The following article is No. II in an ongoing series on the book entitled “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [Compendium].[i] The Compendium is a systematic compilation and presentation of the foundations of Catholic social doctrine. The purpose here is to work our way through the Compendium one chapter at a time along with some reflection. The Church promotes the Compendium as part of her work “towards a ‘new heavens’ and the ‘new earth’ (2 Peter 3:13),” directed especially to the lay faithful, whose activities in the social arena must be guided by the true Gospel and “the whole of their lives must be seen as a work of evangelization that produces fruit.”[ii] Toward this perfection of society and to the lay Faithful of the Western Dominican Province, this is dedicated. This article is from the Compendium, Part One, No. IV, “God’s Plan and the Mission of the Church.”
The Compendium, No. II: The Renewal of Social Relations.
Recall in the premier article last November, 2008, on the Compendium, Vol. I, No. 2, of the Peace & Justice eLetter, that the Ten Commandments[iii] were viewed as an ancient expression of universal human rights. The Ten Commandments direct us toward a right relationship with the Lord, along with family and neighbors, and respect for the liberty and the property of each person.
The Ten Commandments were the first expression of this universal law representing the Kingdom of God on earth. Through Our Lord’s Incarnation, Passion and Death, and His Resurrection, He redeemed all of humanity and of Creation, and opened the gates of Heaven. By His Covenant, His work is efficacious through His Church that “places herself concretely at the service of the Kingdom of God above all by announcing and communicating the Gospel of salvation and by establishing new Christian communities.”[iv]
While the Kingdom of God remains a spiritual reality that “can be found beyond the confines of the Church among people everywhere, to the extent that they live ‘Gospel values’ and are open to the working of the Spirit who breathes when and where he wills[;]”[v] the earthly effort of social justice within His Kingdom remains incomplete “unless [it] is related to the Kingdom of Christ present in the Church and straining towards” its eternal goal of the salvation of souls.[vi]
The Church’s earthly efforts toward social justice have eternal consequences toward the salvation of souls, which distinguishes it from other temporal communities, including among others the political and economic communities. The Church is not limited to political or geographical borders and stands “autonomous and independent” of the body politic,[vii] yet both church and state are dedicated to the “service of the personal and social vocation of the same human beings.”[viii] The distinction between religion and politics “and the principle of religious freedom constitute a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental and historical and cultural contributions.”[ix]
By God’s plan brought about by the Lord of history, Jesus Christ, the Church’s identity and mission in this world is a saving purpose “which can be fully attained only in the next life.”[x] With the eternal goal of salvation, by its preaching, and its graces instituted and exercised in the Holy Sacraments, the Church “heals and elevates the dignity of the human person … consolidates society and endows the daily activity of men with a deeper sense and meaning.”[xi]
The Redemption not only redeems all humanity, “but also the social relations existing between men.”[xii] In a true sense, life in Jesus Christ makes the human person full, where there is no class distinction between persons in the Kingdom of God,[xiii] where the Church’s Gospel mission and witness transforms human persons and social relationships. This transformation is full of life where the Christian community is developed and carried out through prayer and practice inspired by the Gospel.[xiv]
The Church is a part of the world and its history. The Church is “open to dialogue with all people of good will in the common quest for the seeds of truth and freedom sown in the vast field of humanity.”[xv]These seeds of truth and freedom are a constant and dynamic renewal that “must be firmly anchored in the unchangeable principles of the natural law[.]”[xvi]
Jesus Christ reveals to us that ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8)[xvii] and He teaches us that “the fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love. He assures those who trust in the love of God that the way of love is open to all people and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood will not be in vain.”[xviii]
The transformation and perfection of society in the world, “is a fundamental requirement of our time also. To this need the Church’s social Magisterium intends to offer the responses called for by the signs of the times, pointing above all to the mutual love between human beings, in the sight of God, as the most powerful instrument of change, on the personal and social levels.”[xix]
While pursuit of social justice[xx] has temporal impact and is distinguishable from the growth of God’s Kingdom with eternal consequences, the Church’s preaching and mission contributes to the better ordering and perfection of human society here and now. As so well stated by the Compendium, “The complete fulfillment of the human person, achieved in Christ through the gift of the Spirit, develops in history and is mediated by personal relationships with other people, relationships that in turn reach perfection thanks to the commitment made to improve the world, in justice and in peace.”[xxi]
In other words, relationships achieved through commitment to improve the world, in mutual love between human beings in the sight of God, in accord with the Church’s Magisterium is a powerful instrument of true and substantial change in society.
As Catholics, we need to live as Christians first in the reality that there is no distinction among people due to sex, race, class, status, or rank.[xxii]
The clamoring merely for change’s sake during the recent American presidential campaign, is a reflection of America’s contradiction. Dissolute for nearly a generation, Americans have turned to consumer goods and services to provide transitory satisfaction, to government to resolve discontent and economic problems, and to games and entertainment to make us forget our stress. Yet, the world economic crisis is before us.
Today, many good Catholics and Christians seek government solutions as a universal solvent for social and political injustices. While government is a partner in this effort, it is not the solution with its expensive and overbearing dispositions.
It is first and foremost a spiritual problem. The resolution begins with a right relationship with God—as a person, as a family, and as a Nation. It is also a question of choosing the right path to God. Do we use the world’s agenda to set the social justice agenda, or do we seek the mind of Christ first? In choosing God first and in seeking His mind on things, the social justice efforts will be quite fruitful.
Recall the words of Deuteronomy 30, where the Lord admonishes Israel and all Nations: “Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.”[xxiii] The choice is before us, life or death. For too long, as a Nation, as a people, and as individuals, we have chosen death.
Catholics, Christians, and other free and self-disciplined persons of good will, working together in free association, along with the church and the state, will successfully care for the poor and disadvantaged, and work to dissolve immoral social structures.
Social Justice begins here, where Jesus Christ revealed that “God is love,” and where “the fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love.”[xxiv]
This Great Commandment is fruitful, because Christ assures “those who trust in the love of God that the way of love is open to all people and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood will not be in vain.”[xxv]
This is the beginning of true peace and justice in this world. The repentance or conversion away from the world and to God is especially essential to social justice advocates. If these advocates want true justice and true change, they must reject their own social and political agendas and seek to change the world and its social structures to conform to the mind of Christ.
[i] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, © 2004, Liberia Editrice Vaticana, USCCB Publishing, Washington, D.C., Presentation; [hereinafter Compendium] [also internet link, www.vatican.va].
[iii] “The Ten Commandments are precepts bearing on the fundamental obligations of religion and morality and embodying the revealed expression of the Creator’s will in relation to man’s whole duty to God and to his fellow-creatures.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV, Robert Appleton Company, New York, New York, (1908) (Underscore here). See also, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5.
[iv] Compendium, p. 22, ¶ 50.
[v] Compendium, p. 22, ¶ 50 .
[vi] Compendium. p. 22, ¶¶ 49-55.
[vii] “Body politic” or otherwise known as the “state,” “government,” “ruler,” or “regime.”
[viii] Compendium, p. 22, ¶ 50.
[ix] Compendium, p. 22, ¶ 50 (Quoting Guadium et Spes, ¶ 76).
[x] Compendium, p. 22 ¶ 51 (Quoting Guadium et Spes, ¶ 40) (Original italicized).
[xi] Compendium, p. 22, ¶ 51, (Quoting Guadium et Spes, ¶ 40).
[xii] Compendium, p. 23, ¶ 52 (Original italicized).
[xiii] “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and fol talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and umcircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3: 5-11 (Underscore here). See, also, Genesis 1:26; Galatians 3:28.
[xiv] Compendium , p. 23, ¶ 53.
[xv] Compendium, p. 23, ¶ 53.
[xvi] Compendium, p. 23, ¶ 53.
[xvii] “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” I John 4:7-8.
[xviii] Compendium, p. 23, ¶ 54 (Part of original italicized, underscore here).
[xix] Compendium, p. 24, ¶ 55 (Original italicized).
[xx] While one must admit the a perfect society is not possible on this earth, we do share in the Communion of Saints that includes men and women in Heaven.
[xxi] Compendium, pp. 24-25, ¶ 58 (Original italicized).
[xxii] See, Footnote xiii, above.
[xxiv] Compendium, pp. 23-24, ¶ 54.
[xxv] Compendium, p. 23, ¶ 54. (Quoting, Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 38; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 58 (1966)).