The book Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lessons touched the popular imagination and became an intergenerational hit a dozen years ago. It told the story of an enduring friendship between two men at very different points in life’s journey as they conversed about some of the great themes of human existence.
Several years ago, a group of parishioners in New York City who had committed a year to studying and exploring Catholic social teaching through a life-changing program called JustFaith approached me about continuing to meet once a month for prayer and reflection. They asked that I join them. Thus, “Tuesdays with Tony” was born. They still meet in my absence now to talk about how the “social Gospel” has transformed their lives, their relationships, and their worldview. These remarkable people have taught me so much about compassion, about justice for the oppressed and those on the margins of society and the church, and about concern for the earth, which is home to us all. And, importantly, each has found ways to translate social theory into concrete actions with and on behalf of others.
In the subtitle of a 2003 book on the subject, the authors described Catholic social teaching as “our [the church’s] best secret.”
It is generally accepted that the modern emphasis on Catholic social teaching began with the publication of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, on labor and capital, in 1891. It has echoed through the decades in John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (1963), Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967), John Paul II’s critique of both totalitarianism and unbridled capitalism, and Benedict XVI’s Caritatis in Veritate (2009).
In this same tradition, Pope Francis recently stated: “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2).
Catholic social teaching is rooted in the prophetic tradition of Israel, in the words and actions of Jesus, who showed a shepherd’s care for all, especially for the lost and the downtrodden, and in the awareness that even as we look to a heavenly city we are nevertheless citizens of this earth and of human societies, and therefore obligated to act justly and compassionately.
In the Issue
Catholic social teaching was integral to the new relationship between church and world defined by the bishops of Vatican II. Present in many council documents, our particular lens this issue is Dignitatis Humanae and its conviction that the rights, dignity, and duties of the human person flow from his or her relationship to God.
I suggest you start with Lisa Marie Belz, OSU’s excellent article and then move to Robert S. Pelton, CSC’s reflection on the Chilean church’s experience of the council and its continuing challenges for the Catholic Church in that country today.
On February 3, Pope Francis signed a decree declaring Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr for the faith and a witness to gospel principles of justice and reconciliation. Victor Parachin has penned a moving tribute to this humble man who sought to be the voice of the voiceless in a time of great suffering for his people. He died at the altar while celebrating Mass.
In Eucharistic Teachings, Dennis Billy, CSsR, introduces us to the Dominican friar, priest, and theologian Yves Congar. You will also find scriptural reflections for homiletic preparation and personal prayer as well as poetry and reviews, etc., in the Eucharist & Culture section.
Anthony Schueller, SSS