At a recent meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, which includes representatives from each deanery, we heard a presentation on the work of a local group that promotes awareness and education in social justice. Our speaker pointed out both the relationship and the distinction between charity and justice. Both are an integral part of the Christian life. For example, charity prompts us to feed the hungry, and justice prompts us to work for a social order in which the causes of hunger are reduced, if not eradicated.
Anyone who reads the Scriptures knows that both of these great virtues — justice and charity — are commanded by God. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict writes: “Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give what is mine to the other. But I cannot give what is mine to the other without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity.” (No. 6)
Our country prides itself on being a land of justice and charity. We can point to many accomplishments in the realm of economic and social justice in our history. We continue to be a generous and neighborly people. However, it is clear that in both spheres — justice and charity — we are entering into a very trying time, given the breakdown of a common moral foundation, threats to human life and dignity, and now a troubled economy with high unemployment.
The economic news is not good. The statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September show that a record number of Americans (one out of six) are poor. More than one out of every five children are living in poverty. This is the highest number of people living in poverty since the Census started keeping track 52 years ago. More than a third of our population (103.6 million) is living on a low income (pegged at $44,000 annually for a family of four).
Young adults are getting discouraged about their future prospects; racial and ethnic disparities are widening, and the gap is growing between the richest and the poorest among us. Safety nets continue to work, but are being strained. Indeed, because of programs like Social Security, poverty has not risen significantly among senior citizens, although the current economy threatens them too.
Let’s bring the impact of these statistics closer to home. In our state in 2010 76 Catholic Charities Service programs served more than 600,000 needy Ohioans. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo (supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal) served 31,000 people — an increase of 24 percent. In the first nine months of 2011 Catholic Charities has experienced an 80 percent increase in people seeking and receiving food; a 132 percent increase in people seeking medical and prescription assistance; and a 73 percent increase in the number of households seeking emergency rent assistance. In the light of these facts, I would like to call on everyone — beginning with myself —to be mindful of our obligations to justice and charity, especially in difficult times.
Charity might be the first to claim our attention in the face of the urgent needs of our neighbor. I am referring to both material charity and personal outreach to the unemployed and those who are struggling not only with financial woes, but with the emotional toll that these problems can take on them and their families.
However, as Pope Benedict tells us, “justice is inseparable from charity.” Writing on behalf of all the U.S. bishops, our conference president, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, recently said this:
“The common good will not advance; economic security will not be achieved; and individual initiative will be weakened when so many live without the dignity of work and bear the crushing burden of poverty. These economic failures have fundamental institutional and systemic elements that have either been ignored or made worse by political and economic behaviors, which have undermined trust and confidence. However, this is not time to make excuses or place blame. It is a time for everyone to accept their own personal and institutional responsibility to help create jobs and to overcome poverty, each in accord with their own abilities and opportunities. Individuals and families, faith-based and community groups, businesses and labor, government at every level, all must work together and find effective ways to promote the common good in national and economic life.”
And as the history of our country shows, “the best way out of poverty is to work at a living wage. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering.’ ” (Caritas in Veritate, No. 25)
The challenge is clear. It is time for all of us — individuals and communities — both urban and rural, management and labor, government and the private sector, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives — to subordinate our own particular economic interests, ideologies and ambitions to the common good of our whole nation. Without the common good none of our individual goods can be achieved, flourish or even survive. In the political realm the bishops of the United States have called for a renewed kind of politics focused more on moral principles than on the latest polls; on the needs of the weak than on benefits for the strong; and on the pursuit of the common good than on the demands of narrow interests. (cf. Faithful Citizenship, No. 61)
On the eve of November elections we have a duty to be good citizens and to be intelligently informed about issues, guided by our moral principles. We can be proud of our rich heritage of Catholic social teaching, rooted n the natural law, which is acknowledged in our nation’s founding documents.
I want to commend the dedicated efforts of the many individuals and groups who work so hard at both charity and justice on the diocesan, deanery and parish levels. Our Catholic witness to charity and social justice is needed more than ever, and I am confident that we, the Catholic people of today, will rise to the challenge as our forbears did in the past.
Later this month we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. Despite our problems, we still have so much to be grateful for as a nation. I hope that all of us will use the occasion to commit ourselves to justice and charity, and that more than ever we will be generous in reaching out to our neighbors in need. Our strength and help
is from the Lord, so let’s not forget prayer — for our country and our world — with thanksgiving for all our blessings.