This is the fourth in a series of editorials, designed to correspond with the Why Catholic? process, now taking place in our parishes, about Catholic moral and social teaching.
One of the greatest hidden treasures of the Catholic faith is Catholic social teaching. As a leader in Catholic education, my quest is to place this treasure on a lamp stand for our students to see. Teenagers inherently want to be rebellious; it’s a natural part of brain development. At Holy Cross High School we challenge our students to embrace Jesus’ radical nature through Catholic social teaching, which provides a living, breathing response to the signs of our time.
Catholic social teaching isn’t only about dropping your spare change into a bucket at Christmas. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Teaching Scripture Guide, Jesus calls us to a radically different kind of discipleship — a life that is daily marked by care and concern for the poor and for one another.
This describes well the counter-cultural nature of Catholic social teaching. In a time when more young people are disenfranchised from the church, we are missing an opportunity if we neglect an emphasis on our faith’s social justice agenda. I love to see seniors so passionate about a particular theme that it drives them to seek change, and through this, a closer connection with the church. Blessed Paul VI issued this call to action in his 1971 apostolic letter, Octagesima Adveniens in section 48:
“It is to all Christians that we address a fresh and insistent call to action. … It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustices, and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action.”
I realize that some Catholics may lack an understanding of the basic principles on which the church bases its social and moral teachings, so here is a quick summary of the seven principles of Catholic social teaching. (For more information, please see http://www.usccb.org or the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.)
-Life and Dignity of the Human Person: All life, from conception to natural death, is sacred, and each person has an inherent dignity based upon his or her creation in God’s image. Regardless of a person’s age, ability, appearance, actions, income, race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, stage of development or nationality he/she has value and therefore has the right to a full and dignified life.
-Participation — A Call to Family and Community: As human beings we are made to be in relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. We have a natural desire to form communities. Our most basic and sacred community is our family. We also are a part of a larger community, and we have a responsibility to ensure that all have access to the benefits of the community.
-The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: We use the gifts, talents and creativity God has given us through work. The economy and work exist for people; people do not exist for it. Our work must provide a living wage, and employers must treat workers with respect and dignity.
-Rights and Responsibilities: All human beings are entitled to basic rights to survive and thrive, but these rights are balanced with a responsibility to the common good.
-Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: We have a responsibility to care for those who struggle to meet their most basic needs, and the Gospel calls us to exercise a special option for the most vulnerable in our midst. We are challenged to see the poor and vulnerable as Jesus did.
-Solidarity: In a world struggling with violence and war, we are challenged to be peacemakers in our local communities and in our world. Solidarity means we see people who may not normally be our neighbors as our neighbors. It also means that we strive to resolve conflict with dignity for all people and that we seek diplomacy over war.
-Care for God’s Creation: We are called to be stewards of the gift of creation, which is an amazing testament to God’s creativity and beauty. As stewards, we must care for the people, land, water, air, plant life and animals that share this planet.
At Holy Cross High School we are preparing radical followers of Jesus through our focus on Catholic social teaching, and we are seeing teenagers connect in a real way with the church. May we all be challenged to uncover the hidden treasure of our faith found in the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching and respond to its call to action.
Danielle Atzinger Wiegandt is principal of Holy Cross High School.