on this letter. The poor are the disadvantaged so they are in need of help and better options. Followers of Christ can neither forget about their earthly duties or become enthralled with them. Jobs can either pay for food or create anxiety. There is no specific advice on how to go about running our economy only general guidelines for determining it’s success. At the same time it is suggested that the economy be balanced. The economy should not be socialist nor should it be completely free trade, capitalist; it should be a mix which is clearly the only way to maintain a stable yet continually prosperous economy. Spending should be restructured and more towards helping the marginalized. “Economic life raises important social and moral questions for each of us and for the society as a whole. Like family life, economic life is one of the chief areas where we live out our faith, love our neighbor, confront temptation, fulfill God’s creative design, and achieve holiness.” Most people would not associate economic life with spiritual life. Many of the teachings of the church can and should be applied to people’s economic life if they want to live out the Kingdom of God. Economic life is just and as integral a part of one’s life as any other part of one’s life and should be dealt with accordingly.

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