I find tremendous comfort in Catholic social teaching. Often folks from other Christian traditions are surprised that Catholics find reason to critique their Church on many levels and don't always see it solely as a monolithic body of opinion moving forward through existence, but rather as the Body of Christ, which includes us all.
Much of my growth as a Catholic comes from the influence of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a bold and unswerving group of courageous women who live Catholic social justice every day, here and throughout the world in Africa, South America and Europe. This religious order of sisters was begun by Father Jean Gailhac and Meré St. Jean to bring comfort to orphans and exploited women in France. More recently they have done tremendous work to end human trafficking. I honestly believe that it is the Holy Spirit that has seen them grow throughout the world living thoroughly for social justice, peace, and religious tolerance. Honestly, I don’t think I would be in working on my doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice were it not for the RSHM and their effect on my life.
I mention all of this because I want to bring attention to the reality that we, men and women, are the Church and its application of social justice. It brings any critique I may have, I believe, into perspective when I see women such as the Sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and lay Catholics bring social justice to life in the world. I have been influenced and changed as well by incredible priests who have rocked my world, helping me to personal peace and introspection in my spiritual journey.
In light of Catholic social teaching, I find the subject of property ownership timely and fascinating in light of the presence of so much poverty and pain in our world. It is also timely given the recent comments from Pope Francis that mirror the encyclical Mater et Magistra. It is a fact that the Church in the last half century has moved in the direction of what John XXIII called socialization that encourages the use of government to bring about social responsibility in the use of property that I find remarkable. When these teachings are articulated it often comes as a shock to politically conservative Americans who had no idea the Catholic Church calls for an idea so anathema to the American ethic of private ownership that is clung to like its own religion leading to our current state of the super rich acquiring more and more to the detriment of what is left of a middle class and the devastation of the poorest of our American brethren.
Pope Francis’s rejection of market capitalism as the core measure of human well-being has been mentioned previously by Paul VI, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, yet until now, it is not what has been emphasize in any conversation about our Church that I have heard recently. Hearing an emphasis on social structures that we choose democratically having an obligation to treat every human we encounter with dignity and worth rather than an emphasis on conservative social values is a welcome change of tone. As Freire was influenced by Catholic liberation theology to build literacy education leading to critical consciousness, I believe that we as members of the Body of Christ have an obligation to inculcate the radical teaching of Jesus to renounce the acquisition of possessions, except our “daily bread” and to serve the poor rather than aspiring to become acquire greater wealth. He really wasn’t kidding when He told the very rich young man that if he really wanted to be perfect he should sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. It’s tough to be a Christian and we all fall short. Strikingly, in our country and others around the world, the opposite is often encouraged and at times even celebrated as Christianity itself.