“The person is not only sacred,” say the US Bishops, “but also social. How we organize our society – in economics and politics, in law and policy – directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.”
This organization of society moves from the basic unit, the family, to the larger community while ensuring that everyone participates. The emphasis on the larger social group counterbalances unregulated individual rights, that left unconstrained, can turn toward anarchy.
In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict summarized the centrality of this concept to our faith: “Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.”
Family & Children
Our family is where we learn to relate with each other, sacrifice for others and, most importantly, love one another. It is also where we develop our sense of participation, justice and other skills important in a well-functioning society. The family is often called the domestic or the first church.
“The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of the community of marriage and the family,” explains Gaudium et Spes, (The Church in the Modern World).
Catholic social teaching urges that parents be supported in their effort to raise well-formed, healthy children. And at the core of the family is a stable, healthy marriage. Beginning with required marriage preparation classes and programs, the US Bishops have a host of special resources available to strengthen marriage. The California Catholic Conference also has a special section (primarily designed for catechists, deacons and other who teach about marriage. It is available here.
Humans gather in groups. In our Catholic faith, we are One Body with Christ. As One Body, we are called to care for all. That is, establish the common good.
“The common good embraces the sum of those conditions of social life by which individuals, families, and groups can achieve their own fulfillment in a relatively thorough and ready way,” said the Second Vatican Council document, the Gaudium et Spes, (The Church in the Modern World). We may be called to sacrifice occasionally for justice – something that the modern world often has a hard time appreciating.
Our definition of community is not limited to those in our immediate neighborhood, but expands (with various degrees of influence and responsibility) to the entire world. We can have the most impact for good on our families, but we can also improve our neighborhood, city, state, nation and world through a variety of means such community service or advocacy.
“Christians must be conscious of their specific and proper role in the political community; they should be a shining example by their sense of responsibility and their dedication to the common good; they should show in practice how authority can be reconciled with freedom, personal initiative with solidarity and the needs of the social framework as a whole, and the advantages of unity with the benefits of diversity.” Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World).
“This nation is not ruled by the majority,” said Thomas Jefferson, “it is ruled by the majority who participate.” We are called to participate in our communities by promoting the common good.
In the 1986 letter, Economic Justice for All, the US Bishops explained the importance of allowing all to take part in the forming of our communities:
“Basic justice demands the establishment of minimum levels of participation in the life of the human community for all persons. The ultimate injustice is for a person or group to be treated actively or abandoned passively as if they were nonmembers of the human race. To treat people this way is effectively to say they simply do not count as human beings.”
And in Faithful Citizenship, they explain that participation in public life is both a moral and ethical obligation.
Government plays a major role in ensuring the participation of all. Excluding large groups of people from participating in our republic effectively eliminates their voice from the debate about the common good. How common can something be if enough voices are not raised? The poor and the vulnerable are often excluded from participation, as are minorities.
Not only are we called to participate, but we are also called to make sure that others do as well.