Year of Faith Retreat – Week 3, Day 4: Learning to Detect Patterns (Social Justice)

Year-of-Faith-Sidebar-150wWEEK THREE: The Moral Life (Life in Christ)

DAY 4:  Learning to Detect Patterns (Social Justice)

The children’s show Sesame Street has a feature called One of These Things is Not Like the Others in which they show a series of images, inviting the viewer to identify which of the things was different or doesn’t match or belong to the group. The activity is accompanied by a song with the following lyrics:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
The goal is to teach children about how to detect patterns. Some things belong and are in right relationship with each other. Others do not belong and are not in right relationship with the other objects. All human beings are called to live in right relationship with one another. Sometimes, however, things prevent us from living in right relationship with one another. When we strive to remove these obstacles so that people can live in right relationship with one another, we call this social justice.
Several years ago, a political pundit went on a rant about social justice. In that rant, he said the following:

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.

Well, folks, looks like we Catholics need to leave our Church according to this way of thinking! The fact is, Social Justice is a crucial part of the Catholic faith. In a brilliant defense of the Catholic Church’s commitment to social justice, Jesuit Father James Martin SJ, wrote the following in America Magazine:
Our responsibility to care for “the least of these” does not end with simple charity.  Giving someone some money, or clothes, or shelter, is an important part of the Christian message.  But so is advocating for them.  It is not enough simply to help the poor, one must address the structures that keep them poor.  Standing up for the rights of the poor is not being a Nazi, it’s being a Christian.  And a Communist?  It’s hard not to think of the retort of the great apostle of social justice, Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
When we look at our society, we see some patterns that are not right. We see some things that don’t belong because they are preventing people from living in right relationship with others. It is part and parcel of our calling as followers of Jesus to right these wrongs so that all of God’s children can live in right relationship with one another. As we look forward to this Year of Faith, we are called to renew our commitment to work for Social Justice so that our world reflects God’s vision for His creation. It’s the moral thing to do.
Reflection Questions: Choose one of the following questions and share your thoughts with your fellow retreatants by adding your comments in the comments box below this post.
  • As you look at our society and seek to detect patterns, what do you recognize as “not belonging?”
  • What realities are preventing people from living in right relationship with one another?
  • How can the average Catholic work for social justice?
  • What role does prayer and reflection play in working for social justice?
  • What does it take to ensure that our striving for social justice is not simply a vehicle for pushing our own political agenda?
  • Which of the following Scripture passages speaks to you most powerfully of the call to justice?
    • Isaiah 1:10-24
    • Isaiah 58:6-12
    • Jeremiah 22:1-19
    • Amos 5:7-24
    • Micah 6
    • Matthew 25:31-46
    • Luke 4:16-30


Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you live in loving relationship with one another. Holy Trinity, help me to live in loving relationship with others, sharing your merciful love with those who are most in need of it. Help me to hear the cries of those who are deprived of what they need to reach their fulfillment. Grant that I may unselfishly share with others, tending to their physical and spiritual needs and cooperating with you in transforming the world through your merciful love. Amen.

Additional Reading

CCC References: 2419-2463

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I hope you’re enjoying our online summer retreat, Preparing for a Year of Faith! Take a few minutes each day at your convenience to “gather” here on my blog as we seek to add some flavor to our faith lives by deepening our understanding of the truths of our faith as given to us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Learn more about the Year of Faith. Watch a brief video explaining what this online retreat is all about.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. Matthew 25:31-46 speaks the most powerfully about social justice. We are to live as Jesus lived. Every human being has the right to be treated with respect regardless. When we see a homeless person and turn our heads. When we are asked to help a family that has lost their house and we turn our backs. When we refuse to help someone who is really in need. We are turning away Jesus. The attitude is let someone else help. We have no time. We are too busy. Well one day we will have to face God and answer to Him. Will we be the righteous or the wicked.

  2. “to walk humbly with our God” speaks strongly to me of social justice and seems to be the item that does belong, but is increasingly hard to find.

  3. Don’t have much time now that school is beginning next week; however, I did want to thank you, Joe, and those who respond for making this such a wonderful retreat. You have all given me much to reflect upon. Joe, I hope you will do this again sometime during the school year. I would like the rest of our faculty to take advantage of such a great spiritual resource. Thank you!

    • Wanda, thanks. When all is said and done, we’ll compile all of the posts from the this retreat and make them accessible in one easy place so that folks can access it throughout the Year of Faith.

  4. This week I was speaking to my youth group of social justice and many felt that their peers are afraid of not being with the “in Crowd” if they didn’t do as others do. I told them that they should care more about how they feel about their actions and if their conscience allows them to live with said action. They see everyday how their peers act when they are in their own social groups but are afraid to speak up and object to what they aren’t comfortabe with. I know this isn’t easy but when you do speak out you are not only standing up for yourself but for others who are afraid, one person standing out for others leads to the many also taking a stand.

  5. I’m going to have to pick Matthew, of course! This is exactly the passage I was referring to yesterday when I said I don’t believe that you CAN’T work towards your salvation. Doesn’t this clearly say that you MUST?

    • Lisa, of course we must work but we must also recognize that we cannot earn our salvation! We have to work at continually embracing the gift of salvation that is offered to us.

  6. In the words of Mother Teresa ” What you are doing i may not be able to do.What I am doing you may not be able to do. But all of us together are doing something beautiful for God “. Sometimes prayer maybe the only option available to us for working for social justice. Maybe we are restricted physically or financially , but our prayers will be just as powerful in helping others who have no one to pray for them. We can pray at any time and anywhere. Talk to God and let Jesus pray in you.

  7. When we share of ourselves – whether spiritually, physically, emotionally doing works of mercy I always know that as in Isaiah 58:6-12 the Lord will guide me always; he will satisfy my needs so I can be of more help to others in need.

  8. We work for social justice by education teaching. I wish the church and our faith formation programs had a section on this for especially on topics such as abortion, marriage, divorce, contraceptives homosexuality, cohabitating ;we really need to be educated on these topics through our faith these are 21st century issues for our youth and our churches teachings would be very helpful if someone would have the courage to educate our youth and parents on these very important topics.How do we expect our youth to be the light for our world if the answers are very much hidden and kept in the dark? the programs I went through never touched these subjects and yes they are delicate but the if we are going to be true catholics then we need to understand teachings on these social justice issues. Maybe just maybe we could improve our society one person at a time through God’s grace. What are we waiting for?

    • Grace, you mention a number of very important moral issues that we do indeed need to know how to address, however, social justice is much more about seeking to change structures in society that oppress people. Marriage, co-habitating, etc. are moral issues but not social justice issues.

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