8950 Cty J, Woodruff, WI 54568

Holy Family Catholic Church

Letters from Fr. Jerry


It has been said that the “best kept secret” of the Catholic Church is its social justice teaching. This is a bit of hyperbole because it is not so much as a secret but a lack of familiarity. Beginning in 1891 with Rerum Novarum the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, the Church has addressed current social issues. Poverty, the rights and dignity of workers, economic justice, the dignity of the human person, the common good, stewardship, solidarity, peace are themes that are addressed and developed in the light of the Gospel.

                People complain that the Church should stick to teaching religion. The fallacy is that religion can be separated or divorced from the other dimensions of our lives. No arena of life is free from religion and morality. We can’t follow Jesus on Sunday and abuse workers the rest of the week. We can’t leave our consciences aside to participate in politics. We can’t be good church goers and not be concerned about social sins like racism and systemic poverty. Even science and technology, as beneficial as they have been to human society, cannot operate in a religious vacuum. Research and development and the use of those developments must respect human dignity and be used in service to people and in justice.

                This Lent, and anytime for that matter, I want to invite you to become familiar with Catholic Social Teaching. It may upset some of your preconceptions and challenge some of your economic or political beliefs. But, that is okay. No growth takes place without some effort and without some pain. To quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1783) “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgment according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.” The Church has a magisterium, i.e. a teaching authority given to it by Christ Himself. It is guided by the Holy Spirit who leads us to all truth (see John 16:13).

                A good starting point to inform ourselves and our consciences is a primer of sorts found at the USCCB (U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops) under Justice, Peace, & Human Development: Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. It can offer a springboard to deeper reflection and guidance to further documents to help deepen and enrich our understanding of the truth, beauty, and goodness of this “hidden treasure.”

                Follow-up papal encyclicals issued on the anniversary of Rerum Novarum include:

                Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno (1931)

                Pope John XXIII's Mater et magistra (1961)

                Pope John Paul II's Centesimus annus (1991)

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