Social Justice and the Saints
“Social justice” is one of those hot button issues within the American Church. Mention the Church’s social teaching and likely a strongly-worded debate will ensue, often along political lines.
But our models of Christian discipleship – the saints – lived the Church’s social teaching in a way that transcended (and transcends) partisan politics. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8), and saints are those who have learned to think not as the world thinks but as God does.
But how did the saints live out the Church’s social teaching?
Omar Gutiérrez takes up this question in his new book, The Urging of Christ’s Love: The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Church. My husband and I are fortunate to count the Gutiérrezes as friends, and as a beta-reader of an earlier draft of this book, I am thrilled to see its recent release.
Gutiérrez is Special Assistant to the Archbishop and Manager of the Office of Missions and Justice for the Archdiocese of Omaha. In both his official and unofficial capacities, Gutiérrez works, speaks, and writes to educate the faithful about social teaching and to bridge the unfortunate divisions over the interpretation of that teaching. The Urging of Christ’s Love is a continuation of these efforts.
A gifted storyteller, Gutiérrez recounts the life stories of eleven saints whose love of God poured forth in works of mercy. He includes familiar saints (St. Joseph), unfamiliar saints (Bl. Franz Jägerstätter), saints whose lives quite obviously modeled our social teachings (St. Joan Denaloue), and others whose stories, at first blush, appear to have little to do with those teachings (St. Maria Goretti).
Each story is peppered with Gutiérrez’s instructive, poignant commentary on social teaching. And to aid further meditation, he includes a prayer to each saint and excerpts from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church at the end of each chapter.
In response to commonly-held misconceptions about social justice, The Urging of Christ’s Love stresses two important points. First, our work to fight poverty and injustice has to be more than a secular humanism whitewashed with vague piety. Instead, it must find its primary origin in our devotion to Christ that then manifests in the love we have for our neighbor. Practicing the virtue of justice is not something we do, but something God does in us.
Second, as the flip side of the first point, our faith cannot remain simply a “spiritual” matter but must also manifest in concrete, material efforts to help our neighbor. Sometimes I think there’s a tendency to excuse ourselves from performing corporal works of mercy when we’re occupied with the spiritual works of mercy – instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, etc. But the two go hand-in-hand.
The saints Gutiérrez has chosen witness to these principles. They love Christ, and so they love their neighbor, working to relieve both their spiritual and physical suffering. As we read in The Urging of Christ’s Love, the saints were very much in the world, but not of it.
What saints epitomize, for you, the Church’s social teaching? Please share in the comment box below.
Purchase The Urging of Christs Love: The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church, by Omar F.A. Gutiérrez (Discerning Hearts, 2013) and support the work we do here without paying anything extra.
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Copyright 2013, Rhonda Ortiz