Have you ever heard of Catholic Social Teaching?
Do you know what its principles mean?
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) presents how Catholics understand and live in order to live lives of holiness in contemporary society and build a just world. CST is often described as the best kept secret of the Catholic Tradition. That is not good news. If it is a secret – even from many Catholics - something is wrong.
We see this reality in Pope Francis' exhortation published Monday to remind Catholics of their journey toward holiness. The Pope’s call to holiness offers practical ways to better live the Gospel in our daily lives. Rejoice and Be Glad also presents inspired challenges that remove barriers to growth and reveal the richness of our tradition. For example, Pope Francis explains that our sacred responsibility to protect life includes the poor, the immigrant, the criminal, the oppressed, and all creation, as well as the child in the womb. All of these are examples of vulnerable persons and groups in our society who cannot be overlooked.
Two important demands of this daily commitment to love that Francis describes and significant concepts in CST are Solidarity and Subsidarity. These two prayerful activities are often misunderstood and viewed as in opposition to one another. Although these approaches to protecting human dignity and pursuing the common good are distinct, they are not opposing efforts. Solidarity includes subsidiarity. Subsidiarity includes solidarity. They operate in mutually enhancing interplay.
Solidarity is, above all else, a relationship. More than writing checks or occasional protests, practicing solidarity means encountering others. It means coming to know persons different than ourselves and sharing their hardships as well as their joys - and sharing our experiences with them. To love and be with others is to desire that person's good - but not simply through thoughts and prayers. To be in solidarity means taking effective steps to achieve theirs and the common good. As a personal and ecclesial effort, solidarity emphasizes society-wide solutions on behalf of the powerless. Subsidiarity, on the other hand, seeks the most appropriate level to solve those injustices that cause human suffering.
Subsidarity is a way to engage individuals in social movements and empower them to influence their communities for the common good, but also to protect them from larger entities that may not understand or value their local cultures. Sometimes the most appropriate level to address an injustice is as local as the family, a local Church, a state, or an individual country. Sometimes we must even advocate at the international level. We live in a global community and are one human family. There can be no people put first – which brings us back to solidarity.
A prominent scholar explains the interplay of these two terms in this way: "The ethic that pertains to the unity of the body is called solidarity. The ethic that pertains to the role of the parts is subsidiarity. And the good of the whole by which solidarity and subsidiarity are measured is called the 'common good.'"
We all must give something to the common good. We are called to respond to the injustices of our world with a “hunger and thirst for justice.” Pope Francis points to the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes as the “Great Criterion” for the duty of Christians. Catholic Social Teaching describes that active path toward holiness - a path that ensures “holiness” is not an empty word.
MISSIO offers themed-quizzes in MissioBot to examine your religious knowledge - and this blog by James Nagle, PhD to reflect on questions of faith.