Catholic Social Teaching
The call to justice and peace-building proclaimed in the gospel is essential within the Catholic perspective. As followers of Christ, we are called to reach out to all those who are marginalized in any way. But, the commitment goes even further than this. As Jesus stood in complete solidarity with human suffering, so too are we called to walk in solidarity with broken humanity. Therefore, echoing the words of our mission statement, “as a Catholic college we are called to share in Christ’s service to the people of God. Thus, the work of our college is not an end in itself, but must find application for the good of humanity.”
The call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”1 comes to us through the Hebrew prophets and continues through the ages. The early Christian community was recognized by its desire to reach out to those in need2 and, throughout the centuries, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of establishing institutions of care for the most vulnerable. Today, this tradition of justice and compassion is most clearly articulated through Catholic Social Teaching, a body of papal and episcopal* documents responding to the particular social issues of the day. The first modern social encyclical (papal letter) was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and responded, in large part, to the issues faced by workers impacted by the Industrial Revolution. Since then, popes and bishops’ conferences have responded to the times in a largely prophetic way. In 1971, the Synod of Bishops in their letter, Justice in the World, proclaimed that "Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation."3
Thus, living out the gospel within the Catholic tradition mandates us to continue this healing mission of transforming the world into a more just and equitable place. Indeed, in doing so, we believe that we are participants in the building of the Reign of God. As perpetual idealists grounded in hope, we also believe in the possibility that this same Reign of God can exist “on earth as it is in heaven.”4
While we are motivated by our faith tradition to pursue justice, we also recognize that we share this thirst for justice with all people of goodwill. As such, justice initiatives are a key place of collaboration between Catholics and those of other, or no, faith traditions. The goal of a more just society, where each person is enabled to develop to his or her “full measure of his/her humanity,”5 demands fruitful dialogue and shared action, often deepening our resolve to work for lasting structural change.
Within the Catholic tradition, justice and service go hand-in-hand. We are committed to working for social/structural change (justice) and also to responding to the very real and ees Catholics demonstrating in peace marches and serving in soup kitchens, lobbying politicians for change, as well as stocking food banks. Members of the STM community demonstrate a commitment to each of these aspects of social action. For example, each year, all of STM’s student groups collaborate to raise funds for a local charity. Faculty and staff are encouraged to engage in community service.6 Indeed, a true culture of service exists as STM faculty and staff reach out to the community in a variety of ways. At the same time, the minor in “Critical Perspectives on Social Justice and the Common Good” provides a deep analysis of injustice and calls forth a just response that will work to change those social structures that constitute the root causes of the problem. Confronting the complex issues of injustice in today’s world demands a multifaceted approach.
The Catholic tradition also takes a “seamless garment” approach to justice and service. By this, we see ourselves equally concerned with all issues that impact the dignity of the human person. Catholics can be seen promoting a deep respect for life at all stages, from conception to natural death. At the same time, they can be seen advocating for an end to poverty and hunger, protecting our environment, working to abolish human trafficking, and standing for peace in war zones. All these issues, and more, fall within the purview of the Catholic Social Justice tradition.
At St. Thomas More College we seek to prepare our students** to engage fully in this endeavour of building a more just and peaceful world, one that respects also the integrity of creation. Through the STM Just Youth group, students advocate for social change through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Through STM’s Engaged Learning Program, students volunteer in local service initiatives and reflect on this experience in both curricular and co-curricular settings. Through the STM-Intercordia program,7 students encounter injustice and poverty in other countries around the world, coming back transformed in their own desire for justice.
The opening words of the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, proclaimed that “…(t)he joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and the hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find echo in their hearts…”8 One could say that the joy and hope, grief and anguish of the people of our time finds echo in the heart of St. Thomas More College as well.
Questions for Reflection
How do we address social and economic inequality both locally and globally?
How do we engage with other religious traditions (or non-religious) in a discussion about social justice?
How do we provide education to those who otherwise would not have access to it?
How does my choice of research/area of study contribute to the “good of all humanity”?
How do our employment practices, policies and fiscal stewardship reflect our values about social justice?
*Catholic popes and bishops, in response to the gospel call to justice, regularly issue statements responding to the social needs of the day. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, recently issued Caritas in Veritate which touches a wide range of issues, from the environmental crisis to economic justice. In this document, the Pope calls for a justice based on “caritas” or selfless love.
** "CSL has challenged my assumptions — it's complicated some issues, and it's clarified others. CSL has put a human face on philosophical and social realities, and made me realize the difference between working for people and working with people." - Veronica Carr, Fourth Year Philosophy
"My passion for social justice used to be angry but theoretical. CSL has made me a more empathetic and understanding person because I have an increased focus on real people and the ways they are working to address systematic injustices rather than dwelling on feeling frustrated and helpless." - Philomena Ojukwu, Fourth Year Political Studies
1 Micah 6:8
2 Acts 2:46
3 Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World (1971), 6.
4 Matthew 6:10
5 Ex Corde Ecclesiae
6 The community service work of faculty is recognized annually through the Margaret Dutli Professional Community Service Award while volunteerism among staff is acknowledged through the granting of a Community Service Leave Day.
7 For more information about Intercordia or other Engaged Learning Programs at STM, click on “Community Service Learning” at www.stmcollege.ca.
8 Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), 1.