From time to time in recent months, I have made reference to a new group that has formed at Assumption that focuses on social justice. A member of this social justice committee will make a brief presentation during the weekend Masses on March 4-5. Social justice works hand in hand with charity, but has a difference emphasis. While the work of charity seeks to address the immediate needs of an individual or family, the work of justice looks at the underlying causes of need and works to change attitudes, customs, and laws to make our society more just and more faithful to the vision that Jesus left us. This may raise a couple of questions in your mind; so, let me try to answer them.
“Is this something new?” While the conversation about social justice may be new to Assumption, it is certainly nothing new for the Catholic Church. Social justice has been an integral part of Catholic teaching since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical endorsing the rights of laborers to organize unions. He saw labor unions as the best means of insuring that workers will be paid a living wage and will be able to work in a safe environment. As our congregation at Assumption has grown in numbers over the past twenty years, the number of ministries that serve the parish and the wider community has increased significantly. Over the past few years our Pastoral Council has been seeking to “fill in the gaps” that remain. A couple of years ago, we explored the issue of religious education for children and found that there was not enough demand for that at Assumption (This might be an issue for greater collaboration among area churches that could be explored in the Renew My Church process). Another area that the Council recognized as lacking was any organized action for social justice. Social justice activity is another way for Catholics to take part in the work of the Church. And having people involved in social justice will probably make the rest of us (who are serving in other ministries) a little more conscious of Church teaching on contemporary justice issues.
“Does talking about social justice mean that Assumption is taking a left-turn politically?” Absolutely not. Pope Francis and the American Bishops have articulated church teaching on a variety of issues that cover the entire political spectrum: from the right to life of the unborn to care for our planet, from the free expression of religious liberty to the care of immigrants and refugees, from death penalty issues to euthanasia, from racism and economic justice to the right to private property. While these issues often get politicized (e.g. the Women’s March in Washington did not welcome Pro-Life demonstrators) and the political parties often seize upon certain issues to the exclusion of others, that does not mean that we as a church should be forced to choose sides. A couple of weeks ago, Cardinal Cupich issued a statement condemning President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration. This week he has asked all parishes to include in the bulletin his letter opposing the public funding of abortion in Illinois. Both of these are justice issues. As Catholics, we need to avoid being too closely identified with one political party or political movement, so that we can be free to both criticize and support as situations warrant.
The Social Justice Committee has identified four basic areas that are of potential interest to our congregation. The first is respect for human life (which would include the rights of the unborn, the needs of the newly born, youth at risk, as well as the death penalty and physician assisted suicide); immigration; mass incarceration (a big issue in Chicago with large numbers of the mentally ill and those without bail money being housed in jail); and the availability of low income housing and homelessness itself. If you are interested in learning more about any of these issues or potentially becoming involved in social justice activity in these areas (through prayer, letter writing, attending public meetings, or taking part in an organized activity), you will be invited to sign your name on the appropriate clipboard (or clipboards) in the back of church on the weekends of March 4-5 and March 11-12. That will give the Committee a picture of where there is interest, concern, and desire to get involved and which issue or issues to move on first.