This is part six in a series examining the seven themes of Catholic social teaching. Included are an article explaining the theme, a feature story highlighting the theme (see related story: Local Benedictine sisters provide humanitarian support at U.S.-Mexico border) and items for lesson planning.
By David Cloutier | Catholic News Service
Am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper? And who are my brothers and sisters? Just considering these two familiar questions gives us the essence of the Catholic concept of solidarity. Solidarity means, in St. John Paul II’s words, that, yes, “we are all really responsible for all.”
How does this idea affect our everyday habits and decisions? Imagine waking up in the morning with the thought: Today, I am responsible for helping everyone. Notice two things. First, this means I am not waking up focused on me. Solidarity is a rejection of an attitude of selfish individualism.
But the other thing to notice is it’s overwhelming and literally impossible! Parents may think: I can barely be responsible for everything my two kids need, much less the whole human race. Besides, don’t we need some “self-care” to serve others. Even Jesus slipped away to deserted places in order to “recharge,” right? Maybe I am only responsible for a few others, and then I need to take care of myself?
Being stuck between these two poles – selfcenteredness and exhausting ourselves for others – is a sign that as a society, we do not really understand what solidarity means. The history of the term “solidarity” goes back to an ancient notion of civic or social friendship. In his recent encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” Pope Francis reinvigorates this language of “social friendship” as his hope for the post-COVID world.
At its best, true friendship is not exhausting service from which we need to recharge. It’s more like being plugged in, not draining our batteries. Catholic social thought invites us beyond our tendency to view self and neighbor as competitors and instead imagine a social life where in giving ourselves, we receive ourselves; where in sharing, we get more.
Think about this description a little, and (hopefully) you will realize it is not a fantasy. We experience solidarity in many ways: gathering to watch your favorite sports team win the championship (or playing on that team), talking for hours and deepening friendship, collaborating on a creative work project, marching for social justice, participating in a choir performing a long-rehearsed piece.
Catholic social teaching on solidarity is about finding and deepening those experiences of shared life with others. And they can be everywhere: at work, in the family, at church, in the neighborhood, in various groups.
St. John Paul, raised under communism, altered the Marxist notion of “alienation” to fit this Catholic view of society in the encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult … to establish this solidarity between people” (No. 41).
Once we grasp this experience, we can consider three concrete ways to make social solidarity more prominent.
First and foremost, we must commit ourselves to activities and groups within which we can truly experience solidarity. Solidarity can sometimes be spontaneous, but real bonds of social friendship emerge when people become more and more committed to one another. We should make our own choices in ways that direct our time and resources (including our work lives) to solidaristic groups.
Second, we can organize the larger structures of society to nurture these activities of social friendship. In part, this happens by offering a level of security that is a prerequisite for this shared activity. Secure jobs, secure streets, various social utilities, education, these are not social friendship themselves, but when they are solid and secure, it is easier to concentrate on spending hours in a rehearsal.
It can also be the case that securing these necessities for a community is itself an experience of solidarity. While the political process is not the central sphere where we enact solidarity, it is charged with the necessary helping tasks that provide the conditions for these bonds to be built up. For example, politics cannot create racial justice, but it can foster conditions that support and enhance bonds of racial solidarity.
Third and finally, Catholics believe in social friendship, in our responsibility for all, because we believe that God has destined the human race to live in unity with God forever. We call this unity “communion,” and we imagine what it will look like when we celebrate the Eucharist.
The Eucharist itself makes us friends with all those, far and near, who share in the same body and blood. But our entire activity as the Church is meant to be “eucharistic,” an effective sign, a sacrament, of the final unity of humanity in Christ. This heavenly destiny is the realization of our human call to become fully alive by giving ourselves in bonds of solidarity.
When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we ask that those eternal bonds of human social love be built up here and now, today, in all the communities that make up our lives.
LESSON PLAN RESOURCES
Exploring the Scriptures
God blessed Israel so that all nations would be blessed through it. (Read Genesis 12:1-3)
Living in right relationship with others brings peace. (Read Psalms 72)
Peace be with you! For the sake of the Lord, I will seek your good. (Read Psalms 122)
These are the things you should do: Speak truth, judge well, make peace. (Read Zechariah 8:16)
Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God. (Read Matthew 5:9)
Be reconciled to one another before coming to the altar. (Read Matthew 5:21-24)
Living rightly means to love one another. (Read Romans 13:8-10)
If one member of Christ’s body suffers, all suffer. If one member is honored, all rejoice. (Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
Above all, clothe yourself with love and let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. (Read Colossians 3:9-17)
The love of God in us is witnessed to b y our willingness to lay down our lives for others as Christ did for us. (Read 1 John 3:16-18)
- Have you ever taken a stand on an issue? What was the issue? How did you use your voice to stand in solidarity with others who shared your view?
- It can be hard to use your voice in today’s polarized world. What do you use as a guide to inform your conscience?
- Who in your community is living on the margins? What is one small thing you could do to help?
- What does it mean to be a peacemaker? Identify some ways you can take steps to be a peacemaker.
- Invite a neighbor to attend Mass with you.
- Attend a community event.
- Learn about injustices in your community or state and write a letter to your political representatives.
- Make a commitment to be a peacemaker.
FOR CHILDREN–PICTURE BOOKS
- “Sadako” by Eleanor Coerr
- “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Robert Coles
- “Chicken Sunday” by Patricia Polacco
- “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox
- “Mirror” by Jeannie Baker
FOR CHILDREN–CHAPTER BOOKS AND OLDER PICTURE BOOKS
- “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr
- “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry
- “Pink and Say” by Patricia Polacco
- “Fratelli tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” an encyclical letter from Pope Francis, 2020
- “Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life,” a pastoral letter of St. John Paul II, 1995
- “Solidarity will Transform the World: Stories of Hope from Catholic Relief Services” by Jeffry Odell Korgen
- “Not Your Enemy: Stories to Transform a Divided World” by Michael McRay
- “Schools of Solidarity: Families and Catholic Social Teaching” by Mary M. Doyle Roche