April 13, 2006

Closing Up Shop

After much thought and prayer, all of the contributing editors and writers have decided that we can't continue with Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. This is primarily due to time constraints -- we all have too much on our plates. To illustrate how much we have on our plates: I was supposed to post this announcement on Monday. Better late than never, I guess. ;)

It has been wonderful and, at times, challenging to blog about Catholic social justice teaching in our complicated world. I know I can speak for all of us when I say that we're sorry to have to say goodbye to this project. But we must, and so this is the last post you'll see on Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. We will, however, be keeping the blog open as a resource to our readers and also to ourselves. We may be having to end this project now, but that doesn't mean we have to erase all the work we've already done.

In any event, we thank you for reading and for sharing this part of our journey with us. May God bless you and keep you; may he show his face to you this Easter Season, and may the joy of his resurrection bring you everlasting peace.

April 10, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 41

Gaudium et Spes 41 begins by suggesting that humanity is indeed experiencing a time of progress. But it is only through the reliance on God -- and the recognition that God fulfills our deepest human longings -- that this "development" can reach its full potential:

Modern (humanity) is on the road to a more thorough development of (its) own personality, and to a growing discovery and vindication of (its) own rights. Since it has been entrusted to the Church to reveal the mystery of God, Who is the ultimate goal of (humankind), she opens up to
(people) at the same time the meaning of (their) own existence, that is, the innermost truth about (themselves). The Church truly knows that only God, Whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what this world has to offer.

We might not always possess the full awareness of it, but God even works deeply upon believers themselves, to further the plan of salvation:

She also knows that (people are) constantly worked upon by God's spirit, and hence can never be altogether indifferent to the problems of religion. The experience of past ages proves this, as do numerous indications in our own times. For (people) will always yearn to know, at least in an obscure way, what is the meaning of (their) life, of (their) activity, of (their) death. The very presence of the Church recalls these problems to his mind. But only God, Who created (human beings) to His own image and ransomed (them) from sin, provides the most adequate answer to the questions, and this He does through what He has revealed in Christ His Son, Who became (flesh). Whoever follows after Christ, the perfect (human being), become (themselves) more (human). For by His incarnation the Father's Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of (the person), body and soul, and through that totality the whole of nature created by God for (human) use.

At this point, it's appropriate to ask, "What makes Jesus special?" It's also timely, for the celebrations of Holy Week point in a special way to the most profound aspect of Christ's example: his emptying, or kenosis. A person who throws herself in front of a bus to save a child. A person who has sacrificed tirelessly for the poor and needy. Even if these people are not believers, and not conscious in any way about the Paschal Mystery -- in such sacrifices, people make the choice to imitate Christ, to take up their cross and follow, even if they do not know Another has walked that same path.

The Church is in a difficult place today. More difficult certainly, than forty years ago. We need leaders who embody those core values of kenosis: people who can do more than talk about sacrifice. When we find them, I think the relationship with the modern world is eased, at least in the sense of being able to communicate clearly the Christian vision.

Thanks to this belief, the Church can anchor the dignity of human nature against all tides of opinion, for example those which undervalue the human body or idolize it. By no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of (people) be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the (children) of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin (cf. Rom. 8:14-17); it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God's service and (people's), and, finally, commends all to the charity of all (cf. Matt. 22:39).

As I read this section, I think the laity have a special apostolate these days to assist in overcoming the poor image of the hierarchy. This last paragraph is certainly true, in spite of the sinfulness of those who have harbored sexual predators.

This agrees with the basic law of the Christian dispensation. For though the same God is Savior and Creator, Lord of human history as well as of salvation history, in the divine arrangement itself, the rightful autonomy of the creature, and particularly of (humankind) is not withdrawn, but is rather re-established in its own dignity and strengthened in it.

And who best to exemplify the confirmation and strength of human dignity? Lay people empowered by their relationship with Christ.

The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of (people); she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation.

GS alludes here, I think, to the notion of rights-plus-duties, rather than a rights-alone approach. Human rights are indeed an essential component of human dignity. Human rights are most often abused by leaders. The same leaders, of course, overemphasize duty and forsake the rights of others. Striking a balance in this is vital. Each person indeed has rights. But each person also has particular duties to fulfill in his or her role in a family, in friendships and associations, with the commitments of school and work, as well as within larger groups: in churches, neighborhoods, and political entities, including the world as a whole.


April 02, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 40

Returning from a pause in this site's examination of Gaudium et Spes, section 40 begins a brief chapter treating "The Role Of The Church In The Modern World." What has preceded this section is a set-up for the Church's brief reflection on exactly what is the place of the church in the world, as the document confesses:

Everything we have said about the dignity of the human person, and about the human community and the profound meaning of human activity, lays the foundation for the relationship between the Church and the world, and provides the basis for dialogue between them.(1) In this chapter, presupposing everything which has already been said by this council concerning the mystery of the Church, we must now consider this same Church inasmuch as she exists in the world, living and acting with it.

The Church embodies the action of the Trinity in our world. A body of mortal beings, it is confined to time, but has a role beyond the realm of experienced time:

Coming forth from the eternal Father's love,(2) founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit,(3) the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world.

The Church also has specific tasks entrusted to it:

But she is already present in this world, and is composed of (human beings), that is, of members of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God's children during the present history of the human race, and to keep increasing it until the Lord returns. United on behalf of heavenly values and enriched by them, this family has been "constituted and structured as a society in this world"(4) by Christ, and is equipped "by appropriate means for visible and social union."(5) Thus the Church, at once "a visible association and a spiritual community,"(6) goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society(7) as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family.

Sounds a bit sneaky. But it does provide the context for our efforts at evangelization. Our ultimate goal is not the repudiation of the world, but rather its transformation.

That the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other is a fact accessible to faith alone; it remains a mystery of human history, which sin will keep in great disarray until the splendor of God's (children), is fully revealed. Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life to (people) but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activity of (people) with a deeper meaning and importance. Thus through her individual matters and her whole community, the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of (people) and its history more human.

The Church's comminucation of the divine, that's worth repeating:

By a two-fold emphasis on the dignity of the person: healing and elevating (medicinal and political, if you will). Non-Catholics participate in this as well:

In addition, the Catholic Church gladly holds in high esteem the things which other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities have done or are doing cooperatively by way of achieving the same goal. At the same time, she is convinced that she can be abundantly and variously helped by the world in the matter of preparing the ground for the Gospel. This help she gains from the talents and industry of individuals and from human society as a whole. The council now sets forth certain general principles for the proper fostering of this mutual exchange and assistance in concerns which are in some way common to the world and the Church.


1. Cf. Paul VI, encyclical letter Ecclesiam suam, III: AAS 56 (1964), pp. 637-659.
2. Cf. Titus 3:4: "love of mankind."
3. Cf. Eph. 1:3; 5:6; 13-14, 23.
4. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter I, n. 8: AAS 57 (1965), p. 12.
5. Ibid., Chapter II, no. 9: AAS 57 (1965), p. 14; Cf. n. 8: AAS loc. cit., p. 11.
6. Ibid., Chapter I, n. 8: AAS 57 (1965), p. 11.
7. Cf. ibid., Chapter IV, n. 38: AAS 57 (1965), p. 43, with note 120.

Any comments?

March 28, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 39

The heavily footnoted 39th section of Gaudium et Spes concludes this current chapter, by looking to the end times and expressing that universal longing for peace and life, and freedom from sin and death.

We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity,(cf. Acts 1:7) nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away;(cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, V, 36, PG, VIII, 1221) but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide,(cf. 2 Cor. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:13) and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.(cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Apoc. 21:4-5) Then, with death overcome, the (children) of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility.(cf. 1 Cor. 15:42 and 53) Enduring with charity and its fruits,(cf. 1 Cor. 13:8; 3:14) all that creation(cf. Rom. 8:19-21) which God made on (humankind's) account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.

Heaven is a stimulation, the Council teaches, for the transformation of the modern world in whatever way believers can effect it. The "foreshadowing" mentioned below inplies that activity to restore the world into a graced balanced, however flawed that might be in intention or result, is a participation of sorts in the coming Reign of God, as realized in its truest final form:

Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a (person) nothing (to) gain the whole world and lose (him- or her)self,(cf. Luke 9:25) the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.

It's a concern to God, that much is clear:

Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.(Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 207)

What we receive at the end of our lives, at the end of time, will be familiar to those who work for these ideals:

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, (communion) and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: "a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace."(Preface of the Feast of Christ the King) On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.


March 27, 2006

Guest Blog: The Ecumenical Call to Social Justice Work

When the SRS editors asked me to consider how Christians and Jews have worked together to advance the cause of social justice, I thought immediately of the historic struggle for civil rights in this country. I thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, and of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (both of blessed memory), and of Rabbi Heschel's famous assertion that when he marched with Dr. King in Alabama he was praying with his feet. In the words of Harold Schulweis, these "two men from different geographies, color, creed, theological background were joined in a spiritual kinship whose legacy address[es] our own times."

Their admirable work inspired the current generation of social justice movers-and-shakers. Who's carrying on the legacy of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel in today's world?

One answer is the Shalom Center, under the stewardship of Rabbi Arthur Waskow. The Shalom Center helped give rise to the Tent of Abraham, "a gathering of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have been building a 'Tent' of shared spiritual concern for peace, justice, and healing of the earth." (Here's their mission statement).

Among their projects is God's October Surprise, a "call to share sacred seasons" which began last fall and will continue in 2006 and 2007. In this rare convergence of calendars, these Octobers mark the confluence of the sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei (which includes the High Holy Days), the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and World-wide (Protestant/Orthodox) Communion Sunday. The month was marked with a series of events, and will be again over the coming two years; there's tremendous opportunity for ecumenical social justice work here. (If this kind of thing inspires you, don't miss The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, a new book due from Beacon Press in July, written by Rabbi Waskow, Joan Chittister OSB, and Sufi scholar Saadi Shakur Chisti).

Also noteworthy is Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq, a multifaith organization of clergy and layfolk who oppose the Iraq war and who agitate for peace and justice. Their official existence began last April 4 at Riverside Church; the date was chosen in memory of Dr. King (and with the intent of continuing his legacy). They've written an open letter to the President, held a multireligious tent revival on Independence Mall and staged a civil disobedience action (those latter two events are described by "prisoner 151" here).

Another place to look for ecumenical social justice work is Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun (both the magazine, and the community). They describe themselves as "an international community of people of many faiths calling for social justice and political freedom in the context of new structures of work, caring communities, and democratic social and economic arrangements."

One of the Tikkun community's projects is the Network of Spiritual Progressives (you can read about their core vision here). They're holding a Spiritual Activism Conference in May, designed to be an ecumenical and interfaith experience which will bring together social justice-minded folks across the religious spectrum.

(I can't resist here putting in a plug for the Progressive Faith Blog Con, a July gathering for liberal religious bloggers which is also designed to be interfaith, and which will surely have a social justice component. I'm one of the organizers, and don't want to hijack this post to promote the event -- if you're interested, read more about planned programming here).

Those of us who care about social justice care about it deeply, but there aren't nearly enough of us to achieve the work that needs to be done. I'd like to see more people involved in this important work -- not just those of us on the liberal fringes of our traditions, but everyone who identifies themselves as a Christian or a Jew. How can we bring this dream to fruition? I think one answer lies in our scriptures.

The verse most often repeated in Torah is "love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Out of this arises one of Judaism's most central teachings about the way God wants us to live. We must live in a way that empowers the marginalized, protects the vulnerable, clothes the naked and feeds the hungry -- a way that enacts the mitzvat ha-borei, the mitzvah of the creator, to love our neighbors, our "others" as ourselves.

Though I'm no expert on the Christian Scriptures, I know that the gospel of Matthew contains a pivotal passage about separating the sheep from the goats. Jesus will separate, the text tells us, those who fed him when he was hungry, and clothed him when he was naked, and welcomed him when he was a stranger, from those who did not. When his followers ask, baffled, when they could have done these things, he argues famously that when we do these things for the least of his brethren, we do them for him.

Jews and Christians both hear the call to be active in "the care and redemption of all that God has made." We need to set aside our doctrinal differences, our history of disagreement about thorny theological subjects like the nature of God and redemption from sin, and focus on our traditions' common teachings about the imperative to heal the world. Redeeming creation from its brokenness is some of the most valuable work we can do. And as the famous quotation from Pirkei Avot holds, "it is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it."

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Rachel Barenblat is a rabbinic student in the ALEPH Rabbinic Program and an accomplished writer in a variety of genres, including poetry and liturgy. She maintains the popular blog Velveteen Rabbi and also contributes to Radical Torah, a collaborative blog which takes a look at the Torah through the lens of progressive religious and political viewpoints. Rachel is part of the Jewish Renewal tradition, and she is the shaliach tzibbur (services-leader) at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in North Adams, MA.

March 26, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 38

Gaudium et Spes 38 addresses some of the recent concerns expressed in the comment boxes on my blog.

For God's Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men.(cf. John 1:3 and 14) Thus He entered the world's history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it.(cf. Eph. 1:10) He Himself revealed to us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of to worlds transformation.

Human perfection--that's a high ideal. It's also an ideal that's not without hope:

To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to (people) and that the effort to establish a universal (family) is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life. Undergoing death itself for all of us sinners,(cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:8) He taught us by example that we too must shoulder that cross which the world and the flesh inflict upon those who search after peace and justice. Appointed Lord by His resurrection and given plenary power in heaven and on earth,(cf. Acts 2:36; Matt. 28:18) Christ is now at work in the hearts of (people) through the energy of His Holy Spirit, arousing not only a desire for the age to come, but by that very fact animating, purifying and strengthening those noble longings too by which the human family makes its life more human and strives to render the whole earth submissive to this goal.

The council bishops also recognize that not every individual possesses the same calling. However, every bliever shares that ideal endpoint in God's salvific plan.

Now, the gifts of the Spirit are diverse: while He calls some to give clear witness to the desire for a heavenly home and to keep that desire green among the human family, He summons others to dedicate themselves to the earthly service of (others) and to make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs. Yet He frees all of them so that by putting aside love of self and bringing all earthly resources into the service of human life they can devote themselves to that future when humanity itself will become an offering accepted by God.(cf. Rom. 15:16)

The celebration of the Eucharist is seen as an indispensible part of the life of believers. It is also a symbol of the way in which human activity can be steered and changed by God for a greater good.

The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life's journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of (familial) solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Ohio's 6th District

St. Sen. Charlie Wilson (D-Bridgeport) is running for Congress in Ohio's 6th congressional district, a seat that's been vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland (D), who is running for governor. St. Sen. Wilson has repeatedly been endorsed by Ohio Right to Life, which adds a twist to the usual debate between pro-life Republican Catholics on the one hand and pro-choice Democratic Catholics on the other. Of course his opponent, St. Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R-East Liverpool), has also been repeatedly endorsed by Ohio Right to Life.

March 25, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 37

Gaudium et Spes 37 discusses the shadow side of progress:

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true (family). In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.

Lack of concern for others: the danger of the age. GS frames their analysis of the world's sin as being that of selfishness. Not a direct rebellion against God, necessarily, but a lack of concern for those harmed by selfish actions. Recalling Matthew 22:39, Jesus did equate the two loves as being alike.

For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested.(cf. Matt. 24:13; 13:24-30 and 36-43) Caught in this conflict, (humankind) is obliged to wrestle constantly if (it) is to cling to what is good, nor can (it) achieve (its) own integrity without great efforts and the help of God's grace.

Always on guard, it seems. I'm struck by the likeness with addiction recovery here. Recovering addicts acknowledge they are still addicts, though in a state of recovery.

That is why Christ's Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve (humankind's) true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle's warning: "Be not conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). Here by the world is meant that spirit of vanity and malice which transforms into an instrument of sin those human energies intended for the service of God and (people).

God's will is that human beings find happiness in their own works, but cannot find a purity of contentment outside of God.

Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell (them) that all human activity, constantly imperiled by (human) pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, (human beings are) able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. (They) can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to (their) Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, (people are) led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things.(cf. 2 Cor. 6:10) "All are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

My reading of this is that the imitation of Christ can always be fruitfully brought into human endeavor. Love and reverence for things can express that quality God desires most strongly from the created world: gratitude. The promise is that detachment, therefore liberty, promotes true possession. I suppose the extreme counterexample is when things begin to possess us by the agency of our own sins. Thoughts?

Gaudium et Spes 36

Gaudium et Spes 36 addresses the common fear that the Church is an agent for the stifling of the human spirit as opposed to a supporter of human endeavor:

Now many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of (people), of societies, or of the sciences.

As with anything, individual human beings do work to thwart human expression in a sinful way. Some of these human beings reside in the Church, where they may wreak havoc in the name of the same Church.

If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by (people), then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern (humanity), but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. (Humankind) must respect these as (it) isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts. Therefore if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. (cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter III: Denz. 1785-1186 (3004-3005))

For the skeptic, the Church is in a position to labor to prove its words. The past statement I found interesting on two fronts. First, the notion that aspects of God's creation possess qualities, notably truth. Truth as a philosophical concept or ontological one is a quality of a scientific or artistic aspect of the universe. The obvious scientific item of the past would be the heliocentric model of the universe as championed by Galileo. Of the last century would be the elaboration of Darwin in developing the evolutionary model, and how it applies not only to biological creatures, but cosmology, geology, and perhaps even economics, to mention just a few disciplines.

Artistically (and my second point of interest is the pairing of sciences and the arts) one might find that music contains certain truths as well. Religious chant might have an artistic and scientific basis for producing a certain psychological state of mind--a state conducive to prayer. It would be found that other forms of music, aside from Gregorian chant say, would have a comparable or superior effect. That would be a truth, an aspect of God's creation, that would be undeniable.

Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though (she or) he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity.

A consciousness of the agency of God in one's work is not required for such work to be part of God's plan.

Consequently, we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed.(
Cf. Msgr. Pio Paschini, Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei, 2 volumes, Vatican Press (1964))

Remember where we found this.

But if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that (humankind) can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear His revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible.