Church's social ministry is more than 'single set' of issues, Cardinal Cupich says

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service
Monday, January 27, 2020

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago delivers his homily during the opening Mass Jan. 25, 2020, at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON — Drawing from the teaching of Pope Francis and the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Cupich called on attendees at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering to remember that the work of the church is rooted in Christ’s invitation to encounter poor and marginalized people.

Such ministry requires having a “deep and loving respect for the poor, uniting with them, accompanying them, not to tell them what to do, but with an appreciation for the creative capacity to pursue the life God has always intended for them,” Cardinal Cupich said in an address Jan. 25 opening the largest regular church-sponsored assembly of social justice advocates.

“This means recognizing that Christ is already at work in the lives of the poor,” he said.

The cardinal described the task of a Christian as working “with everyone in building a more human world.”

“This is about taking a stand toward reality in which neither our spiritual lives nor religion can be understood without social commitment. Nor can salvation be understood without social commitment. Nor can salvation be understood without the need to transform history. They are linked together,” he said.

That linkage, he continued, “subverts any attempt to fragment our Catholic social teaching pretending to offer so-called non-negotiables, which ends up reducing our moral tradition to a single set of issues.”

He called for an “integrated and consistent approach” wherever human dignity is threatened, reflecting the assembly’s theme, “Bearing Witness: Life and Justice for All.”

Immigrants, people living in poverty, death-row inmates and others on society’s margins have plenty to teach the church as long as the church is willing to listen, he said, again citing the pope in his 20-minute presentation.

Specifically, Cardinal Cupich quoted Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness, “Gaudete et Exultate,” explaining how the pope exhorts the faithful to not only defend the unborn, but also those already born: people living in poverty, those who are abandoned, the elderly, those exposed to euthanasia, and those victimized by human trafficking, among others.

“If we do not help those in need, we have failed Christ, precisely because of the way persons are related, not only to one another, but also to God,” he said. “If we do not understand this fundamental Gospel truth, then we do not understand the call to Christian holiness.”

The documents that emerged from Vatican II illustrate the critical role the church’s social ministry, rooted in the actions of Christ, plays in the world, Cardinal Cupich said.

From “Gaudium et Spes,” the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, he explained that the participants in Vatican II were prophetic in a sense, as the church today witnesses the “birth of a new humanism, where people are defined first of all by their responsibility to their brothers and sisters and to history.”

“This new appreciation of our relationships with one another as the place where God is at work opens up a new way of being church and of understanding our baptismal call,” Cardinal Cupich said. “It makes us more aware of the need for a consistent ethic as we promote human dignity and justice for all.”

The Christian call to holiness, he said, “is not about being called as an individual, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and shared life.”

From “Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the cardinal noted how the faithful are seeing that God’s plan is to bring people together in unity rather than as individuals without bonds with each other.

“This teaching stands in stark contrast to the not-so-subtle message of so much American public discourse today, namely that what matters most is the individual person, choice, personal freedom,” Cardinal Cupich explained.

“What the council fathers wanted to underscore was that it is in our relationship with one another as a human community that we are saved. This is where God works and manifests himself in bringing about the kingdom of God.”


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