Catholic Social Teaching is an essential element of our faith. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) explains that “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.”
So much of the division that is rampant in our culture stems from the tendency to dehumanize those who think, look, vote, or act in a way that is different from me. The “us vs. them” mentality leaves little room for respect or understanding. And the result is the violence, anger, fear, and division that we see within our families and within our nation. But there is a better way.
Father Tim Graff, Director of the Office of Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Morning Air® to discuss why Catholic Social Teaching is necessary for our culture if we wish to soften hearts and move toward peace and unity.
“What’s the antidote to the division we find within our country?” he asked. “The antidote is the Gospel. The antidote is the unity in diversity that we are called to have.”
Fr. Tim teaches university classes on Catholic Social Teaching, and he explained that teaching this class requires a different approach. Fr. Tim said, “What we are trying to do is form the whole person. Meaning that we are not simply passing on knowledge.”
“I don’t just say, ‘Well this is what the Church teaches about peace, or about poverty, or about just war.’ I say ‘This is why the Church teaches this.’ And what that does is it involves them and gives them a much deeper foundation. We’re not just parroting that which we’re taught. We’re thinking, and doing social analysis, which is something I always try to place deeply within my students’ experience.”
Fr. Tim shared that having the opportunity to hear others’ experiences has helped him grow, and applying the principles of Catholic Social Teaching to his students’ experiences and perspectives helps him affirm their dignity and how the Lord is living and working through them.
He said, “I can learn from others’ experience, I can experience their pain, their suffering. And just that first step of listening is so, so important. To get out of our own experience and into the experience of others.”
Morning Air host John Harper pointed out that the past few months have shown that people want to have conversations about racial justice, to listen to others’ stories and experiences. But conversations about race can be difficult. Why should we have those conversations if they make us uncomfortable?
“It’s uncomfortable,” Fr. Tim acknowledged. “Which is fine. You know, it’s often within that discomfort that we find the truth, that we find the Lord. I think there are two ways in which this can challenge us. One is that I need to place myself in the experience of another person. I know so often it is in that fleshing out of Catholic Social Teaching that people change. People’s minds change and they start to think more with the Church.”
When people are in disagreement, it is often best to identify things they do agree on in order to find a path toward understanding. Most people do agree with the principle of Catholic Social Teaching that everyone should be treated with respect and that human life has dignity. And this is a great starting point for finding common ground. It is also a great starting point for examining where we personally need to grow in affirming the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death.
“Often when we begin with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching (treating everyone with dignity, treating people equally, giving everyone the same rights) it’s within that that it begins almost an examination of conscience in my own heart and in my own life,” Fr. Tim said.
“It challenges the way that I think, the way that I stereotype. And that’s a very good thing to recognize in your own heart. … We look upon our world, and we look upon our moral choices with faith. And that has to be as informed as we can.”
Listen to the full conversation with Father Tim Graff below: