Archbishop Wenski on the Centrality of Social Justice
Below are excerpts from Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s homily at the meeting of the Haitian Bishops Conference in Miami on 26 September 2010 — the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Reflecting on the challenge of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it is a wonderfully clear statement of the centrality of social justice and the a key doctrines of Catholic social teaching — the preferential option for the poor.
Let me begin our reflection on the readings we have just heard with a quote.
“…How can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather we must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the Eucharist – which is communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us – commits us to serve. As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name, and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, ‘in the stark contrast between the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the latter’s side’. We too must be on this same side.”
Who wrote these words? Was it Dom Helder Camarra? – Who as the bishop of Recife in Brazil won a well deserved reputation as a champion of the poor but was repudiated by his critics as a “red bishop” always in trouble with Rome. Was it Mother Teresa? – That dynamic woman of faith who tended to the rejected and dying in the streets of Calcutta and the world but who also had her critics. If Helder’s critics came from “the right”, hers came from “the left”. This was not just because of her unambiguous pro-life stance but also because she was content to serve the poor where she found them without setting into motion any great movement of “social reform”.
The words actually come from the late great Pope John Paul II in a message he gave for a World Peace Day some years ago. He wished to remind Catholics that involvement in what are sometimes called “peace and justice” issues is not optional – nor it is the purview of those who would label themselves either “liberal” or “conservative”. Rather such involvement is a constitutive part of the living out of our faith. Solidarity as the late Pope once said is another word for justice in our day. It is “a firm and preserving determination to commit oneself to the common good.” Sollicitudo Rei Socialis #38
As Catholics, we must be involved in the issues of world hunger, human rights, peace building and justice promotion. This social ministry is not opposed to the ultimate spiritual and transcendent destiny of the human person. It presupposes this destiny and is ultimately orientated to this end. If this earth is our only highway to heaven, then we must seek to maintain it – and to make sure to the best of our abilities that this highway is cleared of the obstacles which sin -both personal and structural- has place in the path of those traveling on it.
To go back to the parable of Lazarus: the rich man was condemned not for anything he did (though certainly one can go to hell for doing bad things) but for what he did not do. A faith without works – without concrete engagement with the least of our brethren is dead.
The Eucharist reminds us that our commitment as Catholics to work for peace and justice in the world is not born of some ideology or political platform; rather, it is born of a person, Jesus Christ. And therefore, our “solidarity” with the world of pain is a call to a commitment expressed in allegiance not to lofty propositions but to concrete persons in whom we are to see the face of Christ – this solidarity is lived out through the practice of what the Catechism calls the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. God takes the side of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized – through the works of mercy, we take their side too.”
The complete homily can be found on the Archdiocese of Miami’s website here.