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Catholic Church's best kept secret

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The Catholic Church has a big secret. It is so powerful, challenging, and relevant, that if every bishop, priest, religious and layperson was committed to communicating and implementing this secret, it would turn society upside-down and transform the world!

However, revealing its contents, and urging the full application of its message, would surely cause great controversy. The church's leaders would come under attack from both conservatives and liberals. They would be characterized as naive and acting outside the acceptable bounds of church leadership.

Therefore, most church leaders – clergy and lay leaders alike – have opted to tread lightly, sadly guaranteeing that "Catholic social teaching” will remain our best-kept secret.

The best-kept secret is that the Catholic Church is blessed with over 130 years of outstanding social justice and peace documents authored by popes, Vatican Council II, world synods of bishops and national conferences of bishops. Sadly, they attract more dust than readers.

It is imperative that we get out of our comfort zones and disciple ourselves to make decisions not from our political preferences, but rather to see, judge, and act in light of the countercultural Gospel, and its modern application: Catholic social teaching!  

But because Catholic social teaching’s foundational tenets of love, social justice and peace boldly challenge governments, corporations, and societies, as well as rich and powerful individuals to fairly share their wealth and power with everyone – especially the poor, the vulnerable and mother earth – and because these teachings insist that war preparation and war-making must completely give way to Gospel nonviolent peacemaking, Catholic social teaching is to put it mildly: a tough sell.

But 30 years ago, to their credit, the U.S. bishops took on the challenge of selling the Catholic Church’s best kept secret and penned “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish.”

In this engaging document, the bishops wrote “We need to build local communities [parishes] of faith where our social teaching is central, not fringe; where social ministry is integral, not optional; where it is the work of every believer, not just the mission of a few committed people and committees.”

The bishops lament this sad fact and call us out of complacency: “For too many parishioners, our [Catholic] social teaching is an unknown tradition. In too many parishes, social ministry is a task for a few, not a challenge for the entire parish community. We believe we are just beginning to realize our potential as a community of faith committed to serve those in need and to work for greater justice.

“The parishes that are leaders in this area see social ministry not as a specialized ministry, but as an integral part of the entire parish. They weave the Catholic social mission into every aspect of parish life – worship, formation, and action. They follow a strategy of integration and collaboration, which keeps social ministry from becoming isolated or neglected.”

Social ministry that is based on Catholic social teaching tirelessly strives to meet peoples’ direct immediate needs – especially the poor and vulnerable from conception to natural death – and works equally hard to address and uproot the root causes of the many social injustices that keep people poor and oppressed (see: https://bit.ly/3K6206z and https://www.crs.org/resource-center/CST-101).

The U.S. bishops’ document – “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish” – is so important that it truly needs to be reflectively read by every parishioner, in every parish worldwide. And although it is specifically written for parishes, it can, and should, be equally taken to heart by Catholic school principals and teachers at all levels – kindergarten through graduate school (see: https://bit.ly/3Y328JW).

The U.S. bishops have prepared helpful resources to assist parishes in making “Communities of Salt and Light” a wonderful reality (see: https://bit.ly/44zMqIX).

Catholic social teaching could become a tremendously effective tool for building a just and peaceful world, if we would regularly read it, pray with it, teach it, preach it, and live it!

Tony Magliano
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