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Why does the Church get involved in social issues? A lay vocation

Poverty, inequalities, corruption, laws that trample on human dignity, religious persecution, suffering, violence, racism, discrimination... The Church, in particular the lay faithful, called to be "like the soul of the world", intervenes in social issues because "a fundamental moral value is at stake: justice", says Gregorio Guitián, dean of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarra, in his latest book.

Francisco Otamendi-September 2, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
lay people

"Behind social problems there are injustices. Injustice harms people and is an offense against God - a sin - which Jesus Christ wanted to heal and redeem. That is why the Church has always sought to contribute to a more just society", writes the theologian Gregorio Guitián in a didactic 155-page study entitled 'Como el alma del mundo', which he describes as a "brief approach to social morality and the Social Doctrine of the Church", and "which does not pretend to be a manual". The edition is published by Palabra in its Buscando entender collection.

"There is a general consensus that Jesus Christ was not part of any religious-political group of his time (such as the Zealots, the Pharisees, the Essenes, etc.). However, he did have concern for social problems (...), he fulfilled his civic obligations, such as paying taxes; he recognized civil authority ('Render unto Caesar...)". His teaching is of a religious and moral nature, but it has a clear application in social life, even though he was not dedicated to reforming politics nor was he a political leader," the professor points out.

For example, when Jesus teaches "love one another as I have loved you", or when he says: "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", "he is laying the foundations for overcoming social discrimination", he stresses.

Social commitment of Christians

And "from the example of Jesus, primitive Christianity, even in the midst of a pagan society - often hostile to the Gospel - and without any capacity to reform structures because Christians were nobody, made an effort to alleviate extreme social situations or to respect and obey authority". "With the passing of the centuries, and in an officially Christian society, the social commitment of Christians will be a constant," explains Professor Guitián, who holds a doctorate in Theology from the University of the Holy Cross and a degree in Business Administration from the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Benedict XVI recalled how the Emperor Julian (+363), who rejected the Christian faith, wanted to restore a reformed paganism. However, he wrote in one of his letters that 'the only aspect that impressed him was the charitable activity of the Church,'" the author adds, specifying that "there has always been in the Church an organized charity to serve everyone by attending to spiritual and material needs; and also a concern and reflection on social issues."

Who is responsible for this task?

guitian laity
Gregorio Guitián

"I think it would be worth emphasizing the importance of lay people in all social issues," Professor Gregorio Guitián told Omnes , as well as "the need for them to be well trained in these matters and their irreplaceable importance in improving the world, particularly in all fields where the challenges are palpable (politics, law, economics, science, family and education, communication, art and culture, health and care of people, fashion, technology, cinema, the world of technology, care of the environment, etc.)."

"The very title of the book," he says, "is placed thinking especially of them, who are called to be like the soul of the world, and the opening pages on the lay faithful can serve as a reference."

"Faced with the mass of evil crystallized in society, one might ask: what to do? The world needs redemption. Jesus Christ has taken upon himself these evils [see pp. 24-25], and seeks at every moment of history to bring the balm of charity and justice to these wounds. Jesus looks to his disciples with this hope: "'You are the salt of the earth (...) You are the light of the world'" (Matthew 5:13-14).

In the world there are about 1,327 million lay Catholics, out of a total of 7.8 billion inhabitants, in addition to the Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious men and women, permanent deacons, major seminarians... "One can see the importance of the lay faithful for the mission of the Church in the world," writes the author, being "called to be like the leaven in the midst of the dough" (cf. Matthew 13:33)".

The laity in the mission of the Church

"To discover the enormous relevance of the role of the laity in society, and to awaken the desire to bring light to the world from one's own place, should be objectives of Christian social morality. Of the laity, as of all Christians, it can also be said that they are called to be 'like the soul of the world'. This is what the 'Letter to Diognetus' said in the 2nd century: "What the soul is in the body, so are Christians in the world (Epistula ad Diognetum, 6, 1)", explains Professor Guitián.

The Second Vatican Council, in the Apostolic Constitution Lumen gentiumThe Pope, on the Church, pointed out that the laity are called to contribute from within, like the leaven in the dough, to the sanctification of the world through the exercise of their proper tasks (n. 31).

Gregorio Guitián also recalls that Pope Francis has asked "the lay faithful to make a real commitment to 'the application of the Gospel to the transformation of society', complaining that, at times, we think only of how to involve them more in intra-ecclesial tasks, while the social, political or economic world remains to be informed with Christian values (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, n. 102)".

In this regard, it is useful to recall here the Pope's frequent appeals not to remain indifferent. For example, in a speech to the members of the Centesimus Annus Foundation on October 23 last year, the Pontiff said: "We cannot remain indifferent. But the response to injustice and exploitation is not only denunciation: it is above all the active promotion of good: denouncing evil, but promoting good".

Bringing the world to God

How to address these tasks, the author asks. And he quotes St. John Paul II, who suggested "three lines of action in the most important magisterial document on the laity to date (the exhortation 'Christifideles laici', on the lay faithful: 1. Overcome the fracture between the Gospel and one's own life to achieve a unity inspired by the Gospel. 2. To commit themselves with courage and creativity in the effort to solve social problems. 3. To do their work with professional competence and honesty, for this is the path to their own sanctification.

Guitián reinforces his thesis on the laity in an important way in the book. "Although it may seem surprising, the vocation that God has thought of to solve a good number of the evils of this world is, above all - though not exclusively - the lay vocation. Yes, the lay faithful, men and women whose vocation is to bring the world to God, as it were from within. They are like "the special forces" of the Church. (...)"

"There, in that 'kitchen of the world', the humanity or inhumanity of society is gestated, and there the lay faithful must be there to lead the world back to God". "The role of the Church in the world is to be 'a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race' (Gaudium et spes, n. 42)," he reminds us.

Summary

In summary, since we have focused only on some aspect of Professor Guitián's book, it can be said that the work has an introduction, 8 chapters, a brief summary at the end of each chapter, a conclusion and a bibliography.

They deal with the social commitment of Christians, the fundamental principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the common good, the Christian vision of the political community, the international community, two sections dedicated specifically to the economy, and a final chapter dedicated to the care of creation, "the responsibility of all", in which some of the ideas of the encyclical are offered as a program. Laudato si'  (nn. 209 and 227).

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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