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Welcome to Season Three of Mercy Moments

Created and Hosted by Marissa Flores Madden

Catholic Social Teaching

A Church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under any one’s skin, a Word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – What gospel is that?

St. Oscar Romero

“Ms. Madden!  We love you!  We just hate everything you stand for.”  A senior in my Catholic Social Teaching class attempted to assuage my personal reactions to his peer’s negativity towards Church teaching on topics including immigration, racism, poverty, and the death penalty.  A well-intended sentiment, but the problem was of course that Catholic Social Teaching is personal.  It’s the acknowledgment that we are in relationship with all of humanity – in fact, with all of creation.  And the responsibility that comes with the recognition of those relationships is personal for each one of us.  It’s not just high schoolers who take issue with Catholic Social Teaching.  These are challenging topics – politicized issues – and the Church has much to say about them.  Throughout this body of Church teaching, one thing is clear: God takes sides.  God loves us all and is always on the side of the oppressed.  And that’s a hard concept to take in; especially when most of us would prefer God take our sides regardless of the situation.  And although the student was right – that as a young teacher I was clearly taking teenager feedback too personally – almost two decades later, I continue to take personally people’s reactions to how Catholic Social Teaching is put into practice in our society.  Only instead of students’ reactions, these days, it’s my senators’ responses to my incessant emails about immigration reform.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”  This verse is often used to describe the foundation for centering prayer, a practice which recognizes the divine within us.   Last year I joined a centering prayer group.  I told a priest I was in search of community, and he invited me to come check out the group.  Gratefully, this not only provided community, I also found a new method of encountering God. 

Just twenty minutes of silence becomes a glimpse of eternity where we are one with God and God is one with all of creation.  In centering prayer, we meet God in the silence and God affirms us – our dignity is made known to us.  No need to take things personally after all.  I believe that my desire for community which manifested in an experience of God is a holy longing placed deep within all of us.  And our deepest desires are God’s deepest desires for us: “that we may all be one…” (John 17:21).  And despite all of the controversy among high schoolers, U.S. senators, and everyone in between; this is the intention of Catholic Social Teaching as well.  That we may all be one.

Rooted in Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s moral doctrine regarding how we live in society, as part of creation, with special consideration for those who are poor and vulnerable.  Modern Catholic Social Teaching is a collection of Church documents including papal encyclicals and pastoral letters published by bishops that began with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891.  What began as a bold, faith-based condemnation of the conditions of the working class has continued for over a century, providing clarity on doctrine covering the following seven themes:

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

Rights and Responsibilities

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers


Care for God’s Creation

If you’re a lifelong Catholic who’s never heard the term Catholic Social Teaching and these themes are new to you, you’re not alone.  Catholic Social Teaching has unfortunately been aptly described as the Church’s best-kept secret.  If you’re well versed in these documents, these themes are still wonderful points of reflection for this Lenten season.  So, stay with me.  And, if you took my Catholic Social Teaching senior theology course fifteen years ago, consider this an updated refresher course.

In this season’s Mercy Moments, I will reflect on the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching and consider how they have manifested throughout my life.  As I share personal stories and reflections drawn from Catholic Social Teaching, my hope is that you, the listeners and readers, will in turn recognize when and how you have witnessed or experienced these themes in your own lives.  My prayer is that all of us will be inspired to put these themes into practice – to allow them to inform our decisions, influence our work, enliven our faith, and encourage our relationships so that we may all be one.

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