This reflection is part of the Spirituality of the Catechist Online Retreat.
As a director of social ministry, I am responsible for encouraging social advocacy in my parish. I would usually offer workshops on Catholic social teaching and the USCCB document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Unfortunately, these workshops often resulted in ideological debates and partisan arguments. I concluded that this was not the most effective approach to persuade parishioners to engage in social advocacy.
Recently, I decided to try something new. Rather than making moral arguments for social advocacy based on Catholic social teaching and Scripture, I began developing relationships between my parish and underserved members of our community. Instead of approaching these issues from the head, I approached them from the heart for a more positive engagement.
Take, for example, several societal issues today: healthcare, immigration, and migration. In the past, I would have offered a workshop on how Catholic social teaching applies to a particular issue and then encourage parishioners, now armed with the appropriate moral arguments, to write their legislators urging them to support a particular position on that issue. Now we look for ways to help the aging members of our community to find access to healthcare. We have partnered with another parish that has a large immigrant community, helping them meet their needs by offering our time, our skills, and our financial support. Finally, we are in the process of developing a relationship with a Salesian refugee camp in Kenya that serves persecuted Christians from Sudan and Somalia.
My hope is that by developing relationships between my community and these others, the people of my parish will recognize that our social concerns are not about abstract ideas or principles but are based on the concrete problems and challenges that real people face every day.
The Catholic principle of solidarity calls us to be open to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to stand with them as they face challenges that may not be affecting us directly. The word catholic is derived from the Greek word katholou, which means “according to the whole.” The principle of solidarity flows from our very identity as Catholics: to be Catholic means to be open to the experience of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
This reflection was inspired by our retreat theme this week: An Openness to the World. Read Joe Paprocki’s post introducing the theme and reflect with questions and spiritual exercises.