For a long time now, I have been wondering why the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church are so frequently described as our “best kept secret.” And I am not alone in this.
Not long ago, I taught a course on Catholic Social Justice doctrine to some coordinators of religious education who are in our Catechetical Office Advanced Catechetical Leadership Program. One of the participants asked me why she had never heard about this before. Another person said the connection between social justice and Scripture, most especially to Christ himself, was clear as crystal. “Why don’t we hear more about this in Church?” I was asked. Why indeed?
It is not as though Catholic Social Teaching is some new age phenomenon. Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (Of New Things), a foundational social justice encyclical, dates from 1891. Practically every pope who followed him, right up to Pope Francis, has contributed to this doctrine. Francis been teaching it almost from the first day of his pontificate. He’s giving lessons in Rio de Janeiro to young people right now.. But we should all know this. It is our heritage.
Apart from its importance as Church teaching, however, Catholic Social Justice is a powerful instrument of evangelization, calling people to the Catholic faith or calling them back to the faith in ways that not even the finest homily can match. It enables people emulate what Jesus taught of in the parables and beatitudes and what he did himself.
Just this afternoon, my colleague, Oscar Cruz, director of the Catechumenate, got an e-mail from a woman who was so moved by the images and gestures of Pope Francis among the immigrants and today among the poor people of the Rio slums, that she is interested in becoming fully initiated in the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Just think of all the people who, in recent years, have been turned off by the scandals in the Church. Finally, they have something noble and pure and selfless to look at again. They might just want to have an opportunity to do something to alleviate the suffering in this world. The local church can provide this.
Let’s make this “secret” known.