St. Robert Bellarmine

Catholic Church

What is Social Justice?

Catholic social teaching has its roots in the proclamation of the ancient Hebrew prophets.

"He will judge the poor with righteousness, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth." (Isaiah 11:4)

The call to fairness by Isaiah was not just a religious concept. It included practical implications for all levels of society. Merchants were commanded to use honest weights and scales when measuring grain to be sold. Employers were required to pay wages on a daily basis so everyone could buy food for their family. Farmers were called to leave a portion of their crop behind for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Millers were instructed to provide a portion of grain to the Levites who were called to focus their energies on prayer and the praise of God and not to be gainfully employed.

As we read the Old Testament we gain a clear understanding of the culture God intended for his people. This culture of God is a theme that continues in the New Testament. The Kingdom of God, preached by Jesus, is to be rightly understood in three ways.

• As the Church, proclaiming the Gospel through the ages
• As the Government of God, evident not in law, but in the teaching of truth visible in the magisterium of the Church
• As the Culture of God expressed in Catholic social teaching

These are evident in the actions of the earliest believers and their actions toward one another. Throughout the Book of Acts and the epistles of the various apostles, early Christians took to heart Jesus' evangelistic proclamation, "By this will the world know that you are my disciples, because you love one another."

Catholic social teaching has evolved over the centuries and most recently in the writings of Saint John XXIII's Pacem in Terras and Saint John Paul II's Centesimus Annus. While interpreted broadly by many individuals and organizations involved in social justice, the Church's social teaching can be understood as built upon seven pillars.

1. Dignity of the human person and each individual in the human family
2. Promotion of Christian community, especially in the fundamental unit of the family
3. Protection of the right of individual property
4. Commitment to work for the common good
5. Respect for the worker
6. Pursuit of peace
7. Care for the poor

As we move forward, we should keep in mind that social justice is not about being nice to people who may have less than us, but furthering the growth of the Kingdom of God on earth. In that pursuit we apply our time, our talents, and our treasures so that all people whom God places in our path will know their absolute value to God and to us, the people of God, His Church.

"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty." ~ Saint Theresa of Calcutta