So here are the A B C’s of Catholic Social Teaching. It will seem ham-fisted, but then this is just an outline.
First we’ll start with THE COMMON GOOD. Basically, the common good is whatever makes society a better place for you to become a saint. That doesn’t mean that a society that hangs Catholics – thus making them martyrs – is a good thing. No, it means that society makes its policy decisions in order to allow you and your family and your community (like a parish) to become more holy, more easily.
So issues like divorce law, assisted suicide, education reform, death penalty, obscenity laws… all sorts of things take on a different color when you start asking whether or not the proposed law or policy makes it easier or harder for me and my family to pursue sanctity. Economic decisions, laws that affect culture, and of course the freedom of religion are all part and parcel of the common good.
Next, let’s take THE UNIVERSAL DESTINATION OF GOODS…that’s a big long one. At its foundation, this is about the idea that while God made stuff in order for us to use that stuff so as to support ourselves and our families, He didn’t give us the stuff for the sake of having stuff. In fact, in the end, all our stuff is really His stuff anyway. God wants us all to use the stuff He’s given us to help the most people, to do the most good.
A related idea here is that, when we think about using our stuff for the most good, we ought to be trying to help the poor first. My nephew Louis doesn’t really need a new Xbox. My own kids really don’t need the big birthday party. Rather, I’ll give it to the St. Vincent de Paul society so that it can help more people. Or I’ll give it to a struggling business so that they can have more stuff and employ more people so that they can buy their own stuff.
In fact, our obligation to properly use our stuff is so important that Jesus is very clear about what happens to those who do not properly use it. We could go to hell. Think hard on that for a minute or two.
Next, because we have such an important obligation to share our stuff as much as we can, the State, which is responsible for the common good, can pressure us – via taxation – to make sure we do share. However, if and when it does this it must always follow the rule of SUBSIDIARITY. This means that I, as the owner of my stuff, and my neighbors, as part of my community, are in the best possible position to determine how best to use our stuff for the most good.
There are times, sure, when we’re out of our depth, and the State can help us out, especially if we’ve got things under control and some other town could use our stuff. But we are the best judges of what “under control” means, and of what the ramifications of taking our stuff will be. We have a responsibility after all…on pain of hell if we don’t execute it properly. So the State must respect that.
Now of course this means that we can’t ignore PARTICIPATION. Yelling all day long to keep the government off our backs sounds hollow when we are not fulfilling our responsibility to use our stuff properly through participation in society and the civic process.
This could mean doing things like protesting evil, volunteering time, praying for the ill, visiting the sick. This participation also means that we ought to be pretty careful about who we elect for office. If they’re responsible for providing the policies that allow our society to become more holy more easily, well then I better pay attention not only to their speeches but their actions. Oh, and not voting is not an option.
Lastly, SOLIDARITY is that great reminder that I’m responsible for my neighbor’s plight. Solidarity moves my responsibility to use my stuff for the most good from a focus on me – i.e. my responsibility – to a focus on the persons who need my stuff. Giving can be mechanical, and pity is sometimes a form of hatred. Solidarity is the deep knowledge in me that I am my brother’s keeper, wherever that brother or sister is. They are no longer a statistic or a number. They are persons with faces and minds and histories and loves and…well you get it. Their dignity is part of what they are as persons, and is not something they earn or can ever lose. Solidarity helps me see that.
Those are my A B C’s of Catholic Social Doctrine. I hope that helps. For more information feel free to visit Discerning Hearts and download my audio series with Kris McGregor.