Bishop Frank’s Reflection on Catholic Social Teaching

NEW YORK -Thank you Bob, for those kind words. Good morning, everyone. I am absolutely delighted to be able to join you today. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to offer some initial remarks and reflections to set the stage for what I believe is going to be a very productive and fruitful dialogue about the social gospel, about the Catholic social teachings that we hold so dear and Pope Francis’s particular call for inclusion. I believe this topic is of great significance for many reasons, not least of which my friends, I believe we’re living in a window of opportunity because given all of the dislocation caused by the pandemic, everyone now is comfortable with the notion that things need to change. And so we have this opportunity not simply to reevaluate our economic, social and political orders, but actually also to seek change so that it is not just more economically stable, but quite frankly, we’ll do what Catholic social teaching asks to respect the dignity of each human and to foster inclusion of a soul Pope Francis on the scene is the right man with the right voice at the right time, in this moment of opportunity to engage believers and people of goodwill in this project.

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And I speak not only of his prophetic acts and there are many of inclusion you could consider: erecting showers in the rotunda of St Peter’s or sharing his birthday breakfast with the homeless or going to Lampedusa or opening an office of Papal Charities. These are all prophetic acts, but I’m speaking about the very substance of his teaching of which you are all familiar. For example, his unwavering commitment to the dignity and needs of those who are excluded and vulnerable in the economic, social and political order to promote the common good and to situate individual rights within the common. Good to dare to say that we are all brothers and sisters echoing Francis of Assisi image, irrespective of culture, language, nationality, to reaffirm the importance of family and local communities as building blocks that will respect the dignity of individuals. And to extend this to an integral ecology, my friends, all of that is this call to inclusion.

And so what is my task before you today? I stand before you as a pastor of the church to do two things. First with your permission to kind of set the stage by reminding us generally of what Catholic social teaching is very briefly. And then to go a bit into that, which Francis is teaching us to unpack this call to inclusion and what that could mean for the conversation we have today. So our first task Catholic social teaching, I don’t think is an exaggeration if I were to say, if you ask the average Catholic, what it is that is Catholic social teaching, they would be hard pressed to figure out how to respond. I think they would point to the mandate of the gospel to be charitable, to love neighbor as oneself, but they would not necessarily understand the robust, sophisticated, and articulate vision of teachings that seeks to challenge all believers, to engage the world concretely precisely in this mandate of charity, Pope Francis is one of many in a long tradition that has articulated this.

And of course, most commentators would say modern Catholic social teaching began with Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo, the 13th and 1891. But the truth is the roots of Catholic social teaching began with Christian revelation with the teachings and ministry of the Lord himself in the apostolic tradition. As the church over the centuries has responded to circumstances, feudalism, industrialization, modernism, politics, war technology, globalization, and now the digital continent. So at its heart, my friends Catholic social teaching does what? It marries the evangelical mandate of love to will the good of the other with the demands of reason illustrated by the natural law, also informed by the social sciences so that we can find a concrete path to foster the dignity of every human person and the common good that binds us together. And that marriage, my friends is based on two other humanities that are central in Catholic thinking the unity of faith and reason that they complement one another or as to tradition says greats building on nature and the scriptural exposition of St. James, that faith is dead without good works.

Before we move to Pope Francis, allow me to other very, very brief, uh, premises. First, this, as you know, in Catholic social teaching, there are three fundamental principles and some other corollaries, perhaps traditionally seven. And yet we must understand that they all exist in creative tension with each other, that they are all necessary to fill in a comprehensive picture and they stand side by side because at times they are self-correcting right, they need to be. So give the image of a mosaic. You look at the pieces of mosaic, each of beautiful, but you don’t get the full beauty until you put the pieces together. And so part of our challenge is to put the picture together in this growing complex, complicated divided, and a world that seeks exclusion, how do we concretize in the messy life we live? How do we concretize this call of inclusion?

And the second is most obvious. It is precisely for all the reasons I just said, given the complexity, given the enormity of just the economic order and the political order and the social structure and hierarchies of our countries in the world, they will be legitimate disagreement among us, even in this room. I am hoping that we’ll come to the fore in our, in our conversation, legitimate disagreement on how to apply these principles concretely, but my friends that should never be a reason for us to shy away from the discussion. Pope Francis is no stranger to controversy, neither should we because of the import of what stints before us. So let’s turn to Pope Francis Pope Francis has made it very clear that it is a call to inclusion that animates much of his capable magisterium. I’d like to present a premise, a proposition, perhaps you may disagree, but it seems to me in the religious imagination, in the intuition that actually forms much of what Pope Francis is.

Speaking of, there is one principle, one basic theological fundamental principle that animates, what could otherwise be seen as just random or side-by-side observations. And in the tradition of the church, that fundamental principle is called colonial or communion, but it can be named in other ways, including a sense of social fraternity. And it is first and foremost, my friends, a mystery, not because we cannot speak of it, but because it is a reality that we enter into in response to what a divine invitation Communio is not a human construct alone. What is the invitation? The invitation is for all of us made in God’s image and likeness through the power of grace to enter into the very life of God who is himself, a communion in Christian revelation, a Trinity of divine persons bound together in love because God is love. And that unit that invitation into this life reminds us of who we are and reminds us of the bond we share with everyone of all races and religious traditions.

And it also reminds us of the obligation. We must sustain our common life, even in the respect and care of creation. In chapter one of Fratelli Tutti, I’m paraphrasing the Holy Father when he says there are no others, no them, only us who includes God. Allow me a scriptural diversion. Where does this come from? In the Old Testament, in the Jewish scriptures. It’s the notion of covenant that God binds himself to his people, even though they do not necessarily deserve it. And even though they are unfaithful, there is an unbreakable invitation to share his life and put those of us in the Christian tradition. We believe that that covenant is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because why? Not simply because he forgives our sins in his free sacrifice on the cross. But because in the outpouring of the spirit, he is the bridge into the very life of God. He is the bridge into an everlasting communion. And so if that is who we are, then that is shared, as I said previously, with every other human being, not by choice necessarily, but just as a consequence of who we are. In Fratelli Tutti, article 94, the Pope says only by cultivating this way of relating to one another, will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all.

So when the holy father speaks of inclusion, he is not speaking of something transactional. He is speaking of the very change of mentality and lifestyle, which is a fundamental reflection of who we are in Christ. We are to live that way because we should know no other way, how to live because of who we are. And we are impelled by that communion, that common union to redefine not only our personal relationships, but every structure that is over a human construct. Fraternal love and social friendship can be such an synonyms for the very reality I’m speaking about. So when this is applied in action, you will see Pope Francis constantly speaking about mercy, or you see my friends, the effect of living communion is mercy. It’s the living branch, so no one is left behind. Pope Francis speaks of Synodality as an essential part of the church’s life. What was he saying? Is that the journey of faith excludes no one, it’s not just the bishops who are asked to discern and listen, but all God’s people, even those who do not check Christian faith have a role in the discerning and listening because it’s the very fabric of who we are. And therefore there is a personal and communal obligation to look at the economic, political and social order through this lens.

Allow me to go deeper. I’m going to use the three fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching, perhaps to illustrate a bit more granular, what Pope Francis is teaching us. And if you recall St. John Paul II, in Ecclesia in America, article 55 says: “Her, that is the church’s moral vision in this area. Catholic social teaching rests on three cornerstones of human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity.” For the balance of my remarks, allow me to stop at each of those and break it open along the lines of what our holy father is.

Speaking of inclusion, human dignity, and the value of every human person, Pope Francis has made it clear that he reaffirms the dignity and value of unborn life, but he also has made it clear that that dignity and value extends to the marginalized, the vulnerable and the excluded in our midst, the human lines that have become invisible to the economic and political order around us. They are deserving of the dignity and protection. Not because we accord it, but because it is already inherent in every human person. In 107 in Fratelli Tutti, he summarizes it in one sentence. He says, “every human person has a right to live with dignity and develop integrally.” So who are the marginalized for Pope Francis, the physically poor, those who lack necessities of life migrants, whose dignity is challenged at the borders. The fourth chapter of Fratelli Tutti, dreams of a, a heart open to the world. He says the elderly, the uneducated, the refugee, those who are suffering from the effects of climate change, because it is a dignity. My friends clearly that exist in every stage in every season of life, never to be judged in a utilitarian fashion, universal that knows no distinction of politics or national boundaries, and one that has a preferential option for the very ones that otherwise have been left behind Pope Francis does not mince words. Does he?

He challenges the political economic and social order to include the excluded. For example, in Evangelii Gaudium, article six, I believe it is Pope Francis challenges, all governments to assure dignified, work, healthcare and education for all people. He also criticizes what he sees are the challenges. So for example, he speaks of the idolatry of money where he sees the human person because of the, some of the economic structures. We have a person is no longer an agent of economic life, but reduced to a center of consumption for profit. He speaks of the victims of a Neo liberal faith in an unfettered marketplace. Fratelli Tutti article 168, where he says that marketplace, that mistaken belief that the marketplace will solve all problems through. And I quote spillover or I quote trickle theories against those challenges. He speaks of an integral human development and in article 21, a Fratelli Tutti. He says this, some economic rules have proved effective for growth, but not for integral human development. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality and the result that, that there are new forms of poverty emerging. We see that here in Manhattan, just take a stroll down the street.

And in this dignity of the human person, he speaks of the essential role of the family and the local community, the family, particularly in Amoris Laetitia which itself was a document that was critiqued by some, but he holds dear and fast to this. So in the end, if you were to ask me, Bishop Frank, summarize all this in a sentence, I would put it this way for Pope Francis, the basic moral test for any society or the analysis of any personal behavior. Is this, how do we treat the poor? And marginalized is the measure to which we need to change. Second principle, human solidarity. I need not explain too much. It is the basis of the communio I spoke of, but there is this image that we have to remember, which is the common good, and allow me to offer a tangent.

And again, you may disagree and I welcomed the commentary, but we live in a time, particularly here in the United States where personal rights have almost been divinized and a discussion of the common good has been set aside. And the holy father says that’s a recipe for disaster because the one checks the other, they are in a delicate and creative balance and the common good needs to be articulated so that it is in fact held in common. And it would seem to me that one of the great challenges we have is precisely to do that in the context of this country, in this moment that we are living for Francis, this notion of advancing the common good, resonates very deeply in his, in his writings, at least in two ways, he challenges his listening listeners to understand the common good as essential in any conversation of an economic, political, or social order. And when he says the common good, he is speaking of long term common good for Fratelli Tutti article 176, when he says true statecraft is manifest. When in difficult times we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common. Good. Imagine, um, imagine in chapter five of Fratelli Tutti to the holy father, actually challenges us to rethink a better type of political order. One based on charity and fraternity, he calls it political love. Do you see a lot of political love in Washington?

We have a lot of work to do, and he speaks of this ideal of a fraternal society. And he says, it’s based on dialogue, which again, in our contemporary world, it is becoming harder and harder to do. In fact to the Hungarian bishops, which he just visited last week, he said, if we want the river of the gospel here also in Hungary to penetrate people’s lives and note the emphasis to lead to way more fraternal in solidary society, which is synonym for an inclusive society, the church needs to build new bridges of dialogue. And the Pope has been insistent on that for all believers. And then of course he speaks like he defeat human dignity does not mince words on the societal structures and the obstacles that prevent that the very opening chapter or Fratelli Tutti, if you read it is sobering. The topic is dark clouds over a closed world, kind of summarizes the theme.

He speaks of a new tyranny in Evangelii Gaudium, where he says, and allow me to quote this. He says, while the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so two is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by what he calls the happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, he goes on to say, they reject the rights of states charged with the vigilance of the common good to exercise, any form of control. And then he concludes a new tyranny is thus born; invisible, often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its laws and rules.

The last principal subsidiarity, my friends, you all know, as I do what that refers to is that the state or the larger entity should not assume the tasks that local entities and individuals can do for themselves. This basically is the conversation of personal responsibility and collective responsibility and how they are held in that creative tension. And the Pope has made it clear that every human person and particularly every believer has a personal responsibility to live this gospel and to concretize it in their lives. But there’s also a responsibility to, uh, to protect the common good. And so, for example, what we speak of personal property, the church has always held and Pope Francis also holds that every person has a right to own property, but that right is not completely absolute because he speaks of the universal destiny of all goods for tele to te speaks of the principle of the common use of created goods, that responsibility personally and collectively, always in dialogue. And that is why the care for God’s creation Laudato Si, which resonates in the hearts of so many young adults. He speaks of an integral ecology because the truth is, and perhaps you may disagree. If we are to address this global challenge, it is not enough for some to respond for some countries to respond for. If we do not all respond, they will be no lasting solution once again, individual or in district case state’s rights and the global common good.

So my friends, where do we go from here? In the Catholic tradition hopes from St. John Paul, the second, actually from Saint Paul, the sixth have been challenging us to become missionary disciples in the world. We can spend five hours trying to figure out the nuances of that. I want to leave you with this thought. If you and I are committed to engage the world around us. That is to be disciples in the world in mission, allow me to conclude by making the simple observation, Pope Francis has given us the roadmap with the principles of Catholic social teaching. In this understanding of this communio we share that can be summarized in the simple three words, a call for inclusion to allow the health of individuals in their dignity and the respect that is owed to them in the health of nations and a common good that can be global. You and I, my friends are being engaged by the successor of Peter to make this the centerpiece of our mission in the world. We are all sisters and brothers in this communio that casts us and asks us to go into the world and allow the world to beat the place where every human being and every local community and every nation can live in prosperity in peace. The roadmap is there. The question for you and di is simply this, are we ready to begin the journey? Thank you. My friends for your attention. God bless you.