By Fran Lavelle
I have been trying to process the devasting toll the coronavirus has had on so many around the world and the impact of George Floyd’s death. Every day seems to bring its own new set of challenges to our already highly emotionally charged world. In all of it I have been listening to the voices of our young people from teenagers to the 40-somethings. It occurred to me that the generations who were brought up watching Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Barney have taken notice that we are not as Barney proclaimed, ”a happy family.” Watch the news, look at your social media newsfeed, talk to the younger members of your community and you will quickly hear their clarion call for change. And, in thinking about the messaging they grew up with, I totally understand where their clarion call is coming from. Moreover, I truly appreciate it.
In the past decade or so in this country we have allowed the politics of hatred to divide us so deeply that we have stopped seeing one another as God’s beloved and only as opposites. If you are not with us, you are our enemy. The divisiveness is driving wedges between co-workers, church members, friends and family. And the Body of Christ is suffering because we are quick to see one another as hostile enemies, forgetting that we share in our dignity as God’s beloved.
In Genesis 1:27 we read: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” When the dignity of others is eroded by indifference, prejudice and distrust we stop seeing the beauty of God’s creation. The first Chapter of Genesis teaches us about the goodness of creation and the divine desire that human beings share in that goodness. God brings an orderly universe out of chaos and gives humanity dominion over it. With the power of dominion comes the responsibility to be good stewards of our resources.
The good news is that we have an excellent resource to help us have constructive dialogue. Catholic social teaching is the articulation of Catholic doctrines on matters of human dignity and common good in society. The following is a summary from the USCCB on the core principles of Catholic social teaching:
Life and Dignity of the Human Person: The Catholic church proclaims that human life is sacred, and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.
Call to Family, Community and Participation: The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Rights and Responsibilities: The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities – to one another, to our families and to the larger society.
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected.
Solidarity: We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. Pope St. Paul VI taught that “if you want peace, work for justice.”
Care for God’s Creation: We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation.
Let us listen to the voices of our young people and heed the call for unity.
“Each one of us is called to be an artisan of peace, by uniting and not dividing, by extinguishing hatred and not holding on to it, by opening paths to dialogue and not by constructing new walls!” – Pope Francis
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)