Call to Family, Community and Participation

We believe the person is not only sacred but also social. Already in Genesis we learn that God did not create us to be alone (Genesis 2:18.) We obviously see this principle at work in the gospels: Jesus often preached about the common good, calling the political leaders to social responsibility, and he himself spent little time before he called his disciples, whom he called “to be with him.” (Mark 3:14)

We believe that the organization of society—in economics, politics, and law and policy—directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Among many other implications, this is the foundation for the church’s right to intervene in the political realm—what we all know and call “lobbying.” We not only believe we have to “influence” consciences, but also influence laws and policies.

Do you remember when we warned you that some of these principles would sound conservative and others would sound progressive? One the one hand, this principle favors the progressive view of community and “common good”—in contrast with conservative “individualism”— but favors the more conservative sensitivity when stating that marriage and the family are the basic unit for the organization of society.

Accordingly, Catholic Social Teaching opposes collectivist approaches such as Communism, but at the same time it also rejects unrestricted free-market policies, which operate under the notion that free-reigned capitalism automatically produces a just society.

A more spiritual wording of this principle would be the belief that the human person can only attain his or her full potential in relationship with others. It also takes us to the saying we have often preached about, “Faith is personal, but not private.” In terms of our own sinfulness, the principle is also an invitation to move from a very individualistic, puritan sense of sin, to considering more our sinfulness in social terms: what effect our actions and beliefs (“in my words and in my thoughts”) have upon others.

We believe that individuals are called to participate in society, as a right and responsibility. We are called to seek together the common good and the well-being of all, but especially the poor and vulnerable. This “social responsibility” takes us to the next two principles: (3) Rights and Responsibilities and, (4) Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.


For This I Came

In the protestant tradition, the person reading in church gives the citation of the scripture. It would have been useful in church this weekend, as we read a gospel made up of two patches of the same quilt, sewn together: Luke 1:1-4 and 4:14-21. The first part is the introduction of Luke’s gospel, the one we are going to be reading from in this cycle C year. Then we skipped the annunciation and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, as well as the Baptism of the Lord—we just celebrated that feast two weeks ago—so the gospel today has jumped to the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.

In the synagogue and on the Sabbath, Jesus is given the scroll of Isaiah. But within Isaiah, Jesus can choose what to read and preach about. What he chooses to read from Isaiah is what today we would call his mission statement. It is really Jesus’ inaugural speech. Jesus tells the synagogue, for this I came.

Anointed by God at Baptism, Jesus states that he came to “bring glad tidings to the poor… to proclaim liberty to captives… recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year (a time, an era) acceptable to the Lord.” Now, how many times and in how many different ways can we preach in church that we cannot live our faith without embracing its social implications; that following Jesus is not just a matter of belief, but also of the actions that believing in Him inspires us to undertake?

At Sacred Heart we decided to offer a three-weekend series on the ultimate fruit of these words that mark the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry. From there and through the centuries, the Church has developed a solid body of thought we call the Catholic Social Teaching of the Catholic Church (CST.) While the roots of this teaching are certainly found in the gospel and have been developed throughout the centuries, modern Catholic Social Teaching started in 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum. Some call the Catholic Social Teaching of the Catholic Church our best kept secret.

More recently, the Church has come up with a summary of CST in the form of seven principles. The goal of these principles is to help individuals to understand our positioning on social issues, as we are called to build a more just society and to live lives of individual holiness. These principles remind us that holiness is more than being just a “nice person.” They also remind us that charity is a good thing, but that we really are called to be individuals and communities that promote justice.

Interestingly, especially in the highly charged political times we live in, some of these principles sound very Republican, some sound very Democrat. We realize once again that no partisan political platform ever embraces the whole of our social thought. These principles are not conservative or progressive, they are Catholic.

What follows is the list of these principles:

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God’s Creation

[We will develop these principles in the next three weeks, following the homilies preached at Sacred Heart.]

the spirit of the lord 16.9 A note about the image used for the series: the title of the painting is Dens, Bird Nests and the Morning Miracle Que Detail #2, by Daniel Bonnell. We believe the painting captures the individual call to holiness and our social nature. Two of Bonnell’s paintings hang in our church.  

Cana: A Revealing Miracle

Ordinary Time begins after the Baptism of the Lord. I love detecting anomalies and then finding the explanation behind them. I realized that for this Sunday, the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, all three gospel readings for all three cycles (A, B, C—apparently we could not come up with better names to identify the cycles) have readings that are taken from John’s gospel, instead of the synoptic gospels we read through the year (Mark, Matthew and Luke, respectively.) You read the gospels in all three years and it is easy to realize that all three are about Jesus’ identity. In year A, we read John’s version of the Baptism (thus reading about the baptism of Jesus two Sundays in a row;) in year B, we find the gospel about two of John the Baptist’s disciples visiting Jesus because they want to know who he is—and Jesus tells them, “Come and see.” This Sunday we read the first of Jesus’ miracles in John’s gospels (they are called “signs”) at a wedding in Cana. If you have followed my argument, this gospel is not about marriage, but, like the other two years in the cycle, about Jesus’ identity as well.

The scene in Cana tells us a lot about Jesus. Despite the tendency to make him into an ascetic character, he was at a wedding with his disciples—so, maybe Jesus was a bit more joyful than we have been told at times; the gospel shows also what we already knew, Jesus was someone who cared for others; the miracle produces wine in extraordinary quantity and quality. We may not be able to imitate Jesus’ power to turn water into wine, but we can learn to be joyful and care for others, and commit to quality and abundance in our care (and really, in everything we do.)

Still, what I believe tells us the most about Jesus is where the miracle comes from. You notice it often in the gospels, miracles must start with something. The miracles of the multiplication of fish and loaves began with five loaves and two fishes that someone had to present. The miracle at Cana begins with the water of the jars, which, as we are told, were there for the “Jewish ceremonial washing.” What Jesus does is to turn the water of cleansing—the point of the ritual—into the wine of celebration. Jesus was someone who would place less emphasis on the cleansing and more accent on the celebration. As John the Baptist tells us, Jesus will take us beyond the personal cleansing (the baptism of Jesus is a baptism of Holy Spirit and fire.)

But I think it tells us more. Let me put it this way: Perhaps Jesus would have liked the ceremonial washing more if it was less ceremonial and more real. Rituals are supposed to represent something real, or they become a compilation of empty gestures. What came to mind for me was the beginning of Mass, when we start with the Penitential Act. There are several ways to do it, here at Sacred Heart we often say the Confiteor (literally, the “I confess”) and we sing the Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy.) It is a ritual, but does it respond to the a reality of us asking for forgiveness from God and others? Do we really invoke God’s mercy because we understand that we are sinful? We could refer to many other ceremonies/rituals that we celebrate and wonder if they are just rituals or if we experience them as something deeper: the Sacraments, the way we pray, when someone asks us to be a sponsor for someone, the way we participate at Mass, etc.

At Cana, Jesus’ disciples get a better glimpse of who Jesus really is, and begin to believe in him. And so we do, too.





The Baptism of the Lord

Almost two years later I am posting again on this great feast of the Baptism of the Lord—in my view, the third most important of the year, after Christmas (the Incarnation) and Easter (the Resurrection.) Christmas is a season to reflect about the humanity of Jesus. Fully human, but without sin, why does he have to be baptized by John, who had been preaching a baptism of repentance from Sin? Jesus does not need any cleansing, but created free, he has to explicitly and publicly accept his identity and mission. The same way Mary had to say yes to the message of the angel, Jesus grows in the understanding of who he is and what he is supposed to do. In the baptism, he takes a step forward and  embraces his call, his vocation as the Son of God.

This feast is an invitation to us to embrace our baptismal identity and re-activate our own baptism. Coming out of the water, God’s voice proclaims, “This is my beloved, in him I am well pleased.” Only that we would begin there, believing that despite our sins and shortcomings God loves us and we are His children.

In the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the liturgy—prayers and readings—unpacks for us the meaning of our baptismal identity. In the first reading, Isaiah invites us to be, like Jesus, people of justice and forgiveness, “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench… a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement.” In the reading from Acts, Peter invites us to be, like Jesus, people who go “about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” The Preface invites us, like Jesus, to be Servants “anointed with the oil of gladness and sent to bring the good news to the poor”—and to be bearers of good news we have to be makers of good news first.

There is even a Eucharistic Prayer, seldom used, which is especially fitting for this Feast.  In the Eucharistic Prayer IV we recite also a description of Jesus that we want to imitate as a way to embrace our baptismal identity: “He shared our human nature in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.”

Like Jesus, we, too, need to mark our own assent to this mission of justice, gladness and liberation. We need to re-enter the waters of baptism and please God by continuing the mission of His Son.

This powerful depiction of the Baptism of Jesus by Daniel Bonnell. Two of his paintings decorate Sacred Heart Church in Racine, WI. Used with permission.