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Catholic Social Teaching

Updated on February 26, 2018

Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

by Mike Czarnecki, MBA


Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is not a list of rules. It is a list of principles in which Catholics should live. It contains ideas that respect human dignity; care for the common good; outline our rights and responsibilities as Catholics; teach us the importance of living in a community and a family; to care for the poor; care for God's creation. It is a framework, a skeleton, for which Catholics to make appropriate decisions.

CST has its roots in Scripture. God made us in His image. All humans are worthy of respect as members of the human family. In other words, God created us in his image, and as such we should treat God's creation with respect.

We can also learn from the love and justice that Jesus taught us. The parable of the good Samaritan shows us that we are all members of God's family, and as such, no one of us is greater than another. In this story, there is an injured individual, Jewish teaching of the time states that this individual would be unclean, and therefore a member of the Jewish community would be unable to assist. Samaritans, likewise, were considered unclean by the Jewish community. The story teaches us regardless of who we are and who others are, we are part of God's family and should treat each other with dignity.

Jesus healed blind people; he healed lepers; he raised the dead. Here again, as in the Samaritan story, Christ teaches us the importance of human dignity. In Matthew 25:40, Christ states "whatever you have done at least of my brother, you have done to me." Christ commands us to love one another as he loves us.

The Catholic Church has been defining the four principles (Human Dignity, Common Good, Subsidiarity, and Solidarity) and how they apply to the current situations in the world.

For instance, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, in 1893, during the Industrial Revolution. During this period rights of workers were being violated by their employers. Requiring employees to work twelve-hour shifts, six or seven days a week, under hazardous working conditions, violated human dignity. These types of situations do not allow a worker sufficient time with their family, do not let a worker participate in his community, and during the Industrial Revolution, employers disrespected a workers' right to constructive work and reasonable wages.

What is Human Dignity? It allows individuals self-respect. How do we treat others with dignity? Treat others as you would like to be regarded. We believe in the idea that everyone, by being made in the image and likeness of God, is created equal.

In the late 1980's there was a song from a band, The Smiths, states that, "I am human, and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does." This statement is poignant and directly related to this discussion. Again, as Genesis tells us, we are made in the image and likeness of God. That is every human! For one individual to feel as if they are outside these parameters, or, if any individual should make another feel as if he were less than, or not worthy of, is to deny that person the innate dignity given us by God.

Pope Leo XIII stated that once an individual's demands of necessity and propriety are met, everything else rightfully belongs to the poor. He does not mean that one should give away one's earnings. He is stating that each of us has needs, and when those needs are attained, we should care for those less fortunate, the poor. It is our duty as members of God's family to treat others with dignity.

What is the Common Good? That which benefits all members of society. The family is our central role in society. We need to raise our children to be active members of their community. We need to live as a community, as God the Father, Son, and Spirit are a community. By protecting the dignity of man, we are working for the good of all.

We are not to act selfishly, but a selfless manner toward our fellow human being. Similar to the question that President John Kennedy asked, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." We should ask ourselves, what we can do to assist our fellow man? What can I do to help those in my community (this will be discussed further in the next section)? We are only one individual among many in the city. Do we care for ourselves over the community, or should we care about the community? WHAT IS IT THAT GOD COMMANDS US?

God gave Adam and Eve the responsibility to carry on His work of creation. God gave us dominion over nature. God demanded that we Steward His creation (earth, water, creatures, plants). We not only should utilize His creation, but we should also use it with care, and not abuse it.

What is Subsidiarity? As asked earlier, what can I do to help my community? Subsidiarity is the preferred way to resolve issues. In it, we ensure that individuals are involved in solving local problems. A city is best to know the cause of a problem, therefore, would best know how to correct the issue. Subsidiarity allows individuals to help themselves, to be a part of a community. Whether the community is a neighborhood, a parish, a town, a city; we need to participate!

Example: When your local Parish requires a new roof. The first step will be to look at the Parish bank account. If there are not enough funds, your Pastor may reach out to the Parish for assistance. If they are still unable to gather enough funds for the roof, the Pastor may need to reach out to the Diocese for a loan.

What is Solidarity? Solidarity is a community of individuals (God's family) with a common purpose, with common feelings, with common responsibilities, with common interests. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate stated that it "is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone about everyone."

Through it, we become we, a community. We are responsible for acting together. We are accountable to each other. We are all part of the Body of Christ. There is no one excluded. It is for the Body of Christ to make the world a better place, or to maintain what God has bestowed us.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has outlined the following seven themes of CST:

  • Life and dignity of the human person
  • Call to family, community, participation
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Option for the poor and vulnerable
  • Dignity of work and rights of workers
  • Solidarity
  • Care for God's Creation

As with the four principles of CST, they describe how we as Catholics should treat one another with care and love. We are too, as Christ commanded, "Love one another." Treat every human with dignity. Remember that work exists for us to continue the work of God's creation. We do not live to work. It is our right to work, and our responsibility to care for one another.

We, Catholics, are the body of Christ. As such, we need to teach our children, our neighbors, our fellow human beings, by example. The importance of treating people with dignity: family, community, care for the less fortunate, our rights and responsibilities to each other, and our responsibility to carry on God's work of creation. We need to consider the importance of spirituality, truth, virtue, love, and God. We need to be living examples of God's love through outreach toward others (social justice, education, food, housing).

© 2018 Mike Czarnecki

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