Tuesday, June 23

What is "Catholic Teaching on Social Justice?"

Catholic teaching on social justice is about how we can help those in unjust social and economic, and political situations. As Christians, we know that our primary goal is to follow Christ’s example and live out his teachings. As such, we are called to be aware of the dignity, value and worth of each individual human and through Jesus’ teaching on love, and to help each other out as brothers and sisters. In order to carry out the mission of God as given to the Church, we must have action that is concerned with justice. The fight for human dignity is then a matter of fighting for freedom due to their liberty and dignity from poverty, abuse and from being used. The dignity of the human being is intended to demonstrate the unjust nature of many economic and social situations.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the Church has had much more of an awareness on the situation which the poor are in. Due to social, economic, political and military decisions made by other humans, these millions of individuals have suffered. Over the last 125 years, then, bishops, laypeople, theologians and philosophers have all tried to put forth more efforts to not only increase awareness of the plight of the poor but also increase the means to help out these individuals. The focus has changed from simple matters of charity to complex issues dealing with social injustices. These social actions lay the foundation for this relatively new mode of fulfilling Christ’s mission in the Catholic Church, which has come to be known as social justice. Teaching on helping the poor in wealth and the poor in spirit is seen both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Scriptures, specifically in the four canonical gospels where we find the teachings of Jesus.

Since the later 1970s, the phrase “preferential option for the poor” has been used to make members of the society think: how do laws and decisions affect those who are sick, those who are young, and those who are in poor economic or social standing? To go about changing injustice, Pope John Paul II held that we needed to listen to the poor and share their experience with them, or rather to stand by and with them. Only by doing this can we truly know how decisions in politics and economics affect the poor. The Pope also connected “preferential option for the poor” and “action for social justice” with the “duty of solidarity.” This solidarity is essentially not simply the desire to change but the will to incite and enact change, and a call to commitment and servitude. In fact, according to Mark’s gospel, those who wish to become great must become a servant, and those who wish to be first must be last – they must become a servant to all.

When considering social justice, the Beatitudes often enter into discussion. It is noted that there are two varying accounts of the Beatitudes, one recorded in Matthew’s gospel and the other recorded in Dr. Luke’s gospel. Matthew’s version contains nine beatitudes whereas Dr. Luke’s has only four. The first three found in both Matthew and Luke seem in line with Jewish tradition, particularly that of Isaiah. Attention is called to those who are in low conditions, those who are captive and those who live in ruined cities according to the prophet Isaiah. The mission of Christ, then, is seen in Matthew and Luke as helping others: those who are in need morally, economically and socially. As followers of Jesus, Christians are called to live out this calling as well and care for others. For the earliest Christians, Matthew’s beatitudes were used as the basis of requirements for Christian living (note: this can be seen also through the Didache, which is primarily based on Matthew’s gospel). St. Augustine, St. Gregory and Martin Luther also used the beatitudes to show concern for the poor.

The lives of various saints also bear out this concern for the poor. Monastic life was directed specifically at those who are poor, and more famously the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi bear out this concern for the poor. The Franciscans held that as disciples of Christ, they were to share in experience and life with the poor, including those who were sick and those who were in poor social standing. Religious hospitals, orphanages, schools and various other services have been provided through the ages that are sometimes directed specifically at the poor. Now, the mission toward the poor is connected and concerned with the future of the church for a number of reasons, but it is worth pointing out that concern for individuals and the future of humanity as a whole drives the concern and mission of the Church. The Christian Church is not only to be concerned with the individual salvation of people, but with the salvation of the entire world. This would include how we care for our planet, our resources, how we treat outer space as we now have access to it, how we treat the poor and how we treat animals.

Before continuing, social justice ought to be defined as a term. It is a very recent term first utilized by Pope Pius XI in the early 1930s, although the concept itself was found in the later 1800s in the work of Pope Leo XIII, who was the one to lay the foundation for the theology of social justice. Social justice is about changing the economic, social and political situations that oppress and come down on the poor, and about recognizing the value and dignity of the human being. It is “social” because it is within society that we give each individual their due. As we are all one human race, we share the same planet and also exist as a society. There are various aspects and levels of society, such as the interpersonal relationships that exist between people as well as groups that ought to take other group’s welfare and well-being into consideration.

Justice is another term in need of definition. In the Hebrew Bible, we see God as just. He establishes just laws in the form of the Ten Commandments, and for someone to be just we engage in imitation by imitating God’s justice. In the New Testament, John the Baptist believed that Jesus was the fulfillment and enactor of justice itself, and that the message and mission of the Church is and should be concerned with justice. Therefore, in both the Old and New Testament we find a consistent message of justice and enacting justice. Martin Luther King Jr. later defined just and unjust laws as thus: a just law is one that builds up the human personality, whereas an unjust law is one that tears down the human personality. Out of this context, we began to consider social sin.

Although sin is seen as an act of disobedience or immoral behavior and actions, we also engage in social sin. For example, we may purchase products that have actually been made by children in sweatshops or products that have been made with material gained from a brutal war – and by purchasing these items we are also essentially supporting these efforts, and thereby engaging in social sin. Racism is another prominent example of social sin. Although slavery was abolished during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln and segregation was abolished due to the efforts of individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr, discrimination and racism as a whole still exists in today’s United States. The treatment of Native Americans in the past several hundred years is yet another example of horrid social sin. Catholic teaching on social justice, then, is not an attempt at focusing on the individual at the cost of the entire community, but using the individual to help the entire community – specifically those who are in poor economic and social standing based on the dignity of the human person. It comes down to a three-fold process: taking the situation into consideration and observing it, reflecting upon the Scriptures and then acting out of love and social justice on behalf of the poor or the individual being oppressed.

Around 1998, U.S. bishops released a document listing eight important principles regarding social justice. First, we come to the life and the dignity of the individual. Since we were all created in God’s image, we have inherent value and meaning, as well as freedom. When we fail to recognize the dignity of the human person and instead choose to oppress it or end it, we are then being unjust. Second, there is a call to familial relationships, to the community and to participation. Parents should care for their children and help them to become able to have loving relationships which then allows the community to benefit and the grown child to participate in society. Third, we find the notion of human rights as well as responsibility. The right to live recognizes the dignity of the human person, and we each have a responsibility to care for others including those on a global level (hence the reason for relief efforts).

Fourth is the common good of men. This common good is achieved by recognizing the dignity of all men and women and as a global society, working together for the common good of all. Fifth, we have the aforementioned “preferential option for the poor.” Essentially, because God is good, we ought to be committed to helping the poor. Sixth, we recognize the dignity of work as well as worker’s rights. In this view, our economy is supposed to serve us, we are not supposed to serve it. Work as well as workers have inherent dignity as work is carried out by humans who were created in the image of God and therefore participate in creative actions much as God did during creation week. Seventh, we come again to the “principle of solidarity.” This principle is intended to let us walk in “their” shoes in order to learn how to help others. Lastly, the principle of stewardship (shown in Genesis 1 via the Dominion Mandate). This is the care and responsibility for all of God’s creation, which includes nature, animals, resources, other humans and God’s creation as a whole. St. Francis of Assisi was an embodiment of the eighth principle, particularly in his recognition and care for God’s creatures and creation. Christianity is intended to be transformative, and when we engage in social justice we not only attempt to avoid evil but overcome it entirely. It is about building the kingdom of God on earth and through God’s love in our lives, loving our fellow brothers and sisters and bringing justice and love to all the nations.

Sunday, June 21

Theology of Peacemaking and Social Justice

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”- Matthew 5:9

“If you want peace, work for justice.” With these words, Pope Paul VI defined the forward momentum of modern Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Three major CST documents that inform a theology of peacemaking and justice include Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace and The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. These three documents suggest different forms of peace and different ways of reaching peace. If there are different kinds of peace, what exactly is “just and stable peace” we seek in this world? When we think of peace and peacemaking, the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Buddha or others may come to mind. Further, in 1981, the Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution recommended the establishment of the United States Academy of Peace.[1] This Commission determined that "peace is a legitimate field of learning that encompasses rigorous, interdisciplinary research, education, and training directed toward peacemaking expertise."[2]

This is one of the reasons for the CST concerning peace and war. It essentially has two purposes: to help Catholics form their consciences on ethical issues as well as contributing to the debate on public policy concerning war and all that it entails.[3] During the World War II, Pope Pius XII said, “Nothing is lost by peace, everything may be lost by war.”[4] This stance on peace has not shifted. Now, one of the more important CST documents is the aforementioned Pacem in Terris, a 1963 encyclical written by Pope John XIII. He had seen war firsthand, having served in the Italian army during World War I. Following the Berlin and Cuban Missile Crises, when the threat of nuclear war was at the forefront of the global mind, the Pope pleaded for peace between nations, as well as for disarmament and negotiation. In the 1990s, Pope John Paul II scolded the nations for using their force prematurely instead of restoring to peaceful negotiation.[5] It seems that the “battle” for peace continues.

Peacemaking is both deeply personal and a deeply social and political issue. It begs the question, “How do we live lives of love, truth, justice and freedom, and how do we advance these values through structures that shape our world?”[6] In order to move beyond the structures of sin, the world must move toward structures of peace. Consider the signs of the times. In the last century, the world has suffered two of the bloodiest and most catastrophic wars in all of history. Peace has not been fully achieved with the Treaty of Versailles, or the Camp David Accords, or other such agreements. Despite the efforts of the United Nations, human rights are not universally defended or recognized. Death squads still murder our children, sex tourism still make young children the victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, the gap still continues between the rich and the poor, and unrest and violence still continue.[7] Basic human rights are still being violated every day.

Further, although today nuclear war is not spoken of as much as it was during the Cold War it still remains as a looming problem. International injustices continue, as well as regional wars. The continuation of the arms trade, along with these other factors demonstrates that the world is still home to conflict.[8] Over 40,000 children die each day of hunger, and we see that “ethnic cleansing and systematic rape are used as weapons of war... people are denied life, dignity and fundamental rights, [and thus,] we cannot remain silent or indifferent. Nor can we simply turn to military force to solve the world's problems or to right every wrong.”[9] As such, the social teachings of the Church must empower believers and non-believers alike to take action. But the kind of action that should be taken is not agreed upon, leading to two primary approaches: pacifism and the “just war” theory.

Two Traditions: Pacifism and Just War Theory
Early on, the position of “total war” was rejected as being opposed to Jesus’ teachings, but around the time of St. Augustine in the 4th century, questions of “limited warfare” arose.[10] What became known as the “just-war” theory was used to justify the use of force against “unjust aggressors in certain circumstances as the most appropriate way to respond to the command to demonstrate love for others with all the means at our disposal.”[11] In the majority of CST documents, this stance is essentially assumed when war and peace are discussed.[12] In fact, although a number of the CST documents use phrases such as “never again war!”, it seems that the underlying position of the encyclical tradition is on the side of the just war theory.[13]

Although the evils that St. Augustine sought to eliminate appear to be rooted more in the internal evils rather than external evils, his understanding of just war was developed and carried forward. Writers began to speak of a “just cause” or a “righteous intention,” while others - supporting Christian pacifism - would cite passages such as Luke 6:29, “turn the other cheek...”. Proponents of the just war theory would in turn cite St. Augustine, saying “The purpose of all wars is peace.”[14] The just-war tradition is interested in overcoming injustice, reducing violence and preventing its expansion. It clarifies when force may be used and restrains damage caused by military during war.[15] At the same time, there are a number of individuals throughout Christian history who chose the path of pacifism. St. Francis of Assisi was one of these individuals. Aside from his personal efforts for peace, particularly with the sultan at Damietta, Egypt in 1219, he also implored the members of his Third Order not "to take up lethal weapons, or bear them about, against anybody."[16] Those who adhere to Christian pacifism will point out that Jesus did not attempt to fight back in order to save us life, but rather, rebuked those who tried to fight for him, such as St. Peter. There are a variety of traditions that follow pacifism, such as the Mennonites, the Catholic Worker movement started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and other lay movements, but it seems that much of the Church still holds firm to the just war theory.[17]

In regard to the issues themselves - the defense of human rights, nuclear disarmament,  and demilitarization are the major concerns of peacemaking on either side of the tradition. The National Catholic Conference of Bishops (NCCB) asks, for example, “How do we achieve Pacem in Terris' vision of a just and stable political order, so that nations will no longer rely on nuclear weapons for their security... we must continue to say no to the very idea of nuclear war... we abhor any use of nuclear weapons.”[18] Unfortunately, many seem to believe that in order for there to be peace in the nuclear arms matter, one country must stockpile their armaments just to safeguard themselves against the other nations. This power play then makes other nations feel that they must also be armed to be safe, which ends up creating a vicious cycle. As a result, those living within a given nation live in fear, as they are afraid that unspeakable violence could break out at any moment.[19] This is why there is a call for demilitarization. Every more than $275 billion is spent on the U.S. military, and world as a whole spends about $1 trillion.[20] In a world where there are still starving children, a gap between the rich and the poor, people who turn to pornography and sex slavery for money, and so forth, this money could go elsewhere.

In order for the human race to live in a more just and a more peaceful world, there also needs to be a promotion of human rights for the common good. These human rights include social, cultural, political, civil, economic, educational and other basic rights, as described in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and elsewhere. There has been progress over the last half-century or so in the global community particularly as a result of Non-Governmental Organizations, but this has not fully protected and upheld human rights. The root of the Catholic social perspective is the dignity of the human person, which thereby includes the rights which each individual is entitled to. As stated in “The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace”, “Building peace, combating poverty and despair and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives, but also wise national priorities. They can shape a world that will be a safer, more secure and more just home for all of us.”[21]

Moving Toward a Theology of Peacemaking
One of the more neglected aspects of peacemaking is a theology and spirituality of peacemaking. As the NCCB has said, “True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart.”[22] Thus, one may appeal to the heart of mercy. At the core of Christianity is the “God of peace" (Romans 15:33), who desires peace for all created beings (Psalm 85; Isaiah 57:19). Christians are called by the gospel to live at peace with everyone as much as possible (Romans 12:18), are called to be active peacemakers (Luke 6:35-36, 38), and called to spread the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

Consider the prophets. The prophet Ezekiel promised a covenant of peace and condemned the false prophets who claimed their was already peace and justice in Israel (Ezekiel 13:16). The prophet Jeremiah also followed this tradition and decried those who "healed the wounds of the people lightly" and preached peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:10-12). Both Jeremiah and Isaiah condemned the leaders of Israel when they leaned on their own strength and the strength of their allies as opposed to trusting God (Isaiah 7:1-9; 30:14; Jeremiah 37:10). Further, the lamentation recorded in Isaiah 48:18 makes a connection between justice, faithfulness to the law and peace, "O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea."

Groups such as Pax Christi, Plowshares, and the aforementioned Catholic Worker provide opportunities for building a more peaceful global community. Although the Catholic Worker is primarily known for its newspaper, the 1987 document “Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker” speaks of their approach to peacemaking, “Jesus calls us to fight against violence with the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and noncooperation with evil. Refusal to pay taxes for war, to register for conscription, to comply with any unjust legislation; participation in nonviolent strikes and boycotts, protests or vigils; withdrawal of support for dominant systems, corporate funding, or usurious practices are all excellent means to establish peace.”[23]

On a more experiential level, during the Eucharistic Rite at Mass, following the Lord’s Prayer, the priest asks on behalf of the community, "graciously grant us peace in our day." Note the immediacy of this plea. Proceeding this the priest says, “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom.”[24] This is when the Sign of Peace is exchanged, as “our brother Jesus taught us.” Peace is at the very heart of the Eucharisitic celebration. This peace is not intended to be at Mass alone, but is to be carried out unto the whole world.

Evidently, peace and peacemaking are a large part of the Christian tradition, as can be seen from this brief selection. The gospel imperative to “go unto all the nations” is not only a baptism of water, but also an immersion in the transformative message of Christ. It is a deep conviction and calling to transform the structures of sin that are rooted in society and replace these structures with structures of peace and a community of love.

Application and Analysis
Sometimes conflict resolution may not be as big as nuclear threats or regional conflicts - we face day-to-day conflicts as well. In my own experience, when trying to handle conflict between myself and another person, I have found a number of techniques to try to find peace. For example, taking a few moments to breathe and simply listen to what the other person is trying to say, and recognizing what may be going on in their life can make all the difference. At times, when dealing with a personal situation I may write in my journal, I may speak with a close family member, and most certainly, I offer it up to God in prayer. The USCCB stated that the practice of contemplative prayer is helpful and valuable for “advancing harmony and peace in the world. For this prayer rises, by divine grace, where there is total disarmament of the heart and unfolds in an experience of love which is the moving force of peace. Contemplation fosters a vision of the human family as united and interdependent in the mystery of God's love for all people. This silent, interior prayer bridges temporarily the ‘already’ and ‘not yet,’ this world and God's kingdom of peace.”[25]

Although a more simplistic example, the following may provide a more practical application of peacemaking. While recently visiting a friend who was hosting a get-together, early on, a young man who I had not met before that evening became visibly and verbally upset - his phone was “missing.” For about a half hour, he went around shouting and threatening to call the police, claiming that someone stole the phone he had been charging. I gently took him aside, and listened to his story. I then suggested different ways we may go about this - having everyone put their phone on a table, asking everyone to empty their pockets, or searching room to room. After some searching and a few moments of assertiveness on my part, he discovered that he had dropped his phone in-between cushions on a couch, and after apologizing to everyone at the gathering, he thanked me for my help. He defended my honor later that evening and remained loyal to me - someone he had only met mere hours before. Thus, out of that effort, a relationship and respect was formed. This is an example of practical peacemaking.

A few years later, during a pilgrimage I went to Assisi, Italy. One evening, each of the pilgrims gathered at the top of the city to pray. Together, we prayed for peace. This was a continuation of what happened in Assisi in 1986, in which Pope John Paul II called the first Interreligious Prayer service. During this time, we used prayers from each of the major religious traditions, and when the prayer had ended, we all turned, and looked out onto the Umbrian Valley before us, and listened to a song. The song was sung by Josh Groban and said, “For tonight we pray for what we know can be, and on this day we hope for what we still can’t see. It’s up to us to be the change, and even though we all can still do more... there’s so much to thankful for.” In this beautiful moment of silence, I thought to myself, “the peace felt here cannot simply remain here; we must instead take it out into the world spread wide before us.” We must “go unto all the nations.”

“The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” - James 3:18

The efforts of the United Nations, the major religious traditions and their various social justice movements, and many others carry on to the present day. Each of us, regardless of religious tradition, nationality, political bent, or social statues, are called to cultivate peace. For the Christian, we see our calling as a service not only to the Prince of Peace - the God of Peace - but also as a service to each person throughout the larger human family. There are many issues still before us, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers. This is why we must continue to work together as brothers and sisters. Human trafficking is still a problem. Poverty still exists. Wars between nations and within nations still happens. Questions must still be asked about “just war” and pacifism.

There are many improvements in peacemaking efforts across the globe. The ever-expanding space program, for example, continues to be a global effort as demonstrated by our International Space Station. The United Nations also stands as a testament to this growing relationship between nations. But the world will never be the dwelling place of peace, until “peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved.”[26] There must be peace in the family. There must be economic justice. There must be peace for the prisoners and the captives. There must be peace for workers. There must be peace for the marginalized. If we are ever to have a “just and stable peace” in this world, we must continue our efforts to work for justice, as we move strive for a world built with love.

[1] National Catholic Conference of Bishops. Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. 229. 1983. Print.
[2] “To Establish the United States Academy of Peace: Report of the Commission on Proposals for the National Academy of Peace and Conflict Resolution”. Washington, D.C.: 1981. 119-120. Print.
[3] Challenge of Peace 16.
[4] Thomas, Massaro, S.J. "Peace and Disarmament." Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action. 1st Ed. ed. Franklin: Sheed & Ward, 2000. 155. Print.
[5] Ibid.
[6] National Catholic Conference of Bishops. The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace. November 17, 1993. Print.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[10] See Contra Faustus Book XXII (AD 400), Letter 138 to Marcellinus (AD 412), Letter 189 to Boniface (AD 418), City of God Books XV and XIX.
[11] Massaro 151.
[12] Ibid., 152.
[13] Ibid., 154.
[14] Letter 189 to Boniface.
[15] Harvest of Justice.
[16] Challenge of Peace 115.
[17] Massaro 153.
[18] Harvest of Justice.
[19] John XIII, Pope. Pacem in Terris: Peace on Earth. 1963. 110-111. Print.
[20] Harvest of Justice.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Massaro 157.
[24] Challenge of Peace 295.
[25] Ibid., 294.
[26] Pacem in Terris 165. 

Thursday, June 18

An Introduction to the Care for Creation and Franciscan Ecotheology

"Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past... [A] new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge... The ecological crisis is a moral issue."[1]

The ecological crisis is one of the challenges confronting humanity in our increasingly globalized world. In Catholic Social Thought we speak of the Care for Creation, which comes out of a developed ecotheology. If part of the responsibility of humanity is caring for creation, it follows that there is a call for action rooted in eco-spirituality. Thus, the following exploration is geared toward a Franciscan eco-spirituality, and will cover ecological issues from a theological, historical, social and scientific perspective. By using the Hebrew Bible, St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, Blessed John Duns Scotus, St. Bonaventure and others as the theological groundwork for this discussion, we can determine what actions have been taken and can be taken to promote this Care for Creation. Viewing creation as a sacrament, examining the spirituality of creation itself, Francis’ Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon and similar theological concepts will be utilized to help elucidate a backdrop for the proper Catholic response to the growing ecological issues facing us today.

By examining what the Church calls the “signs of the times,” we may examine the relationship between justice and ecology to reach an ethical treatment of the environment. This is rooted in the principles of respect for all life, the common good on a global scale, the relationship to the option for the poor, population growth and a number of other concerns and considerations. As Rachel Carson, famous marine biologist and conservationist once said, "In nature nothing exists alone."[2] If, as Carson argues, we are part of a larger web of life, then it is our call as human beings to act out of love and relationship to creation as a whole, uphold environmental justice - which links ecology with social justice - and to work with our world, Sister Mother Earth, to come to a deeper care of and respect for the place we call home.

The State of the World
“I work as a secretary in... the Amazon area of Brazil. When I step out of my apartment in the morning, I step into a thick haze of smoke. My doctor tells me that I have a serious respiratory infection from breathing all this bad air. The papers tell us that the rainforest is burning this year as it never did before... in some places even the lakes are on fire. We have had the worst drought in twenty-five years, and this has caused many trees to dry out and be vulnerable to fire... the government continues to pay people to slash and burn their land, cut down the tropical trees, and use the land for farming. The farmers soon find out that the soil lasts only several years, and then they have nothing. But we never seem to learn.” - Selena Casara[3]

Casar’s story is one of many pieces of anecdotal evidence that demonstrate the clear need for a more mindful and active ecological movement. Bearing Casar’s story in mind, consider some of the following statistics: in the last fifty years, we have consumed more resources than in all of history.[4] How we produce, consume and dispose of our products and food creates 42% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.[5] About 100 billion pieces of junk mail are deliver in the U.S. every year, which makes over 51 million metric tons of greenhouses gases.[6] Ten years ago, over 144 billion drinking containers were landfilled, incinerated or littered in the U.S., which is about 2 out of every 3 containers sold - this number has only increased.[7] Over half of our world’s tropical forests are gone,[8] 75% of marine fisheries are overfished to capacity,[9] and over 2 million people die each year due to air pollution.[10] These startling statistics should alert us to the need for change.

Consider a few other anecdotal evidences. In West Flores, Indonesia, a mining company promised the unsuspecting people that they would become more prosperous.[11] One Franciscan friar noted that since the 1980s, “mountains have been flattened, forests crushed and manganese mined to make money, but the life of the local people stays the same, and has even worsened... people have lost their land... the mining industry impoverishes people, instead of providing well-being and prosperity.”[12] In another case in 1999, air quality injustice abounded in Westley, California. There were 7 million used tires improperly and illegally stored in hills which caught on fire after being struck by lightning.[13] The fumes released poisonous chemicals into the air, but authorities claimed the fire was impossible to extinguish and intended to let it burn out over the course of a year.[14] But community grassroots action forced authorities to extinguish the blaze. Although the fire was put out after 34 days, the damage was done - communities nearby suffered horrendously from the toxic air, and cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases happened as a result.[15]

Indicators of environmental degradation are abundant, but there appears to be a growing understanding that we all share one atmosphere, and that the actions of one nation effect all nations. This is when it moves from social sin to planetary sin. We need structures that overcome both structures of sin and personal sin - even by inaction, we become complicit, and by many of our actions, we still propagate environmental issues. In her book Life Abundant, Sally McFague argues that we have become the emergence of the Homo oeconomicus, the consumer who lives amid material splendor and the producer who bends the Earth to virtually unrestrained human purpose.[16] St. Francis would suggest that we should aim to become the Homo universalis - man who had united in himself the whole of reality, as he endeavored to. Thus, in an effort to prevent this planetary sin - a new “land ethic” is called for.

Aldo Leopold and the Land Ethic
Cultivating a Land Ethic
Born in 1887 in Burlington, Iowa, Aldo Leopold was a forester, scientist, teacher and observer who is responsible for the “land ethic.”[17] At the start of his career, he shot a wolf, and saw a “fierce, green fire” in its eyes. The passing of this wolf later came to symbolize the mountain and its community of life - he began to see the connection between conservation and the health of the land. Leopold developed ideas of ecological restoration - helping to rebuild forests, prairies and such that were destroyed when the Europeans came.[18] To Leopold, land was more than soil - it included water, wildlife and humans - it was a community of relational systems. He argued that we cannot solve any conservation problem if we do not address human relationships and the relationship of people to the land.[19] The science of ecology helped him to bring us back to why community is important, but for the community to be concerned about the environment, it must begin with the individual. This is where Catholic Social Thought comes in - and ecothology.

Catholic Social Thought and a Biblical View of Creation
Throughout history, people experienced God on mountaintops, in deserts, alongside waterfalls, flowing springs, storms and earthquakes.[20] Some, such as the Native Americans, have developed an eco-spirituality, while other traditions have held an exaggerated anthropocentrism. This focus on the human person was noticed by the infamous Lynn White, in a 1966 lecture at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. White held that Christians are largely responsible for the ecological crisis as they took God’s command to have dominion over creation as a command to dominate. However, he later stated that “since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.”[21] As a result, White proposed St. Francis as the patron saint of ecology, and suggested that moving forward, Christians take a more Franciscan approach to creation.[22]

Consider a brief selection of texts that reveal a Biblical view of creation. In Genesis, God commands animals to be fruitful and multiply, along with Adam and Noah (Genesis 1:22, 8:17), domesticated animals are to observe the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14), and animals must refrain from murder (Genesis 9:7).[23] The Israelites were told not to “destroy its trees by putting an ax to them... do not cut them down” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Further, a number of anthropomorphic passages speak of nature. In the Psalms, hills and valleys shout for joy (65:13-14), floods clap their hands, the whole earth worships and signs to God (66:1-4, 89:6). In 1st Chronicles 16:23-33, the fields exult and the trees of the woods sing for joy.[24]

In Isaiah 55:12, we read that the “Trees shall clap their hands...”. Daniel 3:74-81 says, “Let the earth bless the Lord... Mountains and hills... everything growing from the earth... you springs... seas and rivers... you dolphins and all water creatures... All you birds of the air... All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever!” Also noteworthy is the book of Job, in which we see God manifested through the natural world in his questions to Job. In these, God places the questions in a more cosmic sense than anthropocentric sense. Job demonstrates the struggle between human-centered interests and cosmocentric realities. Yet throughout the Hebrew Bible one can find examples of God’s concern for the whole of the non-human creation. The story of Noah is a case in point: Noah was perhaps the first conservationist.[25] In Jonah 4, God specifically mentioned both the humans and the animals in Nineveh to the prophet. This is tied into CST concepts of the common good. For example, Adam and Eve are told to cultivate and till the garden of Eden. Adam participates in God’s creation - which also essentially means developing private property and ownership. If we have private property, it means that we can ensure that we have goods to care for our family. CST would uphold the teaching that all of creation has rights: the right to be what God intended it to be. In CST, “nature is not... [something] to exploit at will or a museum piece to be preserved at all costs. We are not gods, but stewards of the earth.”[26]

Franciscan Theology of Creation: Contemplating our Crucified Earth
“We must respond to the conviction that the Incarnation... commits us to the interrelated Word made flesh, to the biological community of Earth.”[27]

In 1979, Pope John Paul II named St. Francis the patron saint of ecology because he “recognized the importance of his God-centered life for our modern age.”[28] The root of  the word ecology, eco-, comes from the Greek oikos, which means “house”; ecology means “study of the house.”[29] When St. Francis started his ministry he heard, “go, rebuild by house,” which became much larger for him - it became, “Go, rebuild my oikos; as you see, it is all being destroyed.”[30] This became an directive to care for God’s creation. As aforementioned, many Westerners have their deeply rooted thinking in philosophies that value the individual over the communal. The Enlightenment worldview held that humans were lords over the earth, so Europeans felt they needed to “civilize” the wild world, and “tame it.” But St. Francis realized, centuries before the “Enlightenment,” that the world is our oikos.[31]

Francis rejected this top-down way of looking at the world and came into contact with many people “farmers, craftsmen, artists, bakers - people who worked with their hands and valued the material things of the earth.”[32] This helped Francis to develop a sort of proto-ecotheology. Now, although largely hagiographical in content, we have an abundance of stories where St. Francis interacts with animals and nature. The early biographer Thomas of Celano writes: “That the bees not perish of hunger in the icy winter, he [Francis] commands that honey and the finest wine should be set out for them. He calls all animals by a fraternal name, although, among all kinds of beasts, he especially loves the meek... Even for worms he had a warm love, since he had read this text about the Savior: I am a worm and not a man. That is why he used to pick them up from the road and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passerby... Wherever he found an abundance of flowers, he used to preach to them and invite them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.”[33]

Statue of Francis (at San Damiano, Assisi, Italy)
Elsewhere we read that, “He used to tell the brother who took care of the garden... to leave a piece of ground in the garden that would produce wild plants that... would produce ‘Brother Flowers.’”[34] Consider also the story of Francis preaching to the birds: “After the birds had listened so reverently to the Word of God, he began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to them before. From that day on, he carefully exhorted all birds, all animals, all reptiles, and also insensible creatures, to love the Creator, because daily, invoking the name of the Savior, [and] he observed their obedience in his own experience.”[35]

After his encounter with the birds, he “woke up” and recognized that they were his brothers and sisters as well.[36] But perhaps the highlight and showcase of Francis and his eco-spirituality was his Canticle of the Creatures, which reworks images from Psalm 148 and Daniel 3:57-88. The Canticle sings of creation as a familial, interdependent system,[37] as St. Francis did not seek dominion over creation, but to be a brother to creation. Although the Canticle never mentions Jesus Christ by name, the entire hymn is filled with the Cosmic Christ - the connectedness and familiar nature of God’s creation. On another note, St. Clare is often given the sort end of the stick or is not acknowledged by ecologists. But St. Clare and the Poor Ladies demonstrated a humility and a respect for the Other, whether the Other was a person, a tree, or a wasp - all made and loved by God.[38] In fact, during Clare’s canonization proceedings, Sister Angeluccia testified that Clare told them to “praise God when they saw beautiful trees, flowers and bushes; and likewise, always to praise Him for and in all things when they saw all people and creatures.”[39]

Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan friar and 14th century theologian, developed the concept of “thisness” (haeccitas), which involves the uniqueness of being. In an ecotheological sense, each tree is each unique - and therefore by being most truly itself, glorifies God. A Chinese proverb speaks of a man who asked a tree how it glorified God - in turn, the tree blossomed beautifully. It simply did by the uniqueness of its being. This is an extremely important ecotheological concept, as it necessitates the protection of the inherent worth of each being in creation - human and non-human. Also in the Franciscan tradition is St. Bonaventure, 13th century Franciscan theologian, for whom creation was a theophany of God - a manifestation of God’s grace.[40] In other words, the created world is essentially a sacrament of God. In his writings, St. Bonaventure spoke of the Cosmic Christ and the Book of Creation. We were given written revelation, but God still speaks through the Book of Creation - which should also be “read,” appreciated and taken care of.[41]

Shallow Ecology, Deep Ecology, and Anti-Environmentalism
Deep ecology is a radical environmental philosophy that developed in 1984 by Arne Naess and George Sessions to ask deeper questions about the environmental crisis.[42] At its core, deep ecology is really about ecocentrism, and not anthropocentrism.[43] Most of the Western world is familiar with shallow ecology, a more anthropocentric point of view. It weighs the value of creation in terms of its usefulness for human needs, whereas deep ecology recognizes no right other than vital needs for humans to use creation.[44] However, there are some within the deep ecology movement - particularly in the Wise Use group - that have moved from the radical to the extreme. In his book entitled Ecology Wars, Arnold writes: "Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement. We're mad as hell. We're not going to take it anymore. We're dead serious - we're going to destroy them. Environmentalism is the new paganism. Trees are worshiped and humans sacrificed at its' altar. It is evil. And we intend to destroy it. No one was aware that environmentalism was a problem until we came along."[45]

Not all Wise Use individuals are militant, but there are a number who promote violence against environmentalists. Activist Jess Quinn has said, "when the hour strikes, there will be public [environmental] officials dead in the streets.”[46] In Burns, Oregon, one environmentalist was told he was going to be killed, and his wife and children received threatening calls at their home.[47] While doing research for his book The War Against the Greens: The Wise-Use Movement, the New Right, and Anti-Environmental Violence, David Helvarg received threatening letters and telephone calls from Wise Use activists.[48] In fact, the Wise Use Agenda - their manifesto - is officially aimed at such things as the “Immediate oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.... Development of national parks under the direction of private firms with expertise in people-moving, such as Walt Disney... Civil penalties against anyone who legally challenges economic action or development on federal lands,”[49] and so forth.

In a critique by Richard A. Watson’s, it is argued that deep ecology’s major problem is that it is ineffective in its anti-anthropocentric approach, as humans will only care about the environment if they see its usefulness for humans.[50] Watson writes, “There is a very good reason for thinking ecologically, and for encouraging human beings to act in such a way as to preserve a rich and balanced planetary ecology: human survival depends on it.” Moving beyond anthropocentrism has the risk of losing the majority of the population in the environmental movement, and this is where Watson feels Naess and Sessions have failed most of all.[51] Further, it seems that a good amount of violence can arise from misdirected ecological movements.

Jim Edmiston said, “We don’t need to save species, we need to build relationships with other species.”[52] We may also consider adapting the the Golden Rule: Do unto the earth as you want done unto you.[53] Now, one may read current ecological information and feel discouragement. But change begins with awareness, and the more we become aware of the world around us, the greater understanding of how we fit in and our responsibility to the environment will develop. By being aware of how we influence the environment and how the environment influences us, we can continue to develop a “land ethic”. Our increasingly globalized world continues to become, unfortunately, an increasingly apathetic and individualistic world, but this land ethic can create a mentality of care-taking, of preservation and conservation.

In 1982, the U.N. General Assembly produced the “World Charter for Nature,” which is very similar to Franciscan teaching. The document states that “Every life form is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to [human beings] and, to accord other organisms such recognition, [humans] must be guided by a moral code of action.”[54] This document is an example of progress being made on one level - the U.N. is recognizing the dignity of all life. This is also an important shift in anthropocentric thinking to a more cosmocentric - not necessarily ecocentric - view of the world. How we care for the creation around us will also dictate how creation responds to us - if we pollute creation, it will cause problems on many levels not only for humanity but for ocean life, for life in forests and jungles, and for all beings everywhere.

An ecotheology or eco-spirituality connected with reflective action can be achieved by a metanoia - a “the shifting of mind.” In her 1996 Presidential Address to the Catholic Theological Society of America in San Diego, Elizabeth A. Johnson called for this kind of shifting in thought and turning toward solving the ecological crisis. She added, “What is needed now... is yet one more turn, a fully inclusive turn to the heavens and the earth, a return to cosmology, in order to restore fullness of vision and get theology back on the track from which it fell off a few hundred years ago.”[55]

The Franciscan eco-spirituality and the CST on the ecological crisis are only small pieces of the larger view of creation. An introduction such as this cannot cover the wide range of issues and challenges at work in the ecological crisis, but we ought to be reminded that people of every nation, religious tradition, and ethnicity must work together - realistically, not idealistically - and to nurture Leopold’s “land ethic” in an effort to Care for Creation. Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “God’s Grandeur”, suggests that man has muddied and smudged God’s creation. Therefore, we must work together to renew our Sister Mother Earth. So with the Psalmist we may pray together:

Send forth thy Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.[56]

Sources Consulted
Adler, Jonathan H. “Anti-Conservationist Incentives”. Regulation, 2008. 54-57. 

Ambrosius, Wendy. "Deep Ecology: A Debate on the Role of Humans in the Environment." University of Wisconsin La Crosse. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research VIII, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. 

Bishop, Steve. “Green theology and Deep theology: New Age or new creation?”. Themelios 16 (3) (1991): 8-14. Print. 

Boston, Timothy. “Exploring Anti-Environmentalism in the Context of Sustainability”. Los Angeles: Electronic Green Journal, 1(11), University of Tasmania. 1999. Web.

Delio O.S.F., Ilia. Keith Douglass Warner, O.F.M. and Pamela Wood. Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1999. 1st ed. Print. 

Delio O.S.F., Ilia. A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World. St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute, 2003. The Franciscan Heritage Series, v2. 1st ed. Print.

Driessen, Paul. Climate-Hype Exposed. Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, 2014. 

Ed. by Richard W. Miller. God, Creation and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to 

the Environmental Crisis. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010. 1st ed. Print. 

Nothwehr OSF, Dawn M. Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader. Quincy: Franciscan Press Quincy University, 2002. 1st ed. Print.

Order of Friars Minor. Franciscans and Environmental Justice: Confronting Environmental Crisis and Social Injustice. Rome: Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity Of Creation. 2011. Print.

USCCB. Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching A Pastoral Statement of the United States Catholic Conference. November 14, 1991.

Warner OFM, Keith. Franciscan Environmental Ethics: Imagining Creation as a Community of Care. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 31, 1 (2011): 143-160. Print. 

Warner OFM, Keith. “Chapter 10: Poverty and Environment - Poverty and Environmental Justice in California’s Great Central Valley.” from World Poverty: Franciscan Reflections. New York: Franciscans International, 2007. 185-195. Print. 

[1] Pope John Paul II. The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility. Vatican: December 8, 1989. 1, 15.
[2] Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. Print.
[3] Delio O.S.F., Ilia. A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World. St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute, 2003. The Franciscan Heritage Series, v2. 1st ed. 1. Print.
[4] U.S. EPA. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead. 2009.
[5] U.S. EPA. Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices. 2009.
[6] This is the equivalent emissions of more than 9.3 million cars (ForestEthics. Climate Change Enclosed: Junk Mail’s Impact on Global Warming. 2008.).
[7] Water, Water Everywhere: The growth of non-carbonated beverage containers in the United States. Container Recycling Institute, 2007.
[8] U.S. EPA. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead. 2009.
[9] Ibid.
[10] United Nations Environment Programme. Global Environment Outlook 4: Summary for Decision Makers. 2007.
[11] Order of Friars Minor. Franciscans and Environmental Justice: Confronting Environmental Crisis and Social Injustice. Rome: Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity Of Creation. 2011. 7-8. Print.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Warner OFM, Keith. “Chapter 10: Poverty and Environment - Poverty and Environmental Justice in California’s Great Central Valley.” from World Poverty: Franciscan Reflections. New York: Franciscans International, 2007. 190. Print. 
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Delio O.S.F., Ilia. Keith Douglass Warner, O.F.M. and Pamela Wood. Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1999. 1st ed. 175. Print.
[17] Green Fire. Aldo Leopold Foundation, 2011. DVD.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] USCCB. Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching A Pastoral Statement of the United States Catholic Conference. November 14, 1991.
[21] Care for Creation 7. 
[22] White Jr., Lynn. “The historical roots of our ecologic(al) crisis”, Science 155. 10 March 1967. (It was White’s recommendation that later led to Pope John Paul II’s declaration of Francis as patron saint of ecology).
[23] Nothwehr OSF, Dawn M. Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader. Quincy: Franciscan Press Quincy University, 2002. 1st ed. 27. Print.
[24] Ibid., 28.
[25] Bishop, Steve. “Green theology and Deep theology: New Age or new creation?”. Themelios 16 (3) (1991): 9. Print. 
[26] Renewing the Earth.
[27] Care for Creation 3.
[28] Ibid., 8.
[29] Ibid., 25.
[30] Ibid., 41.
[31] From the video “The Relevance of the Franciscan Creation - Franciscan Theology of the Environment from Villanova University: Sister Dawn Noethwher presents”. Youtube. 2009.Web.
[32] Delio 6.
[33] Ibid., 13-14.
[34] “The Assisi Compilation,” 88, in Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, vol. 2, 192. Print.
[35] Thomas of Celano, “The Life of Francis” in Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, vol. 1, 234. Print.
[36] Care for Creation 68.
[37] Ibid., 67.
[38] Nothwehr 102-103.
[39] Ibid., 135.
[40] Delio 28-29. 
[41] Care for Creation 33.
[42] Bishop 11.
[43] Ambrosius, Wendy. "Deep Ecology: A Debate on the Role of Humans in the Environment." University of Wisconsin La Crosse. UWL Journal of Undergraduate Research VIII, 1 Jan. 2005. 2. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. 
[44] Ibid., 3-4. 
[45] Boston, Timothy. “Exploring Anti-Environmentalism in the Context of Sustainability”. Los Angeles: Electronic Green Journal, 1(11), University of Tasmania. 1999. 6.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid..
[49] Ibid., 7. (quoting Political and Social affairs Division, Research Branch. Library of Parliament, 1992. 39).
[50] Ambrosius 4.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Care for Creation 51.
[53] Ibid., 74.
[54] Northwehr 395.
[55] Ibid., xxi.
[56] Psalm 104:30.

The Church and the Family: Challenges and Social Justice

"An even more generous, intelligent and prudent pastoral commitment, modeled on the Good Shepherd, is called for in cases of families which, often independently of their own wishes and through pressures of various other kinds, find themselves faced by situations which are objectively difficult.”[1]

The family is one of the basic social institutions in our world. But there are many issues facing a modern family. These can be explored in light of the Catholic Social Thought. What does CST say about women in society? What does it say about those with a homosexual orientation? Does it speak to situations concerning domestic violence? Does it speak to contraception? What does it say about marriages? Does it address some of the plethora of challenges facing the modern society?

Part of the role of the Church is the read the “signs of the times” and seek pastoral strategies, communal responses and possible ways in which these signs can be addressed. One such sign is the current changes in marital patterns. In 1996, the median age for marriage was 24.8 for women and 27.1 for men, whereas in 1960 it was ages 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men.[2] The age today continues to increase. Further, consider that 25% of children will live in a situation where there is a stepfamily.[3] About 60% of mothers with children under the age of 6 are employed outside of their home, and five million children (ages 5-14) are left at home unattended, as both parents are working.[4]

The family dynamics continue to change with each passing year. Further, the aforementioned challenges such as cases of domestic violence, the role of a parent when confronted with their child’s sexual orientation, or the issue of contraception continue to increase, no decrease. This is the situation that the Church continues to attempt to address, attempting to uphold human dignity at all levels and at every age, and address the degradation of individuals as well as the family communities.

Modern Challenges and the Family as Community
One of the major challenges facing families is the parent(s) struggling to balance work priorities and family priorities. Should the mother or father take long hours with little time for family - in order to support their children, pay for schooling, and so forth? It is a difficult shift to move from “welfare to poverty” without often adverse effects to the children.[5] This is further complicated by family relationships - challenges abound.

Put simply, current technological, sexual, sociological, political, economic and cultural trends have created a number of issues. The document A Family Perspective lists a few of these:
  • “Television, which is the principal recreation for Americans, is a solitary form of recreation and socialization. Leisure-time industries, of increasing economic significance, compete for the remainder of Americans’ free time.
  • With the development of computers and the subsequent knowledge explosion, families are increasingly reliant on information drawn from outside the home.
  • The typical family now relies on childcare rather than having the children cared for solely at home.
  • While it appears that the rapid rise in divorce, beginning in 1965, is over at least for the present, recent rates indicate that at least one out of three first marriages entered this year will end in divorce.
  • Abortion, the growing acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide are other powerful threats to family relationships.
  • One million children run away each year, many of them supporting themselves by prostitution. 
  • At least one out of nine youths will be arrested before the age of 18. 
  • The suicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds has tripled in thirty years. 
  • The use of drugs and alcohol by teenagers, as well as involvement in premarital sex, has been well documented.”[6] 
All of these examples highlight the need for a family perspective. In order to further explore some of these issues one must ask, where does the Christian theology of family come from? The earliest Christians were Jewish. In Judaism, the center for religious life was at the home and not the synagogue. So too, in early Christianity, religious life centered around the home. Families would house the early Christian community (1st Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4.15; Philemon 2), so that throughout the first few hundred years, all aspects of Christian life - the gathering together for Mass, the initiation rituals, the communal meal and others - involved family life. Further, in the late fourth century, St. John Chrysostom named the family the ecclesia (the church), and in the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII called the family “the first form of the church on earth.”[7] In other words - the family is an intimate community of persons.

If the family is intended to be an intimate community of persons, then this intimacy must begin with the parents. In the Rite of Marriage (developed in 1969), a man and woman are asked “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives? Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?”[8] When two people come together in holy matrimony, God becomes the third person in the relationship, and God works in and through your relationship. As such, it is considered one of the seven sacraments of the church. In today’s Catholic Church, you meet with a pastor several months before the wedding, fill out paperwork and then proceed to go into a marriage preparation program. The focus on marriage preparation is intended to allow the couple to live fully and lovingly together by getting ready for the marriage itself.

Now, friendship is a big part of daily human activity on various levels – socially, mentally, emotionally, and particularly spiritually. Friendship reflects God’s love for us, as we enter into relationships with other people and through this human experience is reflected the divine experience. When two people enter into a marriage, this becomes particularly valid. Vatican II established marriage as a commitment that two individuals make to each other by making a covenant with one another. Prior to this, marriage was understood more in contractual than covenantal terms. In this view, the marriage is a contract in which you agree to the legal exchange of each other’s body – which, as we understand today, is not a very loving and caring approach but more of a physical and legalistic approach.

Entering into a marriage covenant is a serious matter. You are committing yourself wholly and fully to the other person, and both individuals realize that to make the covenant work – just as covenants between God and man – there must be trust, communication, honesty, and love, as well as seeing all of this in light of their faith in Jesus. Vatican II defined faith as committing oneself freely and completely to God, which certainly sounds a lot like a marriage covenant. This is likely why there were marriage comparisons in early Christian literature between Christ and the Church. Both marriage and faith in Christ require commitment, hence why it sounds so similar.

As a result, in the Rite of Marriage, the couple is asked if they are willing to accept children. Certainly, the primary biological purpose of sexual union is procreation - but this is not its sole purpose. It is also a physical expression of love. However, due to its procreative nature, one of the things the Church sees as an issue is contraception. Using contraception is contrary to the teaching of one of the function of the sacramental marriage. This is where Natural Family Planning enters in. NFP is the name for methods “of family planning that are based on a woman’s menstrual cycle. A man is fertile throughout his life, while a woman is fertile for only a few days each cycle during the child-bearing years. The end result is not the only thing that matters, and the way we get to that result may make an enormous moral difference. Because NFP does not change the human body in any way, or upset its balance with potentially harmful drugs or devices, people of other faiths or of no religious affiliation have also come to accept and use it from a desire to work in harmony with their bodies.”[9]

Up until the 1930s, the majority of Christian churches - Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and so forth - held the position that using contraception was not the message of the Church, and in 1968, Pope Paul VI, warned that using contraception would cause many spouses to treat the other as more of an object than a person.[10] Indeed, “today we see a pandemic of sexually transmitted diseases, an enormous rise in cohabitation, one in three children born outside of marriage, and abortion used by many when contraception fails.” In fact, at times the contraceptions can change the lining of the uterus so that it can actually make it impossible for a woman to conceive, as fertilization cannot take place - which would make it an early abortion. This is what the Church, in its teachings on social justice, speaks of the right to life as one of the basic human rights. This right to life is an extension of the dignity of the human person - which is also connected to two other challenges facing the Church - that of domestic violence and homosexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation and the Family
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has written a number of documents relating to social justice of the years, two of which are Always Our Children and When I Call for Help, which are pastoral statements on homosexuality and domestic violence, respectively. Each of these pastoral documents finds its basis in a number of principles that are derived from the social doctrine and social mission of the Church, namely, the dignity of the human person being made in the imago dei, so that each person ought to be treated with dignity, value and respect.

The USCCB addressed Always Our Children to parents of those who express a homosexual orientation. They wrote, “Our message speaks of accepting yourself, your beliefs and values, your questions, and all you may be struggling with at this moment; accepting and loving your child as a gift of God; and accepting the full truth of God's revelation about the dignity of the human person and the meaning of human sexuality... Having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity. Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.”

In other words, they are asking both the families and the readers at large to concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual orientation itself. Most certainly, God loves each person in their own uniqueness - what John Duns Scotus called haecceitas. Modern Catholic anthropology would tell us that our sexual identity aids us in defining who we are as individuals, and certainly, one large aspect of our sexual identity is our sexual orientation. As the document points out, God looks at the heart. But for parents struggling with their own emotions, they may experience relief, anger, mourning, fear, guilt, shame, and loneliness.

This is why the Church says, “We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment.”[11] Further, this is why they declare, “Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God's love is revealed. You are always our children. ‘There is no fear in love... perfect love drives out fear.’ (1 Jn 4:18).”

Therefore, in light of this understanding, and realizing that families struggle with how to react to their son or daughter’s sexual orientation or how to guide them through a society that can be discriminatory and scrutinize them, what are pastors, deacons, lay ministers and all other called to? They are asked to welcome those of homosexual orientation into the community, to avoid stereotyping and condemning them, and not to presume that simply because they express a sexual orientation does not mean that they are active. Those in ministry may also wish to learn more about STDs such as HIV/AIDS in order to be more informed about such issues and be more compassionate. A sensitivity to actions as well as language toward a person can also help in a good number of ways.

Domestic Violence and the Family
What of domestic violence? Domestic violence is defined in When I Call for Help as “any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and economic abuse. Examples include battering, name calling and insults, threats to kill or harm one’s partner or children, marital rape, or forced abortion.”[12] It treats the person as an object to be used. Consider: 85% of the victims of reported cases of non-lethal domestic violence are women, over 50% of men who abuse their wives also beat their children, and children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictions and to become abusers themselves.[13]

However, even if their abusers isolate them from other social contacts, they may still allow them to go to church. This is where the Church meets the needs of those caught in the trap of domestic violence, sometimes secretly and carefully helping the one who has been abused. Unfortunately, however, both the men and the women misuse the Scriptures and take them out of context, making it difficult sometimes for women to want to approach the Church, although they are often the first responders. This justification for abuse behavior is unjust. The men refer to the submission the wives, and insist that their wives forgive them as Christ commands (Matthew 6:9-15). If the victim cannot forgive the abuser, she feels guilty, and creates an image of a harsh or injust God as opposed to the merciful, loving and just God of Scripture. God is present even in situations of suffering - consider the examples of the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In both examples, God is present with these women in their suffering including when it was God promises to be present to us in our suffering, even when it is unjust. The Church can also be present to women in their suffering, and offer a number of solutions to their situation, whether it involves counseling, a program that involves a safe-house, or other alternatives.

Application and Analysis
Toward the end of October 2014, I went with a group of students to Philadelphia and Camden, Pennsylvania. We had gone down to work at the St. Francis Inn, a Franciscan-based soup kitchen. While there, our group had also taken a short excursion to the site in Camden, NJ to visit two of the friars. We were given a tour of the site - the church, the friary, the school, the garden, the Francis House, and the nearby park area. While at the Francis House, there was a poster that caught my attention.

It begged the question, “Who is my neighbor?” and commanded, “Love Thy Neighbor. Thy Homeless neighbor, thy Muslim neighbor, thy Black neighbor, thy Gay neighbor, thy White neighbor, thy Jewish neighbor,” and so forth. If we are all made in the image of God, regardless of nationality, religious tradition, political views, socio-economic status - then each of us are created with inherent dignity, value and worth. All of us are created to be worthy of love. That poster still sticks in my mind. We are called to love all. Our Muslim neighbor. Our Orthodox Christian neighbor. Our Atheist neighbor. Our Homosexual neighbor. Christ gave the command to “love one another,” or, as I paraphrase it, “Love the Other.”

This love of neighbor can be seen in the attempts of the Church to reach out to families, to the marginalized and others. From October 5-19, 2014, the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops met in Vatican City to discuss pastoral challenges on the family in today’s world. This synod - which is a meeting or council of bishops, different than an ecumenical council - stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the discussion, drafting and publication of the document Relatio Synodi. The controversy dealt with a few key paragraphs that were revised and edited from the original to the finished product, namely on fathers and homosexuality. But it was the latter that ended up causing the most controversy. The irony is that the aforementioned USCCB pastoral statement, Always Our Children, already stated the those with a homosexual orientation ought to be treated with sensitivity.

Now, one must note that officially, the Church does not endorse homosexual marriages or sexual relations, but it does emphasize, as aforementioned, the dignity of the human person and the love of God dictate that we ought to treat those with a homosexual orientation with respect. The finished report, Relatio Synodi, has this to say about homosexuality: "Some families live the experience of having their internal people with homosexual orientation. In this regard, we have questioned on pastoral care which is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: "There is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or to establish even remotely analogous, including same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and the family. " Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. "In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4). It is totally unacceptable that the Pastors of the Church suffer the pressures in this matter and that international bodies to condition financial aid to poor countries, the introduction of laws that establish the "marriage" between persons of the same sex."[14]

Early in October, the LGBTQ+ community spoke out about the Synod. The hopes of LGBTQ+ Catholics are often echoed in the song from Marty Haugen's song, "All Are Welcome," but none of those who spoke out seemed to feel that the synod would bring any change in the outlook on homosexuality, nor did they feel welcome. They ask, “if Joseph was not Jesus' biological father, then the Holy Family was a nontraditional one - thus, are families not brought together by love, not biology?” The National Catholic Reporter interviewed several individuals in the LGBTQ+ community who were Catholic - and Australian couple who worked for the institutional church, a lesbian woman who had been in a religious community but was at one point rejected because of her sexual orientation, a mother who counts the Sunday collection in her parish and loves her gay son, a 24-year-old who is struggling to understand their own gender identity, and others. There was an older gentleman who said, "I have moved on to live my life as I must. ... As a result of a long journey in conscience ... I need to live my life in a healthy, honest way, with love and a respect of the truth that is at my core in relationship to others. I am freed of the negative pronouncements of the past. ... I know I must live what I discern to be true, regardless of what the bishops think."[15]

The Relatio Synodi has been criticized for the largest portion of families are completely ignored - not only homosexuality, but also a number of other living situations. But among all of this criticism, there are a few important pieces to consider. First of all, the Church teaches that homosexuality was not the original design of family life by God, as evidenced by Scripture. But more than this, it seems that many - including those in the LGBTQ+ community - have missed the words of the USCCB and others concerning homosexuality and homosexual orientation: you are loved. When Pope Francis called the Synod on the Family, he was scandalized by some of the bishops for asking them to freely speak their mind and the concerns of their hearts. That is why Relatio Synodi was not the final word; the bishops will meet again in October of 2015, after having listened to the pastoral concerns of their parish and the Catholic Church as a whole. They seek to consider the words of Christ in the laity and in the clergy at large. This example of the Synod is one example of how teachings on Catholic Social Thought are not always accepted, but are not always easily conveyed. Practically, one can apply love for “the Other” in everyday life, and go about showing love each day.

Although it may seem tangential, the other issue - on the treatment of women - is worth noting. There is a website - Care2 - which has helped many causes over the years, through the use of click-to-donate sponsored funds, internet-signed petitions and growing online communities of people who share concern for the common good, the dignity of the human person, the rights of the family, the rights of the individual, and so on. One Care2 Petition says, “March 8 is International Women's Day, but every day millions of girls in the developing world are denied basic human rights like freedom from violence, economic and political independence, access to education, and even basic nutrition. Right now, world leaders are working to finalize the next set of priorities for global development, the Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030. The decisions that are made now will echo for generations to come. We can help encourage UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use this important opportunity to advance the rights of women and girls everywhere. If you believe in equality, freedom, and opportunity for women and girls, please send a message to Ban-Ki Moon today calling on him to make defending the rights of women and girls a top priority. You have the power to create change. START SHARING AND WATCH YOUR IMPACT GROW.” When I signed this petition, the counter said “we've got 11,513 signatures, help us get to 12,000,” but by March 15, I found: “we've got 59,101 signatures, help us get to 60,000.” In the seven days since I signed the petition, there were 47,588 more people who signed. It is clear that people care about these causes, they simply need to find outlets in which to apply their concern for social justice and human rights. This is not always easy, but it is necessary.

Pope John XIII once said, “The family is the first essential cell of human society.”[16] Without the cells that make up the body, the body falls apart. If the family is in a bad place, so too is the society. The values of society influence the family - but it needs to be borne in mind that the values of the family can also influence society. This is why there is a dire need for a family perspective. This is why documents such as those mentioned by the USCCB, the Synod of Bishops and others are important. They not only promote a family perspective that takes the Catholic anthropology into consideration as a filter for its theology, but it also welcomes each individual in and reminds them of the transformative love of God.

As previously noted, there many challenges that are facing the modern family today. It is not within the breadth of this paper to consider and offer solutions for each of these challenges, and what has been said is a mere skimming of the surface. Each of these challenges requires careful attention, loving hearts and willing people. The CST promotes a view of the family that is sacramental, communal, faith-based, and one that sees love as its guide. But Catholicism is not the only religious tradition facing these issues. As one has pointed out, Natural Family Planning is being used in all manner of religious traditions. The same applies for the issues facing each family today. Although each family has a different origin, a different background, different experiences and a different way of relating to one another, we all belong to one human race, and it is thus a challenge bigger than Catholicism. It is important for men and women everywhere to carefully consider these challenges and continue to work together for a family perspective that promotes love and dignity as well as justice and understanding. In short, it calls us to love our neighbor regardless of who they are - including our the members of family.

 [1] John Paul II. On the Family, 1981. 77. Print.
 [2] A Family Perspective 2.
 [3] Ibid.
 [4] Ibid.
 [5] Ibid., 3.
 [6] Ibid, 3-50.
 [7] Ibid, 20.
 [8] USCCB. Married Love and the Gift of Love 1.
 [9] Ibid., 6.
 [10] Ibid., 7.
 [11] Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991. 55. Print.
[12] USCCB. When I Call For Help: A Pastoral Response To Domestic Violence Against Women.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Relatio Synodi, 55-56. October 5-19, 2014.
[15] Gramick, Jeannine. "LGBT Catholics Hope That Synod on Family Will Lead to Welcome for All." LGBT Catholics Hope That Synod on Family Will Lead to Welcome for All. National Catholic Reporter, 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
[16] Pope John XIII. Pacem Terris.