Over the coming months, The Central Minnesota Catholic will examine the seven themes of Catholic social teaching. Included are an article explaining the theme, a feature story highlighting the theme (see related story on St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis) and items for lesson planning.
By Amy Uelmen | Catholic News Service
For so many reasons, 2020 was a rough year. The COVID-19 pandemic has many asking how much longer we can endure the physical isolation from family, friends, schoolmates and colleagues. An especially tense campaign season left open wounds in relationships between people of different political perspectives.
How might the Church’s social teaching illuminate these challenges? How might it help us to find meaning and in turn bring insight and healing to the world around us?
In my mind’s eyes, I often return to the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, when the enormous crowd that gathered with Pope John Paul II chanted together the theme song: “We are one body, one body in Christ, and we do not stand alone. We are one body, one body in Christ, and he came that we might have life.”
At the heart of the church’s teaching on family, community and participation is the conviction and the experience of being part of this one body, the mystical body of Christ.
“We do not stand alone”: This captures an important critical truth for our society today. We greatly value individual initiative and freedom to realize creative dreams, and this can be a wonderful drive to participate as co-creators in God’s plans for humanity.
At the same time, when we overemphasize this dimension, we run the risk of becoming callous — or even blind — to those with fewer resources, who hope to realize their equally valid dreams.
Why should people with resources care about those who don’t have health insurance or sick leave, or protection when unemployed? Why should they care about those on the margins because they are undocumented?
The pandemic has brought into focus that we truly are one body, deeply connected — throughout the world. If we do not find a way to reframe our political and social life to care for each other’s basic needs — concretely — then no one can flourish.
“We do not stand alone”: This also expresses an extraordinarily comforting and hopeful reality. We stand together precisely because the risen Lord is in our midst. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we feel our hearts burning as the life that is nourished by our contact with the word and the Eucharist courses through our veins. He came that we might have life (see John 10:10).
What are the spaces where we are called to witness to the truth that “we do not stand alone”? The first is the family, what the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”) described as the “domestic church” (No. 11).
The health of society is closely linked with this most basic form of human community. For this reason, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us in the pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All,” a core touchstone to evaluate economic, social and labor policies should be their impact on the strength and stability of family life (No. 93).
The family can also be a first “school” for attention to the wider community. When I was growing up, my own family designated one night a week as “family night,” that included three dimensions: 1) time together, talking or playing a game; 2) a concrete activity to “reach out” to others in need; 3) a festive “surprise dessert.” I now see how much this practice helped us open our hearts and minds to building community in the world around us.
As Pope Francis challenged in the apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” families can widen their horizons to embrace “solidarity with the poor, openness to a diversity of people, the protection of creation, moral and material solidarity with other families, including those most in need,” and so on (No. 290).
In the school for building true community, perhaps the most subtle and delicate lesson we need to learn is how to cultivate pathways to fully engaged participation. It is important that the desire to help does not itself become an obstacle to people bringing their own unique contributions to society and culture.
The Catholic social thought principle of subsidiarity helps us to discern when government policies or programs risk crushing the initiative of individuals or local communities. Instead, larger entities should step in only when their activities contribute to capacity for engaged participation in social life.
As we continue to journey through the challenges we face, we can draw strength and healing not only from the awareness of being “one body in Christ” but also from the commitment to witness to the world that “we do not stand alone.”
As members of families and communities who are attentive to others who are part of this one body, we can also celebrate the gifts they bring. With hearts and minds open to this horizon, we can truly affirm, he came that we might have life.
Amy Uelmen is a lecturer in religion and professional life at Georgetown Law School.
LESSON PLAN RESOURCES
The following were compiled by staff of the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Exploring the Scriptures
“It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
“I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper” (Genesis 4:8-15).
“What you own belongs to the Lord and is given for the good of all” (Leviticus 25:23-43).
“If you act justly with one another, God will dwell in the land” (Jeremiah 7:5-7).
“Act justly, love kindness, walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:6-8).
“This is my commandment; Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12-17).
“We are one body, individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-8).
“Rouse one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
“Our faith is dead if we ignore others in need” (James 2:14-17).
“Serve one another with the gifts you have received” (1 Peter 4:8-11).
“We ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16-18).
- What communities are you a part of? Why are you a part of these communities? How do you contribute to them?
- How are we responsible for each other in our families? In our parishes? In our communities?
- Why is it important as Catholics that we participate in our wider communities, not just in our families or parishes?
- Where do you see a need in your community that should be addressed? How will you to address that need?
Have a family night. Prepare and share a meal together. Pray together. Share stories about where you have seen God during the week.
Make a scrapbook of family memories. Gather pictures from a trip or event and print them.
Spend time together putting them into a book and have each person take part in writing captions for what they remember.
Make and send family video “cards” to extended family and friends. Be creative. Make a family cheer or showcase something your family is doing together, like your scrapbook or the meal you have made together.
Make a “bingo card” checklist of practical things you can do as a family to serve in your community over the coming year. Set some dates on your calendar to go out and do them!
Learn more about opportunities to know and get involved in supporting your community. Catholic Charities is a great place to get started.
FOR CHILDREN: PICTURE BOOKS
- “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney
- “Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki
- “The Doorbell Rang” by Pat Hutchins
- “Thunder Cake” by Patricia Polacco
- “Chicken Sunday” by Patricia Polacco
- “Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen” by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan
FOR CHILDREN: CHAPTER BOOKS
- “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo
- “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
- “Maniac Magee” by Jerry Spinelli
- “Home of the Brave” by Katherine Applegate
- “Waiting for Normal” by Leslie Connor
- “Amoris Laetitia” by Pope Francis
- “Cry, The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton