Social Justice –

This last RCIA class was held before the first Sunday in Advent. For the first time since deciding to convert to Catholicism, and since starting my RCIA journey, the class topic was personally challenging. When the young Father announced the teaching would be on Catholic Social Teaching and Social Justice, I could feel an instant resistance build up in me. Social Justice is a phrase that has been co-opted by many of the left-leaning and socialist politicians since before I was born.

 

RCIA, by design, is a short format which is meant to only provide an introduction to topics and to encourage the participants to grow further in both faith and knowledge. Social Justice as the Church has taught is a vast topic where each supposition and section merits several weeks if not months of study to come to grips with fully. The overall message however, was and still is one that I can fully support; which is to say that Human Life and Human Dignity must be placed above all other priorities when considering whether a law or policy or activity is socially just.

 

For me, I have a strongly defined sense of justice. In my house growing up politics was not only a regular topic of debate, but a favorite one. Whenever I had friends visit, I had to prep them for the fact that we discussed politics, religion, and music freely with few if any rules of engagement. I have always enjoyed the writings of John Adams; the Rights of Man, et al. By Thomas Paine; various Federalist writers who borrowed from Plato or Socrates; and long discussions with my Father, Grandfather, and Uncles who were well read on various topics from history. So, this new dynamic which included such topics as the use of Nuclear Weapons and Capital Punishment was at first glance going to be difficult to reconcile with what I had already held to be true.

 

After class, I could not just sit and let my brain buzz about these things, I needed closure or at least a good start. I started looking for authors on Catholic Social Teaching and came across an article on Catholic.com by Leon J. Suprenant entitled “Social Justice Isn’t Left or Right…It’s Catholic”. As usual, once I got some further explaining and time to reflect, I was able to settle most of my worries. Suprenant paints a clearer picture of how the Social Justice hijacked by certain extreme leftist politics and the Social Justice of the Church differ. However, he also talks about the right wing politics can also be out of line with the Church if followed to an extreme.

 

While Suprenant was able to bring calm on many topics, I had a few that still bothered me. One of which was capital punishment. The death penalty has always been apart of what I would call a just system. I cannot see how making society pay for a criminal’s life in perpetuity is justice when that same criminal chose to commit a crime so heinous as to merit a death sentence in our court system. So, again, I went searching and found an article by Christopher Kaczor called “Did the Church Change Its Teaching on the Death Penalty?”; also on Catholic.com. In his writing, Kaczor brings up the stances from St. Thomas Aquinas who was avidly for the death penalty; going as far as calling it right and just in certain circumstances. Kaczor then balances that against John Paul’s writings that carry specific requirements that can more easily be met now than they were in Thomas Aquinas’s era. It comes down to needing two tests that both must be satisfied to call a execution just. Kaczor’s words were able to give me peace about how I could have what Catholic’s call “both/and” about this complex topic.

 

However, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that, I don’t necessarily have to jump in with both feat at the first sign of a explanation of the Catholic Teaching. It is a gigantic ocean of topics and as long as I continue to trust in God, Christ, and His Church; I know I will be ok.

 

-A Brother in Christ