“The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.”
“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
“We believe that Social Security legislation, now billed as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the idea of force and compulsion.”
“Thank God that He has permitted us to live among the present problems. It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre. It is you yourselves who must do the works of mercy.”
All of the words above are attributed to Servant of God Dorothy Day.
The other day I received a Facebook message from a friend from church, who happened to attend a major Catholic media conference in town a few weeks ago. He mentioned that my blog came up in conversation, myself being described as a “Dorothy Day Catholic”. I nearly spit out my coffee when I read that. Mostly I was shocked that anyone would compare me with such an amazing woman of God as Dorothy Day, not when my hard and selfish heart so often keeps me from living out the truths she daily embraced.
I wasn’t flattered. I was taken aback. I kept reading. He then went on to say that he meant “Dorothy Day Catholic” in the sense that I, like Ms. Day, embrace all of the Church’s social teachings. I couldn’t balk at that, as I do, in fact embrace all of the Church’s social teachings, a position the formation of which has cost me dearly. God had to break me open and drive home some hard truths for me to see the wisdom of all the teachings of our Church when it comes to morals and social life. Perhaps more importantly, I had to let Him teach me.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by my friend’s characterization of me and my writing, as I do try to represent the truth of all Church social teachings in my writing. I am equally opposed to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war (both nuclear and otherwise), human trafficking, and unjust conditions for workers and immigrants. I know that some issues are more important than others, but none are unimportant or can justly be ignored.
What seems shocking to me is just how few Catholics I’ve encountered who share this view. What seems shocking to me is that anyone wouldn’t want to be a “Dorothy Day Catholic”. This servant of God devoted her life to prayer, attending Mass daily, saying the rosary daily, and frequently spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. She devoted her life to doing the works of mercy, the very things which Our Lord himself says will determine if we are sheep or goats before Him. Who among us would not want to imitate her example?
As I thought about this message, I kept going back to my time working for the Archdiocese of Chicago in the Office for Peace and Justice. It’s sort of an interesting story how I came to work for the office. I was completing my MA in Social Justice from Loyola University Chicago and required an internship to finish my degree. My initial interest was the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese. Since abortion is, to my mind, the social justice issue of the day, I saw it as a perfect fit for my internship. However, upon reading over my resume during my interview, a few questions came up about just how “pro-life” I was. You see, in addition to being a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center at the time and being strongly against abortion, there was the question of my anti-death penalty work in college and of my other “social justice” activities. The subtle message I received was that, because abortion wasn’t the only social issue important to me, I wasn’t pro-life enough. It made me sick.
Then I found the Office for Peace and Justice, and was so impressed with the then director of the office. Here was someone, who like me, was “on board” with all of the Church’s social teachings. Here was someone who had embraced openness to life (with baby number 7 now on the way), was opposed to abortion and euthanasia, and who, with his wife, had run a Catholic Worker farm. It felt like seeing a unicorn; the mythical Catholic who believes in all of the Church’s social teachings. They do exist!
Once my initial sense of elation wore off, I settled into the daily life of working for the Church. One part of my work was to liaison with the Respect Life Office about various programs which we (tried) to partner together for. It was heartbreaking work to be straddling one of the major fractures in the Body of Christ. To feel as though I were one of a few tendons holding a broken bone together. It was heartbreaking to see people who profess the same Lord, and who receive that same Lord each week in the Eucharist to have such mistrust for the ministry and work of their brothers and sisters in Christ. People who are working to achieve the same ends, social justice and respect for human life at all stages, who can’t even talk with one another. It broke my heart then, and it still breaks now.
The truth of the matter is, there should never have been two offices. Pro-life issues ARE social justice issues, and social justice issues ARE pro-life issues. To say this is not to say that they all hold the same moral weight, but it is to say that none may justly be ignored. No one is exempt from being knowledgeable about, and caring about, the full range of Catholic Social Teachings. For some reason, this seems to be a claim which is dangerous to some, and unintelligible to a few. I often hear the phrase “prudential judgement” bandied about to explain why someone has rejected one of the Social Teachings of the Church. Basically what they mean is that because assent to a particular teaching has not been stated as being a requirement of the faith, a Catholic does not have to embrace it in order to remain in good standing. This principle does not apply to the teachings on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and same-sex marriage, which are called non-negotiable.
The reason for the difference is that the teachings pertaining to issues like immigration, poverty, just wage/working conditions, war, etc. fall under the realm of general guiding principles, rather than specific proscriptions. In theory this means that someone has thoroughly researched the issue, read nearly everything the Church has said on the issue, and has prayerfully considered the issue, asking the Holy Spirit to help them think with the Church regarding this teaching. If however, after attempting to embrace the teaching they still, in their conscience, cannot agree, they exercise their “prudential judgement” to reject it. In practice, what it often means is that people who don’t like feeling uncomfortable in their political ideology of choice reject social teachings, if they were even familiar with them in the first place, without due consideration for the view put forth by what they believe is the Body of Christ on Earth. Sadly, in many cases, people use this as an excuse to remain ignorant of teachings which may make them uncomfortable or challenge their lifestyle. I know that was certainly the case for me.
I have to challenge everyone to become familiar with the social teachings of the Church, if you are not already. They are a beautiful, cogent, and wonderfully articulated approach to creating societies that strive to be the Kingdom of God on Earth, in as much as this is possible before the end of time. How can you be against a teaching you have never earnestly considered? Yes, some issues are non-negotiable and some are not. This does not give one a free pass to ignore the Church as long as they assent to the “required” teachings. The Church, in her wisdom has invited us to learn the teachings and prayerfully approach them, being willing to give our Mother the respect she deserves.
So, how does one educate themselves on the social teachings?
Read, read, read. Read the original documents if possible, as not all commentaries are “on board” when it comes to some teachings. Papal encyclicals are a rich source of social teachings of the Church. A good one to start with is Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on Catholic Social Teaching.
Pray, pray, pray. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to help you think with the Church on whatever issue it is you are struggling with. This is a powerful prayer. If you open yourself even a little to the prompting of the Spirit, He will knock your socks off.
When you have researched and prayed, when you have sincerely tried to think with the Church on her social teachings, then, and only then, is one free to disagree in good conscience with one of the “prudential judgement” teachings. After all, if you sincerely believe the Church is your Mother, why would you want to disagree with Her about something unless you were absolutely certain she was wrong? Doesn’t your Mother, the Church, deserve the respect of trying your hardest to agree with her before rejecting teachings which much prayer and thought have gone into?
I can write about all of this because it is an integral part of the painful journey of conversion that God led me though. From a contraception using, Planned Parenthood supporting, “progressive” Catholic, to an NFP practicing, Crisis Pregnancy Center supporting, “Dorothy Day” Catholic. The Holy Spirit blew my heart wide open, because I was humble enough to admit that maybe, just possibly, I did not know more than 2,000 years of consistent teaching from the Church. All it took was that small concession, and a grudging acceptance that perhaps I should be more familiar with what it was I was rejecting, which the Spirit used to show me that even though there are things I can disagree with the Church about, I trust Her enough to not want to.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Sarah-Babbs.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sarah Babbs is a married mother of an 18 month old girl, writing from Indiana where she moved for love after growing up on the east coast. Sarah and her husband, a lawyer, lead marriage prep classes for their parish in addition to daydreaming about having chickens and becoming lunatic farmers. During stolen moments when the baby’s napping and the laundry is multiplying itself, Sarah writes about new motherhood, Catholic social thought, and ponders the meaning of being a woman “made in the image of God”. Her website is Fumbling Toward Grace.[/author_info] [/author]