Why Should We Care About Social Justice?

Around Christmas Time I had a person ask me if I supported social justice.  I said yes to which she responded that the previous pastor did too but she doesn’t.  I don’t remember exactly what her next comment was and I don’t want to put words into her mouth.  Whatever she said, my response was, as my initial response almost always is on this subject is to read Matthew 25:31-46.

To anyone who has read my website, it should be no surprise that I support Catholic Social Teaching (If you haven’t read my writings on Catholic Social teaching check out http://renewaloffaith.org/sj/socialjustice.htm on my website and http://renewaloffaith.org/blog/?cat=7 on this blog).

Catholic Social Teaching often gets the label of “liberal” attached to it.  People see it as something new because the church never wrote an official document on social teaching until Rerum Novarum in 1891.  Maybe the church didn’t write a document exclusively on social teaching until 1891 but again I point to Matthew 25:31-46.  Jesus himself told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Clearly, helping others in need is to be part of our faith.

I want to open the door a little wider.  There are two ways we put Catholic Social Teaching into action.  The first is charity where we help people with their immediate needs.  This can include but not limited to donating food, clothing, and helping the sick.  It is direct action.  One of the concerns expressed on this is people who say they are willing to help someone who is truly in need but they don’t want to help someone who is too lazy to work.  The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) calls us to pay a wage by what people need (just wage) when they work.  Paul calls us to work for what we receive.  It isn’t about given “free handouts.”  Our calling is to those truly in need.

The second part of Catholic Social Teaching is justice.  Here we work to change policies or systems that keep people down.  I think of things like government regulations about farm labor.  Are you aware that the minimum wage for farm workers is lower than regular minimum wage and that farm workers have to work well beyond 40 hours to get overtime?  How is that fair?  A worker working full-time making minimum wage with a family falls below the poverty line and to think the farm wage is even less.  This is a policy that needs to change.

Catholic Social Teaching is concerned with both answering the immediate need for food, clothing, etc. with charity and a longer term approach in justice.  Remember the proverb, “Give a man a fish, you find him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”  We need to do both.


Fr. Jeff

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