Social Justice is not a bad word!

On the contrary, it is a basic element of Catholic teaching based upon the concept at the core of the Gospel and ultimately expressed in Jesus’ quote from the Hebrew Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18) that we should love others as we love ourselves.

Fifty years ago Blessed Pope John XXIII wrote in his encyclical Mater et Magistra that “all forms of economic enterprise must be governed by the principles of social justice and charity.”

Last month, at a congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pope Benedict XVI, referring to Mater et Magistra, said that “the social question today is without a doubt one of world social justice.”

Referring to the “internal imbalances of today’s globalization,” the Holy Father called for moral thought capable of overcoming the structure of secular ethics. Pope Benedict identified the harmful speculation in basic commodities, foodstuffs, water, land and energy resources as among those secular ethics. He also noted the vast sums spent on armaments and lands where the unbridled luxury of the privileged few stands in violent offensive contrast to the utter poverty of the vast majority.

A second key principle of Pope John’s encyclical is that man’s aim must be to achieve in social justice a national and international juridical order, with its network of public and private institutions, in which all economic activity can be conducted not merely for private gain but also in the interests of the common good.

Surprised? We should not be. The social teachings of the Church, like the Gospel of Jesus upon which they are based, have been around for a long time. Why is it that so many of us find it inconvenient to incorporate them into our daily lives? Maybe it is because they make us feel uncomfortable and a little guilty.

I am reminded of the story in which Erasmus was reflecting on the beatitudes in Matthew and was moved to observe that “either this is not the Gospel, or we are not Christians!”

The Gospel of Jesus is and always has been counter cultural. As Catholics and Christians we are called to conform the world (and our lives) to the Gospel. Too often we attempt to conform the Gospel (and our lives) to the world.

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