Charles J. Chaput on "The Catholic Role in America After Virtue"

Exactly 70 years ago, in 1940, Rev. John Courtney Murray gave a series of three college talks. For his theme, he chose the "concept of a Christian culture." After his death, his Jesuit brothers fused the talks into a single essay called "The Construction of a Christian Culture." It's a modest word change. But that title -- the construction of a Christian culture -- is a good place to begin our thoughts.

Most people know Father Murray for his work on Vatican II's Decree on Religious Liberty. In his 1960 book We Hold These Truths -- which has never gone out of print -- Father Murray argued the classic Catholic case for America. Like any important thinker, his work has friends and critics. The critics respect Father Murray's character and intellect. But they also tend to see him as a victim of his own optimism and a voice of American boosterism. I understand why. Over the years, too many people have used Father Murray to justify too many strange versions of personal conscience and the roles of Church and state.

But for me, Father Murray's real genius is tucked inside his words from 1940. They're worth hearing again. Father Murray said that "a profound religious truth is at the basis of democratic theory and practice, namely the intrinsic dignity of human nature; the spiritual freedom of the human soul; its equality as a soul with others of its kind; and its superiority to all that does not share its spirituality."

He said that "the task of constructing a culture is essentially spiritual, for culture has its home in the soul." As a result, "All man's cultural effort is at bottom an effort at submission to the truth and the beauty and the good that is outside him, existing in an ordered harmony, whose pattern he must produce within his soul by conformity with it."

These are beautiful thoughts. They're also true. The trouble is, they bear little likeness to our real culture in 2010. ...

Life in the Late Republic: The Catholic Role in America After Virtue, by Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Inside September 27 2010.

Practical suggestions for the application of Catholic social teaching

Catholic social teaching emerges from the truth of what God has revealed to us about himself. We believe in the triune God whose very nature is communal and social. God the Father sends his only Son Jesus Christ and shares the Holy Spirit as his gift of love. God reveals himself to us as one who is not alone, but rather as one who is relational, one who is Trinity. Therefore, we who are made in God's image share this communal, social nature. We are called to reach out and to build relationships of love and justice.

Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment.

Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us. -- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

"Five practical suggestions regarding the application of Catholic social teaching" courtesy of Fr. Thomas Williams, Theology Dean at Regina Apostolorum.

  • Education - Read and have good, precise knowledge of the Church's social teachings, to be able to expound them with assurance and clarity, and make sure that what we teach in the name of the Church is effectively what the Church teaches, and not our own personal opinions.

  • Humility - So as not to have to jump from general principles to definitive concrete judgments, especially when expressed in a categorical and absolute manner. We should not go beyond the limitations of our own knowledge and specific competence.

  • Realism - in assessing the human condition, acknowledging sin but leaving room for the action of God's grace. In the midst of our commitment to human development, never lose sight that man's vocation is above all to be a saint and enjoy God for eternity.

  • Caution - So as to avoid the temptation of using the Church's social doctrine as a weapon for judging "others" (entrepreneurs, politicians, multinational companies, etc.). We should instead concentrate first on our own lives and our personal, social, economic and political responsibilities.

  • Cooperation - Know how to closely cooperate with lay people, forming them and sending them out as evangelizers of the world. They are the true experts in their fields of competence and have the specific vocation of transforming temporal realities according to the Gospel.

See Also:

Resources on Catholic Social Teaching