Outreach to the World

When Bill Maher recently unloaded on Christian conservatives (“Who needs the government if you have Jesus?”), it was not clear whether, in his mind, it was their Christianity or their conservatism that ticked him off.  Perhaps both, though Maher had specified, “there’s nothing they hate more than secular eggheads trying to fix problems like poverty and health care.”

At any rate, Catholic teaching has never supported the position that Christians are exempt from the responsibility of participating fully in the political process. Furthermore, the Church has always maintained a dialog with the academic, political, business and scientific communities. Our mission, after all, is not just to other Christians, but to the world.

In Brooklyn, we often say “the world lives here.” Throughout his public ministry, Jesus himself addressed human beings not as angels or disembodied spirits, but as the whole persons they are. Thus while His primary appeal was always to the heart and conscience, where our deepest hungers lie, He calmed, fed and healed anyone for whom sickness, hunger or poverty were truly an obstacle to belief and the flow of divine grace. Gandhi once observed that if God were to come to the world, it would have to be in the form of bread. That is exactly how Jesus ultimately gave himself: a man to be consumed — totally. So, too, are we called to give of our substance, not only our spare change.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by funding community programs that foster independence. As we take up the national collection for the CCHD in our parishes on Sunday, Nov. 20, we are mindful of the importance of the contribution each and every one of us can make. For over 43.6 million Americans, there is a thin line between eviction and home, between hunger and health, between unemployment and work, between anxiety and stability. This line is the Poverty Line.  For a family of four, that line is $21,834 a year (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 2009).

The U.S. Bishops established the campaign in 1970, mandating funding for  “such projects as voter registration, community organizations, community-run schools, minority-owned cooperatives and credit unions, capital for industrial development and job training programs, and setting up of rural cooperatives.” The CCHD can proudly point to numerous organizations and projects that have supported and strengthened communities throughout the country — and by no means confined to Catholic populations.

At the core of the social teachings of the Catholic Church is respect for the dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death. Consistent with this dignity is the right to participate and control the social and political forces that affect it. Thus Catholic social teaching holds that all people have the right and duty to participate in society and its organization. In his 1999 papal exhortation upon the completion of the Synod of America, Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II relates the dignity of the human person to social interaction, “It will be especially necessary to nurture the growing awareness in society of the dignity of every person and therefore to promote in the community a sense of the duty to participate in political life in harmony with the Gospel. Involvement in the political field is clearly part of the vocation and activity of the lay faithful.”

The mission of the Gospel then extends beyond the task of preaching to the converted and travels far beyond church walls into action that promotes and protects not only individual rights but the structures and organizations that support them.  As the 1971 Synod of Bishops proclaimed, “action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel” (Justice in the World, 6).  Next weekend is an opportunity for us to reach out to the world.