"Social Justice -A Basic Introduction"

Before we begin: The intent of this web page is to give the uninitiated a very basic introduction into Catholic Social Justice and to serve as a starting point for further study. I greatfully acknowledge the assistance of the Justice and Peace Advisory Council (JPAC) for the Southern Region of the Diocese of Syracuse NY.

--Rich Bedard

"Social Justice -A Basic Introduction"

"You have been told, O man
what is good and what Yahweh asks of you, simply this:
to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Some Definitions

In order to define social justice, let us begin, by taking a look at what social ministry is:

Social Ministry has two main aspects: social service (also known as Parish Outreach) and social action

Social Service is giving direct aid to someone in need. It usually involves performing one or more of the corporal works of mercy. That is, giving alms to the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, taking care of orphans and widows, visiting the shut-ins etc. Another name for it is charity.

Social Action is correcting the structures that perpetuate the need. Another name for this is Social Justice. Through the lens of social justice, we begin to take a look at the problems and issues facing us in our own communities, the nation and finally the world, and we begin to ask questions such as, "Why is there so much unemployment in our area?" "Why are there so many poor in our community?" "How will the deforestation of our rain forests affect our global climate?" etc. Very often when you are performing social service, you also become involved in solving the problem which created the need in the first place, and the two are closely related and often blend together. An example of this would be, someone comes to your food pantry, and tells you he/she has no food, because he/she lost their job recently. You may know of an employer looking to hire someone right away for a job requiring little or no skills. You give that person food, then place that person in touch with the employer. You then would have solved both problems for that person. (a) the immediate need of food through an act of charity (social service) and (b) you would have corrected the problem which created and perpetuated the need. (social justice)

Where We Get Our Identity

  • We are all One Body in Christ   -1Cor 12:12

  • Together we are Christ's Body, each of us a different part    -1Cor 12:27

  • All are one in Christ   -Gal 3:28

  • "I am the Vine, you are the branches.."   -John 15:1-5

  • You are God's temple.   -1Cor 3:16

  • Vatican II document: "Constitution on the Church" Chapter 1 states that the Church is:
    • #1. A sign and instrument in the world.
    • #3. The Kingdom of Christ here on earth.
    • #7. All of us are to use our gifts to serve one another.
    • #9. Not as individuals are we called to be saved, but as One Body.

Our Mission What do we do?

  • Jesus begins His ministry of bringing the Good News to the poor.   -Luke 4:16-19

  • At the Last Judgement Christ will seperate the sheep from the goats.   -Matt 25:31-46

  • You are the Salt of the Earth.   -Matt 5:3-16

  • Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.   -Matt 5:6-9

-"If you want Peace, work for Justice" (Pope Paul VI)

The Goals of Social Justice and Parish Outreach are the same:

  • To follow the command to "love one another as I have loved you".

  • To enable everyone to enter into a relationship with Christ in such a way, so that everyone can come to know Christ in the same way that the Father knows the Son.

If we think about this for a moment, it becomes clear. If our basic human needs are met, that is to say that if we are not concerned with obtaining food, clothing, shelter etc., then we are better able to enter into a closer relationship with Christ.

Vatican II

Document on "The Church In The Modern World" chap 2 #26 states: on the common good of all that: "persons ought to have access to all that is necessary for the proper development of life."

Things You Should Know

    1. Social Service (Charity) Respond to the effects of a problem
    2. Social Justice Respond to the cause of the problem

    1. Matthew 25:31-46
      • Parable of the last judgement
      • We shall be judged by what we have done for the "least of these"
    2. James 2:14-24
      • Faith without good works is a dead faith
    3. Exodus:
      Moses didn't ask the Egyptians for better working conditions, he demanded that they change the system and let his people go.

    Developed by a Synod of Bishops, signed by Pope Paul VI in November 1971.
    1. Item #6 says "action for justice is a requirement of our faith."
    2. Item #72 says that "action for justice must happen in the parish at all it's levels."

  • WHAT MAKES US CATHOLIC -Bishop Costello Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Syracuse Ny :
    1. Celebrate the Eucharist
    2. Proclaim the Good News of the Gospel
    3. Act for Justice

  • BISHOP O'KEEFE Retired Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse Ny, -March 1990 -Catholic Sun Article:
    "Our young people should be alive and active in the quest for peace and justice."

  • BISHOP MOYNIHAN Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse Ny, -January 9,1997 -Catholic Sun Article:
    If we recall that Jesus came to "preach the good news to the poor," it has to be said that a
    commitment to justice and peace and to the outcasts in our midst is a necessary condition
    for the proper celebration of the Jubilee (Year 2000)

    I give you a new commandment:
    (What)-Love one another
    (How)-As I have loved you.

    Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

1888. "It is necessary, then, to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain SOCIAL changes that will really serve him. The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of JUSTICE and advance the good rather than hinder it.[Cf. LG 36.] "

1889. "Without the help of grace, men would not know how 'to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse.'[CA 25.] This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor. Charity is the greatest SOCIAL commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of JUSTICE, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: 'Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.'[Lk 17:33 .]"

1916. "As with any ethical obligation, the participation of all in realizing the common good calls for a continually renewed conversion of the SOCIAL partners. Fraud and other subterfuges, by which some people evade the constraints of the law and the prescriptions of societal obligation, must be firmly condemned because they are incompatible with the requirements of JUSTICE. Much care should be taken to promote institutions that improve the conditions of human life.[Cf. GS 30 # 1.] "

1928. "Society ensures SOCIAL JUSTICE when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. SOCIAL JUSTICE is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority. "

1929. "SOCIAL JUSTICE can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him: What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.[John Paul II, SRS 47.] "

1938. "There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel: Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and SOCIAL disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against SOCIAL JUSTICE, equity, human dignity, as well as SOCIAL and international peace.[CS 29 # 3.] "

1943. "Society ensures SOCIAL JUSTICE by providing the conditions that allow associations and individuals to obtain their due. "

2419. "'Christian revelation . . . promotes deeper understanding of the laws of SOCIAL living.'[GS 23 # 1.] The Church receives from the Gospel the full revelation of the truth about man. When she fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches him the demands of JUSTICE and peace in conformity with divine wisdom."

2425. "The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with 'communism' or 'socialism.' She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of 'capitalism,' individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.[Cf. CA 10; 13; 44.] Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of SOCIAL bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails SOCIAL JUSTICE, for 'there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.'[CA 34.] Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended."

2426. "The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with SOCIAL JUSTICE so as to correspond to God's plan for man.[Cf. GS 64.] "

2442. "It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of SOCIAL life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. SOCIAL action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity 'to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and JUSTICE.'[SRS 47 # 6; cf. 42.]"

2459. "Man is himself the author, center, and goal of all economic and SOCIAL life. The decisive point of the SOCIAL question is that goods created by God for everyone should in fact reach everyone in accordance with JUSTICE and with the help of charity. "

2479. "Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the SOCIAL witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of JUSTICE and charity. "

2495. "'It is necessary that all members of society meet the demands of JUSTICE and charity in this domain. They should help, through the means of SOCIAL communication, in the formation and diffusion of sound public opinion.'[IM 8.] Solidarity is a consequence of genuine and right communication and the free circulation of ideas that further knowledge and respect for others."

2512. "Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, and JUSTICE. One should practice moderation and discipline in the use of the SOCIAL communications media. "

2832. "As leaven in the dough, the newness of the kingdom should make the earth 'rise' by the Spirit of Christ.[Cf. AA 5.] This must be shown by the establishment of JUSTICE in personal and SOCIAL, economic and international relations, without ever forgetting that there are no just structures without people who want to be just."

+Social Justice Prayer+

Almighty and eternal God, may your grace enkindle in all of us a love for the many unfortunate people whom poverty and misery reduce to a condition of life unworthy of human beings.

Arouse in the hearts of those who call you Father a hunger and thirst for social justice and for fraternal charity in deeds and in truth.

Grant, O Lord, peace to souls, peace to families, peace to our country and peace among nations. Amen

The Four Main Aspects of Social Justice

    Living as though other people and living things matter. Examples of this would be:
    • FASTING in solidarity with the hungry, the oppressed etc
    • LIVING SIMPLY. Do I really need all those gadgets coming out in the stores? Recycling where you can; being a good steward of all our natural resources and of our planet that God has given us.
    • PRAYING for the poor, the homeless,for an end to sweatshops,etc.

    We are obligated to educate ourselves and others about social justice. Read all you can about the subject. Study all you can about all the social issues facing us in the world today. Spread the word about these issues. Examples :Global Warming, the natural disasters, sweatshops, the death penalty, opressed and persecuted Christians in the Sudan etc. ...............everthing!

    Get involved in the community! Join or start a food pantry. Start a neighborhood watch program if one is needed. Start or join a group in your parish that studies the issues of the community/world and decides what can be done about the problems facing us. Start a volunteer voter registration group. Organize the community in consolidating the efforts of giving its help to the poor. Join Habitat for Humanity etc. etc. ...Just do it!

    This is giving a voice to those who have no voice, that is, the poor, the sick, the shut in, the unborn, the dying, the disadvantaged, the immigrants, those imprisoned, the homeless, racial minorities etc. We are called to speak out! Write a letter to the editor, join a march, call your elected officials and let them know how you feel. Very often legislation gets passed to the disadvantage of many, because the elected official simply didn't know how people feel about the subject. This is because no one bothered to call!

Bishops' Statements-NCCB/USCC


Social Justice Quiz

Take this short quiz and Test Your Social Justice IQ

The JustFaith Program

JustFaith is a program for parishes interested in expanding their Parish Social Ministry. It is an excellent tool to help Catholics answer the call of Pope John Paul II and our Bishops to create a Just Society. More info.

Points To Remember

  • We are the Church! You are the Salt of the Earth. The Light of the World. We are called by Christ to let our light shine forth! Matt 5:13-16

  • It is not enough to come to church on Sunday to be saved. To know about a social evil and do nothing is a sin of omission. Matt 25:31-46, James 3:14-20

  • To those who say but this is mixing politics with religion, I can't do that! I say the following: We owe our allegience to God before we owe it to our country and as Christians we are called to Live the Gospel in every aspect of our daily lives.

  • "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor, will themselves call and not be heard." Proverbs 21:13

Social Justice Website Links

Buy Nothing Day

Image of the Good Shepherd courtesy of Catholic Pics used with kind permission

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