This article is part of a series diving into Catholic social teaching and how it applies to our everyday lives. For ease of reading, the authors will use first person pronouns describing both their experiences.
While the first theme in this series, life and dignity of the human person, focused on the sacredness of the human person, this second theme takes that core understanding and applies it to our communal nature. The call to family, community and participation is another echo of our trinitarian identity, emphasizing our need for relationship.
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God is a trinity of persons, and in an iconic way, we, too, only exist because of a relationship. We are the Body of Christ. Mother Teresa so famously said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” This theme focuses on two goods: the family and participation in community.
From family to community
The most intimate experience of this theme is our experience of family. I want to acknowledge that, though I am speaking in ideals, all of our families are broken, and many of us have been hurt in the context of family. This can only be because the family is the cell, the building block, the most intimate, vulnerable and foundational part of society. And to Satan, something so important is worth attacking if he wants to undermine God’s plan.
Out of love, we come into this world, the love of God primarily, as well as the generative love of one man and one woman in the sexual act. God ordered the family so that we would be born into the protection and care of the two who, together, give us the fullest picture of who God is and raise us in our identity as beloved children of the Father. Through our participation in family, we learn to participate in greater society, and the things we learn in the family — virtue, sacrifice, selflessness — only prepare us to go and to share that same love in the world through the vocation we are called to. By justice, this is what we are owed, and anything that falls short is a wrong against God’s good plan for us.
We also defend and protect the dignity of the family and the protection of those most vulnerable — children, the elderly, the poor — through our wider participation in society. When a nation fails to uphold the dignity of marriage, life and family, it has nothing on which to stand and will begin to crumble.
As members of the community, we are also called to care for whatever and whoever God has entrusted us with, stewarding God’s creation and offering it all back to him. We stay informed on local issues and participate in local affairs, making it as easy as possible for every person in every social and economic class to do so. We invest in local economies and are generous through social action. We engage in smaller communities that make up the larger ones and seek to make better what is in our direct care. We also participate in greater society to the extent we are called to, seeking justice for those who are oppressed and aiding those in need with resources to thrive.
A new friend
One way I’ve seen this is through some friends, Nathan and Katie Bird, and their platform Chattanooga Civics. They create content about all of the political candidates and happenings of Chattanooga, Tennessee, so that citizens of every party can make informed decisions and be “in the know” about what is happening in their city. This actionable form of living Catholic social teaching is just one of the ways people can uphold the dignity of everyone in their community.
When I think of the countless initiatives, nonprofits and opportunities to serve that exist, my head can begin to swim. I can’t help but see what feels like an insurmountable list of issues and problems that could use my help as a volunteer. But I think it’s important to pause here, and reflect on our own charisms and natural talents. To reflect on where Jesus has placed us, in this exact moment, and to listen to the ways we can go deeper right where we are. Jesus rarely moved quickly, but he did move intentionality and with profound love and respect for everyone he encountered. The call to community and participation is not an excuse to sacrifice the quiet of prayer for even more busyness. We can hear his voice in the slowness, in the silence, in the ways we abide with those around us.
While working on this article, I had a brief interaction with a new friend that made me more comfortable with the small ways Jesus has invited me into communion with his body. I volunteer with a group of vulnerable adults, and at the end of one of our recent meetings, there was a young man who was still waiting for his ride in the parking lot, long after everyone else had left. When I sat down next to him to wait, he turned to me, with an innocent child-like smile, and said, “Thank you, I’m glad you’re here, it’s not good for me to be alone.” Thankfully, I held in my tears until he left, but his raw response still makes me emotional weeks later.
It’s in these moments that I begin to see the depths of Jesus’ aching heart for us. And once I become aware of his desire for communion with us, I feel it everywhere. Not just in the face of the young man, but in the face of my children, my spouse, in the woman who frustrates me in the car pick-up line, and the older gentleman who talks a little too long in the grocery store. I see Christ’s face in the members of my community who don’t have a home, especially the men and women I bike by every day on my morning ride. I see them. And out of love for the presence of Christ I find in them, I hope to come into deeper communion with them. Not just because it’s the “right thing” to do or because I can check it off my social activism checklist; I want to draw closer to them because my father in heaven delights in them, and I want to share in his delight.
That young man revealed a truth that echoes in all of our hearts. We were made for each other. Not in a way that causes us to strive and try harder, but in the softness of sitting with a new friend, of holding space, in responding to whatever Jesus is asking us to do right now, no matter how big or how small. As the Lord our God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”