Vice-rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University

 The social studies department dean

The teaching of the Church:  Trust and Reforms

Such a title is difficult to address.  The  Social Teaching of the Catholic Church is A priori  a reform movement;  that movement requires fundamental trust.  So, some historical context for the idea might help.

From the very beginning, Rerum Novarum (1891) announced the social teachings of the Popes, from Leo XIII until  Benedict XVI.  The attention of the Church to our world in the insights of theology, philosophy, economics, ecology and politics have been harnessed coherently to formulate a social teaching that places the human person, his or her full and integral development, at the centre of all world systems of thought and activity. They are remarkable documents and should be read.

The res socialis, human society, the contextual reference of the Church’s Social Teaching, has developed over the past 120 years, as Cardinal Turkson reminded us in Washington DC in February 2011. The topics have shifted from the misery of workers in the days after the industrial revolution and the emergence of Marxism (Pope Leo XIII), the crisis of 1929 (Pope Pius XI), decolonization and appearance of “third worldism” (Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI), the fall of the Berlin wall and political changes in Eastern Europe (Pope John Paul II) to globalization, under-development, financial, economic, moral and the anthropological crisis which have confronted Pope Benedict XVI. In these changing situations, the social encyclicals have fulfilled the need to actualize the same principles of the Church’s application of the Christian faith and charity of Christ to the various contexts of human life.  In the Ukrainian context in which you reflect on reform and trust this week, you can maximize the message of Catholic Social teaching in order to touch all those who believe in a just society.  As Pope Benedict 16th says in Caritas in veritate so “the Church’s social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging.[1]

In Guadiam et Spes, the Second Vatican Council reminded us:   “The Church which has long experience in human affairs. . . ., seeks but one goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit.  Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth; to save, not to judge; to serve, not to be served.” Founded to build the kingdom of heaven on earth rather than to acquire temporal power, the Church openly avows that the two powers—Church and State—are distinct from one another; that each is supreme in its own sphere of competency. But since the Church does dwell among men, she has the duty “of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”[2]

Accordingly, Paul VI taught that the Church “Sharing the noblest aspirations of men and suffering when she sees these aspirations not satisfied, [the Church] wishes to help them attain their full realization. So she offers man her distinctive contribution: a global perspective on man and human realities.”[3]

In Caritas in veritate, too, in full harmony with the long tradition of the Church’s social teaching about the human person, Pope Benedict XVI treats the conditions under which the human person develops integrally, in all his and her dimensions and forms under the challenging ideological conditions of our contemporary and globalized world. Benedict the 16th  inserts himself fully within the social teachings of Popes prior to him, referring thus to Vatican II, especially, Gaudium et Spes (1965), and the works of his predecessors, Populorum Progressio (1967) of Pope Paul VI, and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) of Pope John Paul II, to teach that “Man's earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family,” [4]seeking the well-being of the human person, whole and entire.

In every process of reform the central question is:   ARE WE WORKING FOR THE WELL-BEING OF THE HUMAN PERSON OR NOT.  As we look at the world, it is easy to lose this focus and bend reforms  to the economical exigencies of the contemporary moment.  And it is here that the citizens loose trust in institutions.

The earthly city, then, the context or locus of reform, is not merely promoted by relationships of rights and duties or relationships of costs and benefits, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of trust, gratuitousness, mercy and communion.[5] So, if the building of an earthly city which anticipates the universal and heavenly city of God is the goal of the Church’s mission, its commitments and social work and ministries in the world, then how may the Church go about building this earthly city?

This touches the Ecumenical dimension of all religious people in the Ukraine: of all people here who believe passionately that
God is active in human history; of all people who have felt oppression.  We need to realize that the reform of life called for in our basic commitment to God and which is already announced by the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church has a deeper challenge and vocation  for us.  And that is a simple yet profound call by God to us.  What is that?

We must remember that God trusts us and has mercy on all of us. We need to use that profound religious experience so that we have mercy on others and learn to trust them.  Why is this so difficult?

First there is our memory of a lack of trust and our bad experiences in the past.  In this point human history is not always very hopeful. We don’t seem to have the ability or the courage to easily overcome our bad experiences of others.  We don’t seem able to purge ourselves of these demons.  Human history is riddled with examples. 

The challenge of the CST is, rather, that we relearn our trust in God and God’s mercy.  This will enable us to trust more in others.  That is the model; that is the first reform.

The second reform for trust is a change in our thinking.  It is really a change in language from the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, in Leviticus and Exodus there are the beautiful passages about how to treat the stranger: Exodus 22:21-24 = Commands to the people of God to

    • Not mistreat or oppress strangers
    • Not take advantage of a widow or an orphan
  • Leviticus 19:34 & 25:35
    • Treat the stranger as you would the 'local' person
    • Help the 'locals' as you would a stranger

In the New Testament we find a change in emphasis.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the focus now goes the questions:  Who is my neighbor.  The focus moves away from the one who is served (or the stranger) to the one who serves.  We must ask the question of  ourselves and it is a personal question:  Who is my the neighbor and how will I treat her or him.  This is the second reform, given to us by the Gospel.  Each of us must ask:  Who is my neighbor and how will I respond to that neighbor and how will I trust the neighbor.

The third call to reform of life has to do with a central image in Catholic Social Teaching.  It is sometimes overlooked.  It is the word that keeps  appearing obliquiely.  And that word is image. 

In Exodus, we are invited to reflect on the 10 commandments.  The first Commandment is about the very image of God:  I am the Lord your God; have no other God’s before me.  What does this mean?  What God is telling us is that we are not to make any images of God.  God is saying  if you make an image of me your freeze me.  Don’t make statues of me, pictures, etc.  Because if you do, you freeze me and I am not like that I am new and different each day and am evolving (and miles’ away from your phone).  And here is where the message for us is:  just as I am new and evolving each day, you must do likewise. You are to evolve and grow each day.  As you make fewer images of yourself you will be open to the other; you will trust the other and grow with them and with Me.  This is the third challenge.

In conclusion, if the Churches together are able to accept these challenges, God will show the way of a true reform and we are sure that the true reform is the goodness of every single woman and man in the Ukraine – in both the religious and the civil communities.  I ask you to model this for us.  In doing such you can show the world what it is capable of doing in God’s service. 



[1] Cfr. Caritas in veritate, no.12; Solicitudo rei socialis, no.3.

[2] Gaudium et Spes, nn. 3,4.

[3] Populorum Progressio, no.13.

[4] Caritas in veritate, no.7. This is a formulation of the critical identity of our very many engagements in the world.

[5] Cfr. Caritas in veritate, no.6.