Catholic Social Teaching & The Pandemic

Forming opinions and making judgments that have moral implications are always matters of conscience. We all have the freedom to decide, but that freedom must be tempered by our responsibility to choose rightly especially during stressful times like this. The purpose of this column is to bring you information to assist you in making complex decisions consistent with the core beliefs of our Catholic tradition. We welcome your feedback on the issues presented. Please respond at [email protected]

FEATURED ARTICLES:

Weeks of October 18 & 25
Pope Francis recently published his third encyclical (letter) called Fratelli Tutti or Brothers All. Fratelli Tutti presents Francis' vision of how humanity must respond to the needs of the 21st century. Read the following article to learn a little more about the role of encyclicals in the life of the Church, but more importantly, to view a roadmap of the encyclical that offers succinct and practical advice for how to navigate this document. You won't regret it!

"Five Things to Look for in Pope Francis' New Encyclical, 'Fratelli Tutti'" >

Weeks of October 4 & 11
World Day of Migrants and Refugees was September 27. This year's theme is "Forced like Jesus Christ to flee." In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2020, Pope Francis reminds us, “If we encounter them, we will get to know more about them. And knowing their stories, we will be able to understand them. We will be able to understand, for example, that the precariousness that we have come to experience as a result of this pandemic is a constant in the lives of displaced people. Learn more about the U.S. Catholic bishops commitment to immigration reform and to creating a culture of welcome in which all migrants are treated with respect and dignity at JusticeForImmigrants.org >

Weeks of September 20 & 27
Pope Francis continues to weave Catholic social teaching into current global realities in his weekly General Audiences. On September 2nd, he spoke about "Solidarity and the virtue of faith," stating that "the current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence" and that "we are all connected to each other, for better or for worse." Solidarity is a matter of justice according to the Pope, and requires a radical change in our thinking that looks to the good of the community, defends the right to life for all, and promotes a just sharing of the earth's goods. The full text of the address can be found here > (Click on the English version.)

"Love and the common good" is the theme of the September 9th General Audience, found here > Pope Francis called upon the inspiration of St. Ignatius in the following remark: "...Directing our daily efforts towards the common good is a way of receiving and spreading the glory of God." These efforts must be grounded in love, which is "not limited to relationships between two or three people or to friends, or to family." Rather, "it goes further" and "includes civic and political relationships (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] , 1907-1912), including the relationship with nature" (Enc. Laudato si ' [LS] , 231).  

The Pope believes that "love can generate social structures that encourage us to share rather than compete, which allow us to include the most vulnerable and not discard them, and which help us to express the best of our human nature and not the worst." Recent Sunday readings talk about love, including love of the enemy. Pope Francis acknowledges the difficulty of doing this especially in our divided world and nation, and calls this kind of love "an art." He comments on the consequences of not mastering the art of love in the following statement: "If the solutions to the pandemic bear the imprint of selfishness, be it of people, companies or nations, perhaps we can get out of the coronavirus, but certainly not the human and social crisis that the virus has highlighted and accentuated."

Weeks of September 6 & 13
Pope Francis addresses the issue of economic inequality and its global consequences in the fourth of a series of Wednesday papal audience talks highlighting Catholic social teaching. The Pope believes that "the pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems" such as unequal economic growth, and that the goods of the earth are meant to benefit everyone, not just a very small percentage of wealthy individuals. Property and money can serve the Church's mission in a positive way. However, "When the obsession to possess and dominate excludes millions of persons from having primary goods; when economic and technological inequality are such that the social fabric is torn; and when unlimited material progress threatens our common home, then we cannot stand by and watch." Read the full text of Pope Francis' talk, dated August 26, here > (Remember to click on the English version.)

One of the consequences of unequal economic growth as mentioned in Pope Francis' recent papal audience talk, is the destruction of the environment. Pope Francis has called for a five week "Season of Creation" beginning with the annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1, and concluding with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4. During this time period, the Pope invites all of us to reaffirm God's call to be good stewards of the earth, to thank God for the beauty of creation, and to ask God to protect it and forgive us for anything we've done to harm His creation. This document provides simple concrete suggestions for how to accomplish these three tasks.

Weeks of August 23 & 30
To what extent do we recognize the beauty in every person regardless of race, language, culture, creed or condition? How do we individually contribute to building up the communities to which we belong in ways that respect all members and our common earthly home? Pope Francis challenges us to reflect on these questions in the context of our Church's social doctrine, most recently through his Wednesday papal audiences. He calls each of us to task, acknowledging the role the coronavirus has played in highlighting social ills that existed long before its arrival.  

The second in a series and titled: “Healing the World: Faith and Human Dignity," the talk begins with the Pope's belief that, "If we do not take care of each other, starting with the least, those who are most affected, including creation, we cannot heal the world." He presents God's vision of and mission for humanity as based in Scripture and Tradition and begins to address what this means for social, economic and political life. Read the full text here > (Be sure to choose the English setting in the top right.)

Week of August 16
What does it mean to be pro-life? Many people equate respect for life with the unborn child in the womb and certainly this is a significant Catholic social teaching. Yet how else can one be pro-life? The following article expands the definition to include more social issues in line with Catholic teaching including "wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus." So "why aren't all pro-lifers pro-maskers?" Read more to hear the answer > 

Week of August 9
Protests for racial equality continue in our nation's cities. The recent funeral of Congressman John Lewis celebrated the life of a man who focused his energies on fostering equality for his fellow black Americans, persevering through great suffering. Black lives mattered very much to him. What should the words, Black Lives Matter, mean to Catholics? How do the principles of Catholic social teaching frame the answer to this question? Highlighting four specific principles, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, MD, answers these questions in the following article >

Lori concludes his thoughts with a call to action stating that "By its nature, the Church's social teaching is not a mere statement of principle or policy but more a summons to heal the wounds of sin and division and to take up anew the task of building a society that is a civilization of truth and love."

Week of August 2
America has lost a powerful voice for both social justice and patriotism with the recent death of Rep. John Lewis, civil rights leader and congressman from Georgia, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of eighty. In the early 1960s he was beaten and arrested as a Freedom Rider. He marched with Martin Luther King and stood with him at the 1963 March on Washington. He worked tirelessly in the U.S. Congress for civil rights, voting rights and equality for all citizens. When questioned about his activism, he once said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

Read "The World John Lewis Helped Create" here >

Week of 7/26/2020
Not long ago, we Americans remembered and celebrated our nation's independence. But what does it mean to be truly free? The following short commentary presents a definition of freedom that may be challenging for many of us, but certainly one that flows from the kind of life and death modeled by Jesus in the Gospels and is so essential in this time of pandemic. 

Read "Survival of America’s Experiment Depends on How We Use Freedom" here >

Week of 7/19/2020
The annual celebration of the birth of our nation in early July encourages us to ponder the many freedoms Americans have grown accustomed to over the years. Yet not everyone living here experiences these freedoms, and not surprisingly, one such group includes those who are incarcerated.  

COVID-19 has taken its toll on many people, but some of those who are most at risk for contracting this virus are prisoners. Should a prison sentence restrict or deny an inmate's right to protection from disease and the right to decent medical care? The Catholic Social Teaching featured articles for the next two weeks focus on this issue and remind us of our Catholic responsibility to the incarcerated - those who are additionally prisoners to a system which further dehumanizes them.
Read "Building a Catholic Response to Mass Incarceration" here >

Week of 7/12/2020
The annual celebration of the birth of our nation in early July encourages us to ponder the many freedoms Americans have grown accustomed to over the years. Yet not everyone living here experiences these freedoms, and not surprisingly, one such group includes those who are incarcerated. 

COVID-19 has taken its toll on many people, but some of those who are most at risk for contracting this virus are prisoners. Should a prison sentence restrict or deny an inmate's right to protection from disease and the right to decent medical care? The Catholic Social Teaching featured articles for the next two weeks focus on this issue and remind us of our Catholic responsibility to the incarcerated - those who are additionally prisoners to a system which further dehumanizes them.

Read "San Quentin Joins a Growing List of U.S. Prisons Overwhelmed by Coronavirus" here >

Week of 7/5/2020
When Pope Francis came to our country and addressed Congress in 2015 (listen here), he mentioned the names of four great Americans that he admired and felt should continue to inspire us, one of them being Dorothy Day. Below you will find a link to a review of a new biography of Dorothy that will introduce you to why Pope Francis considers her one of the great American Catholic witnesses of the 20th century, who still speaks to us today. Her message and example is extremely relevant as we witness how the pandemic is worsening the plight of the poor and most vulnerable in society. Just as Dorothy reached out to the economically poor and destitute, we are called to do the same. Read "New Biography Chronicles Dorothy Day's Astonishing Life in Detail" here >

Week of 6/28/2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has been called a great equalizer. It has been even more a great revealer of societal cancers as deadly as the virus," remarked Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, in his May 31st statement on the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath. The following article below briefly describes another church leader's response to this horrific incident and Pope Francis' reaction to it as our nation continues to grapple with the issue of racial justice. Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas gives a very moving testimony about what brought him to this moment. Read "After 'Taking a Knee,' Border Bishop Gets a Call from the Pope" here >

Week of 6/21/2020
The United States has long been a refuge for people forced to flee their homes. More recently, however, our nation has not been so welcoming. The COVID outbreak has worsened the situation, particularly at our southern borders, where those legally seeking asylum from danger, including children, are being turned away. As World Refugee Day took place on June 18, take some time to further explore what is happening in our own backyard and what you can do about it. Read more here >

Week of 6/14/2020
The United States has long been a refuge for people forced to flee their homes. More recently, however, our nation has not been so welcoming. The COVID outbreak has worsened the situation, particularly at our southern borders, where those legally seeking asylum from danger, including children, are being turned away. As we approach World Refugee Day on June 18, take some time to further explore what is happening in our own backyard and what you can do about it here >  

Week of 6/7/2020
The Catholic bishops of the United States issued a pastoral letter against racism in late 2018. “Open Wide Our Hearts: the Enduring Call to Love” condemns racism as a destructive and persistent form of evil, calling it our country’s original sin. We are all challenged to acknowledge our complicity and to change. Following recent events clearly rooted in racism which have spawned protests throughout U.S. cities and abroad, the bishops have released another statement on May 29, 2020, passionately reaffirming that racism is antithetical to the Gospel values we profess. It is a life issue and it is a justice issue to which we can no longer remain indifferent. These documents are provided here >

Also included is a statement by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), the leadership group of men’s religious orders in the U.S. It adds their voice condemning racism and calling for authentic change. Read the statement here >


Week of 5/31/2020
Are you passionate about the migration issue?  Would you like to join together with others who are inspired by Catholic Social Teaching and Ignatian Spirituality? The Ignatian Solidarity Network invites members of Jesuit parishes such as Gesu and others involved in social ministry to virtually lobby for humane migration policies in our country and beyond. Access more information here >  

Week of 5/24/2020
"What kind of world do we want to leave to those who will come after us, to the children who are growing up?" Pope Francis asks us to consider this question as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the publication of his encyclical/letter, Laudato Si', translated "On Care for our Common Home." The Pope invites us all to reflect on the world around us not simply as a resource to exploit, but as a gift from God to protect for future generations. As the article states, in determining our response to this present situation, we have a unique opportunity to attempt to develop “a more harmonious relationship with the natural world.”

Read the following article to learn more about this anniversary as the start of a year-long program of activities:
"Vatican Launches year-long celebration of Laudato Si'" >

Access the text of Laudato Si' and other resources here >

Week of 5/17/2020
Who are the workers behind our healthcare and the food on our tables? What risks do they face in providing these essential services? What is our responsibility towards these people who risk their lives for us, yet are among the most vulnerable in our society? This article addresses these and other questions that have become even more significant during these times.


Week of 5/10/2020
Pope Francis recently celebrated Mass in honor of the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, also International Worker's Day. He reminds us that work must honor the dignity of every human being and that all be paid a just wage. You can listen to the Pope's homily here >


Week of 5/3/2020
Any account of Catholic involvement in social justice issues in the United States would have to include the work of Dorothy Day. Although not without controversy in her time, she lived out her belief that passionate commitment to social justice is entirely compatible with a close intimacy with God. You can read "Sainthood Cause for Dorothy Day Picking Up Steam in U.S." at: https://bit.ly/2yUCmQO.


Week of 4/19/20
Everyone agrees that the response to a pandemic that affects everyone must consider the common good. The following article from The Tablet addresses four different ways of viewing the common good, including the Catholic response. You can read "The Virus and the Common Good" here >