Caring for Our Common Home — By Fr. Rich, O.P.
The book of the prophet Isaiah, in its 61st chapter, opens with these verses: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God; To comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, the planting of the Lord to show his glory.” (Is 61:1-3)
Jesus references these verses as he reads from the scrolls in the synagogue, announcing his mission to those listening. He was even more specific in Matthew:
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Mt 25:34-40)
One could point to these texts, if inclined, for a Scriptural basis for the social advocacy teaching of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles share stories of what carrying out these commands looks like for the early faith community of Christ’s followers.
Today, we stand on the foundation, not only of the Scriptures and the early Church, but also a documentary history of Encyclicals, written by popes calling their world to a deeper, consistent, graced position of working for those most in need. We stand on solid moral ground as we call for mercy, compassion, and peace. Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum (of New Things) is distinguished as the first to specifically address the social issues of the day, in 1891. One hundred and twenty-four years and 11 social justice action encyclicals later, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (Praise be to you) challenges us to “care for our common home” — and that means climate issues, hunger, hatred. We know the list.
In today’s overwhelming environment of racism, hatred, hunger, violence, ignorance; in today’s ever increasing occurrence of natural disasters, we seek guidance and direction from our Church. And our Church responds.
Individual dioceses and archdioceses support the ever active Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities. Organizations such as the Red Cross organize funding and volunteers in response to disasters. There are myriad other organizations that assist everyone impacted by nature’s vagaries. And if we can’t volunteer, we can support in other ways. Documents like “Faithful Citizenship” and “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” (written in 2002, by then Cardinal Ratzinger) work to create a morally grounded, ethically viable foundation for Catholics to engage the complex political and social universes.
St. Francis’ admonition to “pray always, and if you must, use words” looks a great deal like Catholics involved in their world — socially, economically, politically; in activist movements, in rescues, in working with the poor, hungry, homeless, and dying. The choices are ours; choose wisely!