15 February 2010

The Best Kept Secret

Last week we met as a deanery to discuss the parish response to the issues surrounding Justice and Peace. We were led in this discussion with the following presentation. It is offered here for your own personal reflection. It is a wonderful reflection on Matthew's Gospel. As my colleague says: Our eternal destiny will hinge on our lives being cloaked in the deeds of human kindness.

Justice and Peace is central to our preaching of the Gospel.

The core of Christ’s teaching is in the Beatitudes. (Mt 5:1-12)

There can be few more challenging passages in the scriptures to measure out attitudes and actions against than the Beatitudes.

This teaching can only be understood when we try to start living according to Jesus. Otherwise it appears quite illogical.

Jesus told us how to put this teaching into practice, as we hear in the Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King. (Mt 25:31-36)

“Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome: naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’”

Mathew gives a pictorial impression of the last judgement. The picture painted in a few words gives a powerful image of Christ assuming the mantle of leadership as a true shepherd and acclaimed as Lord of all creation. ‘When the Son of man comes in his glory escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat of glory.’ The thought of the ‘day of the Lord’, when we come face to face with Christ to give an account of our lives is daunting and awesome. In the moment of judgement everyone will be held responsible for the conduct of their lives and every act will carry the burden of consequence. There will be no pretence or escaping the scrutiny of the Almighty who looks at nothing but the human heart. The human conscience will stand naked before Christ and there will be a full revelation of the truth. The yardstick for judgement will not be the knowledge we have gained, the fame won, the wealth acquired or the quality of our lives, but our performance or neglect of what is called, ‘the corporal works of mercy.’

Everything will depend on how we have treated the poor and downtrodden. Our eternal destiny will hinge on our lives being cloaked in the deeds of human kindness. This Gospel encourages us to reflect on how we are in our relationship with one another or have fallen short in serving Christ in the least important members of our community, our world.

We meet Christ in the beggar stretching out his hands for alms, in the refugee who is made to feel unwelcome in our streets, in those afflicted by aids or in the victims of war and civil strife.

In Matthew’s picture of the last judgement we hear expressions of wonder, surprise, shock and amazement at the unexpectedness of the judgement, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you etc?’

The church offers a way of joining together the love of God and love of neighbour.

Over the last hundred years or so, the Church has often focussed on what is sometimes called ‘Its Best Kept Secret’ ‘Catholic Social Teaching.’

The Church has always had social teaching and the most fundamental source is the Bible.

In the Old Testament we have Sabbatical Year and Jubilee Year. During the seventh year all land had to be left untilled and unplanted, and debts from close neighbours that had been unpaid during the previous six years were to be cancelled. The laws can be divided into three different concerns. Environmental concerns that overuse of the land would make it unusable. Debt concerns, the poor needed to be allowed to start over and not languish in poverty. Land ownership concerns. Every 50 years a Jubilee was declared. The laws of the Jubilee were similar to those of the Sabbatical Year, but also contained additional provisions, (1) compulsory restoration of ancestral land, (2) the freeing of all slaves etc.

In the early Church there was also the tradition of the Church Fathers in such areas as ownership of property, the just war and the charging of interest. In its modern form, however, Catholic Social Teaching first emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as a response to the injustice of the Industrial Revolution and the threat of Communism.

The document on Catholic Social Teaching covers:

What is Catholic Social Teaching?

Key principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

Key documents and Themes

In 1996 our bishops produced ‘THE COMMON GOOD’ in preparation for a General Election. Strongly critical of dominant market values it also serves as a readable introduction to Catholic Social Teaching and its application to some of the issues facing our society.

Its influence reached beyond these isles, it has been quoted in documents coming out of Brussels, the United Nations and even Washington.

The CCC draws attention to the great gulf between rich and poor countries. It lists factors which keep poor countries poor; perverse structures which prevent advancement, lending debts which strangle a week economy; commercial relationships which harm a country, particularly related to armaments sales.

The CCC insists that rich nations have an obligation to provide resources, by direct aid and even more by reforming international institutions to enable them to help poor countries, especially with agriculture, since the very poor are peasants, subsistent farmers.

The CCC calls for a revival of the sense of God, which it describes as the basis of the complete development of human society. This will most of all ensure that material goods are put at the service of human beings, diminish exploitation, and make people open to the love of God.

The CCC states that the main responsibility within the Church for working on these issues of justice lies not with the clergy, but rather with the lay people of the Church, working in different ways according to their individual gifts.

The Church focuses on the need for living the Gospel so as to be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ whenever it happens.

The vocation of all Christians is to love God and love our neighbour.

The Social Teaching of the Church are clear signposts for the way forward. Showing us what it takes to live as a Christian and a Catholic in our changing and challenging world.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols in his address to Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the “ad Limina” visit,


We would like to take the moment to thank you in particular for your inspiring teaching in the Encyclical Letters you have issued for the whole Church. The most recent of these, "Caritas in Veritate," has been well received in our countries and is making a significant contribution to the debate about and examination of those circumstances and conditions which lead to the recent financial crises and the world wide hardship it has caused. Your insistence on the central place of the human person, and of integral human development, is a powerful reminder that the most important truths have to shape economic and social programmes if they are to be of genuine service to the common good. First among these are, of course, the respect for life from its beginnings and the crucial role of marriage and family for the well-being not only of children but also for the good of society.

We thank you for the leadership you have given, even in recent months, on the questions of our care for the environments of our world: both the natural environment and, crucially, the human ecology necessary for our proper development. These matters are of deep concern to many in our countries, including many young people, who have accepted the invitation, in large numbers, to look closely at ways in which they can live more simply, so that others may simply live.

The Pope Takes up Justice as Theme for Lent which you can read here.

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