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Social Justice

'Deep within our hearts is a law which though we did not place it there, we know we must obey' - GS #16

Catholics acknowledge seven bedrock principles of social justice as essential for forming conscience and putting faith into action.  The following seven principles are found in many of the teachings of the Popes and Bishops especially since the Second Vatican Council.  These principles are grounded in the sacred Scriptures, affirmed by the witness of the saints and martyrs, and explained in the documents of Catholic social teaching (papal, conciliar, and episcopal) throughout the centuries.  Taken together they form a seamless garment of life.  The Department of Pro-Life Activities, Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, Office of Parish Life and the Office for Outreach and Advocacy at Catholic Charities are united in their commitment to a consistent ethic of life guided by these principles:

Life and Dignity of the Human Person
We are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are children of God and we are precious in God's sight.  God is the author of life and only God has authority to give life or take it away.   For Pope John Paul II, the dignity of human life was the touchstone for all moral principles. This God-given dignity was the bedrock principle, grounding all other principles of justice.  Catholics are called to protect life against all threats from conception to natural death.  Those in positions of authority have a special responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us.  All institutions can be judged by how they protect human life and contribute to a culture of life.

Call to Family, Community and Participation
We are made in the image and likeness of a Triune God which St. Augustine described as a Community of Love.  Likewise, the truest identity and destiny for humans is found in community.  We belong to one another and we are responsible for one another.   We are called to form a community of compassion that gives witness to our conviction about the limitless mercy of God.  One way that Catholics attest to this conviction is through support for marriage, and the protection of those most vulnerable in every community.  The credibility of the Gospel is demonstrated when we allow the fullest participation of each person in determining their own destiny.

Rights and Responsibilities
In the founding documents of this nation, we are reminded that human beings are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights.  These rights include all that is needed for a decent and purposeful life.  In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II insists that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever we may be.  Human rights must be proctected by society.  In God's sight basic rights take prioity over the appetites of the privileged.  Rights have commensurate responsibilities.  Every citizen is charged with responsible participation in order to protect the right of all.  In A Place at the Table the U.S. Bishops remind us that as much as we have been blessed, so too are we expected to be a source of blessing to those who cry out for justice throughout the world.  Catholics see the protection of the least among us as a sacred trust. 

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
At each visit of Pope John Paul II to the U.S., the Holy Father preached on the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about the deepening chasm between the rich and poor.  How we respond is the moral test of our culture.  Today food insecurity is on the rise, even in the United States.  In his encyclical 'Caritas in Veritate' Pope Benedict XVI insisted that... 'what is missing is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water ... and also capable of addressing the primary needs and necessities ensuing from genuine food crises'".  Someone once observed that the final exam for us will be to answer a few simple questions.  Jesus will return and ask each of us, I was hungry... thirsty..., naked..., sick..., stranger..., in prison...  What did you do?

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Work is more than just a way to make a living; it is a creative act that fulfills God's purpose for each of us.  Every economy is  a of human origin and as such is servant to God's will for creation.  It has a moral purpose.  It must serve the common good.  Workers have the right to decent and fair wages and to organize.  All people have the right to private property and to economic initiative.  Catholic social teaching calls us to protect the rights of workers by insuring access and subsidiarity in the economic process.

It may be that the most dangerous words ever spoken by Jesus were those when he taught his disciples to pray.  Could it be that he was most intentional in his choice of the first words of the Lord's prayer.  When Jesus taught us to call God "Our Father" he not only said taught us something profound about our relationship with God but also about our relationship to one another.  We are all members of one family.  In their letter, Called to Global Solidarity: International Challenges for U.S. Parishes, our Bishops explain, "Solidarity is action on behalf of the one human family, calling us to help overcome the divisions in our world."  This commitment to wage peace and work for development along side of the poorest nations is a hallmark of Christian faith in action.  Rev. Ron Sadjak is a founder of Reaching Out to Africa (ROTA) which while based in Buffalo, fosters human development across the ocean and bridges the worlds.  Download a description of one of the ways that ROTA gives expression to global solidarity by building Koiyom Clinic.

Care for God’s Creation
The world belongs to God.  We are stewards of creation not its master.  Christians share the conviction that God loves the world so much that God sent God's only Son to redeem it (Jn. 3:16).  We show our respect for our Creator when we act as just stewards of creation.  Far from being an Earth Day slogan, care for creation is a requirement of Catholic faith.  The Catholic Church is committed to contribute to a just and sustainable world community.  We know that in caring for God's planet, we are protecting the most vulnerable of God's people.  We share this commitment with people of good will from virtually every religious tradition and spiritual vision.

This explanation of a consistent life ethic is presented by Dennis Mahaney, Office of Parish Life.  A fuller application of these themes can be found in the USCCB publication Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions (No. 5-281) and other social teaching documents at USCCB Publications or call 800-235-8722.  Send suggestions regarding this article or resources for the social justice webpages to Dennis Mahaney, 716-847-8393, Office of Parish Life.

Consider these valuable resources for forming a Catholic conscience:

Caritas in Veritate - Pope Benedict XVI 

New York State Catholic Conference of Bishops

Office of Pro-Life Activities, Diocese of Buffalo

Teacher's Toolbox - Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis 

For more information contact the Office for Policy and Advocacy for Catholic Charities, 741 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY 14209, 716-218-1450 ext. 206, Pro-Life Activities 716-847-2205 or the Office for Parish Life for the Diocese of Buffalo,  716-847-5530. 

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