“For everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1
The season of my writing for The Visitor has come to an end. The Visitor soon begins a new format, and this column will not be part of it. I regret that this is my last column, but during this particular season I am also thankful.
I am deeply grateful for The Visitor, and especially editor Joe Towalski, granting me the opportunity to write this column for so many years. Its focus always has been to present Catholic social teaching in relation to critical issues facing our society and the larger world. I remain convinced that this teaching regarding social justice ministry is central to the life and vitality of our church.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2005, acts of charity and justice are as essential to the church as the ministry of sacraments and preaching of the Gospel (“God Is Love,” 22). More recently, Pope Francis reminded us that our love for God is shown more clearly in works of mercy toward our neighbor than in acts of worship (“Rejoice and Be Glad,” 106). And yet, this ministry for justice and the teachings to support it are lacking in so many parishes here in this diocese.
I am thankful for The Visitor readers who responded to my columns through emails, letters and phone calls — a mix of positive and negative reactions, and I am grateful for both. Presenting Catholic social teaching in relation to contemporary and sometimes controversial issues is bound to elicit responses. Many readers feel strongly about the topics, and some feel their church (and its official newspaper) should not be addressing such matters. Still, we hear the words of Pope Francis again: “The church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world” (“The Joy of the Gospel,” 183).
I am thankful that our church has produced these Catholic social documents, beginning with Pope Leo XIII in 1891 (“On the Condition of Labor”) and continuing into the papacy of Pope Francis (“On Care for Our Common Home”). These teachings show us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ while facing the social, economic and political issues of our day. They remind us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has everything to do with how we respond to such challenges as welcoming immigrants and refugees, alleviating hunger and poverty, providing access to health care for everyone and recognizing humankind’s role in degrading God’s creation — especially in the form of global warming.
The challenging and unsettling character of our church’s social teachings is reflected in Pope Francis’ Nov. 18 homily: “The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but every day heard less” — a cry that is “drowned out by the din of the rich few who grow ever fewer and more rich.”
I am thankful for the U.S. Catholic bishops’ efforts over the decades to promote awareness of these teachings, including the seven core themes they articulated in the late 1990s:
• Life and dignity of the human person;
• Call to family, community and participation;
• Rights and responsibilities;
• Option for the poor and vulnerable;
• The dignity of work and the rights of workers;
• Care for God’s creation.
Their most recent pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Your Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” reflects these themes.
It is my hope that The Visitor, in its new format (The Central Minnesota Catholic), will continue to engage and present our church’s social teachings. In their 1998 reflection, “Sharing Catholic Social Teachings,” the bishops noted, “If Catholic education and formation fail to communicate our social tradition, they are not fully Catholic” (p. 2). Surely the same can be said of any diocesan newspaper or magazine.
Bernie Evans is retired from St. John’s University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville, where he held the Virgil Michel Ecumenical Chair in Rural Social Ministries.