We are our brothers and sisters keepers, whether they are next door or around the world. In today’s world of instantaneous communication, 24-hour news cycles and world economic dependency, this simple axiom is truer than ever. 

Solidarity is often defined as “friendship” or “social charity.”  It is the notion that we must help each other, both in the material sense and in the spiritual sense.  It is not just feeling sympathy for the poor in our communities or the world explained Pope John Paul II  in his encyclical On Social Concern (Sollicitudo rei socialis), “it is the firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good” 

This notion of the “common good” frequently appears Catholic social teaching.  It is defined in Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) by Pope Paul VI as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church delineates the notion further:  “First, the common good presupposes respect for the person…[it] requires the social well-being and development of the group itself…[and it] requires peace.

The common good is also part of our basic human nature.  Few of us, for example, would refuse to help a neighbor whose house is burning.  In the past we would form a bucket brigade, now we organize fire departments.  But in either case we are protecting the common good of shelter for all.  Similarly, we contribute to food and clothing drives and many other charitable activities to ensure others’ basic needs are met.  As a society we organize education, health care, housing and other ways to meet those needs.

Jesus summarized this succinctly in the two greatest commands to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.   In fact, throughout the Gospel, he repeatedly and emphatically tells us to love our neighbor and to transform that love into assistance to others whether is helping the victim of crime in the story of the Good Samaritan or feeding the hungry in the parable of the Last Judgment.

It is not an option, it is required.

Social Charity

Human beings are naturally drawn together, not just for companionship but also for mutual production of the necessities of life – starting with farmers who raise our crops, the tailor who sews our clothes, or the innkeeper who provides a night’s lodging.   Few of us know how to do all these things by ourselves, nor do many of us even want to try.

If we seek the basic food, shelter, companionship for ourselves then we must also seek it for others.  The notion of “another self” is central to our Christian faith and to Jesus’ redemption of all.

Anything that degrades individuals or arbitrarily prevents them from living a full life and providing for themselves is detrimental to the common good.  Discrimination in housing or health care, or instance, creates ghettos or large segments of the population who are underserved and degrades the common good.

Many people counter that “charity begins at home” which is true and Catholic social teachings emphasizes on our responsibility to care for ourselves and our families.  But charity doesn’t “end” at home either.

Even when famine faces foreign people, most of us will contribute what we can to help relief efforts.  We may as a society debate the extent of assistance to a foreign people starving in a famine or even the causes behind the situation, but very few of us will say “let them starve to death.”

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI makes it clear that we must not only aid others in individual basic needs but we must also addresses the causes of their needs:  “It still remains true,” he says, “that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as “social charity.”

While Christian can – and very much do – differ on how this is carried out, there can be no debate that solidarity with the poor throughout the world is central to Jesus’ central teaching.


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