When I attended St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago back in the 1970s, I remember hearing, over and over again, that I was to become a “man for others” (it was an all-boys school at the time). I had no idea then that this concept was central to the notion of Ignatian spirituality—to be a man or woman for others. When St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits back in the 16th century, he believed firmly that faith must be put into action. Nearly 400 years later, one of his successors, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (Jesuit Superior General 1965-1983) said, “We cannot separate action for justice from the proclamation of the Word of God.”
Think this idea is radical? Jesus taught this principle over 2000 years ago! In his Parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus made it abundantly clear that faith in him will be judged by how well that faith was put into action:
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40, RSV)
In other words, we are called to be people for others. But what does this mean in practical terms? How do we translate faith into action? To guide us in this endeavor, the bishops of the United States wrote Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions, which outlines seven principles of social justice in Catholic teaching. By following these principles, we will discover how to live as people for others.
Dignity of the Human Person. We are called to ask whether our actions as a society respect or threaten the life and dignity of the human person.
Call to Family, Community, and Participation. We are called to support the family—the principle social institution—so that people can participate in society, build a community spirit, and promote the well being of all.
Rights and Responsibilities. We are called to protect the rights that all people have to those things required for a decent human life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable. We are called to pay special attention to the needs of those who are poor.
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. We are called to protect the basic rights of all workers: the right to engage in productive work, fair wages, private property, and the right to organize, join unions, and pursue economic opportunity.
Solidarity. We are called to recognize that, because God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters, with the responsibility to care for one another.
Care for God’s Creation. We are called to care for all that God has made.
In the Parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus makes clear our responsibility to tend to the needs of others. The Church teaches this responsibility in these seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching reminding us that, if we want to live as followers of Jesus, we need to live as people for others.