BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (215): What is the responsibility of the lay faithful in social and economic matters?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

The universal destination of goods involves society and the international community. Hence, the Church also offers its social teaching to guide those in charge of the common good. “The social doctrine of the Church is an organic development of the truth of the Gospel about the dignity of the human person and his social dimension offering [1] principles for reflection, [2] criteria for judgment, and [3] norms and guidelines for action” (CCCC 509). Note that this three-layered teaching excludes endorsing concrete economic programs because specific actions that need to be carried out should be decided by those who have special responsibility to serve the common good.

Furthermore, we should note that the “Church intervenes by making a moral judgment about economic and social matters when the fundamental rights of the person, the common good, or the salvation of souls requires it” (CCCC 510). The Church limits itself to these moral judgments and does not go into matters which are outside its competence.

The Church believes that social and economic life “should be pursued according to its own proper methods within the sphere of the moral order, at the service of the whole human being and of the entire human community in keeping with social justice. Social and economic life should have the human person as its author, center, and goal” (CCCC 511).

These principles are violated in the case of “economic and social systems that sacrifice the basic rights of persons or that make profit their exclusive norm or ultimate end. For this reason, the Church rejects the ideologies associated in modern times with Communism or with atheistic and totalitarian forms of socialism. But in the practice of capitalism, the Church also rejects self-centered individualism and an absolute primacy of the laws of the marketplace over human labor” (CCCC 512).

Furthermore, because nations are dependent on each other, these principles also apply to the world at large. “On the international level, all nations and institutions must carry out their work in solidarity and subsidiarity for the purpose of eliminating or at least reducing poverty, the inequality of resources and economic potential, economic and social injustices, the exploitation of persons, the accumulation of debts by poor countries, and the perverse mechanisms that impede the development of the less advanced countries” (CCCC 518).

We have pointed out earlier that the Church does not prescribe specific social and economic systems. What the Church does is to encourage the lay faithful who have competence in these matters to work in such a way that the Church’s social teaching can be carried out in specific situations. “The lay faithful take part directly in political and social life by animating temporal realities with a Christian spirit and collaborating with all as authentic witnesses of the Gospel and agents of peace and justice” (CCCC 519).

The Church’s social teaching highlights, in particular, the concern for those who have not been able to partake of the goods of the earth. “Love for the poor is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes and by the example of Jesus in his constant concern for the poor. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done to me’ (Matthew 25:40). Love for the poor shows itself through the struggle against material poverty and also against the many forms of cultural, moral, and religious poverty. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes the disciples of Jesus” (CCCC 520).