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Life issues and social justice

As a child in the 1950s, I recall the Church being insular and sharply divided from
the world around us. That began to change as we approached Vatican Council II. We heard words like “ecumenism,” “social justice” and “liturgical renewal.” There was even a daring concept of celebrating the Mass in the vernacular, the language commonly spoken in the location of the Mass.
 
As the council unfolded, laypersons were invited to take on new roles in the Church, both liturgical roles and in various ministries in the Church. Both men and women could now serve in the sanctuary as lectors and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Mass could be celebrated with the priest facing the people instead of with his back to the congregation.
 
After Vatican II, we saw the Church engaging the world around us in a completely different way.
 
We recognized the need to enter into dialogue with other Christian denominations to explore the possibility of reunification of Christianity. We began to hear about topics like racism, discrimination and social justice. The Church was more open in its criticism of injustice in society.
 
Topics like war, disparate treatment of minorities by the criminal justice system, treatment of undocumented immigrants, the natural environment and a living wage became topics addressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and local bishops.
 
Yet within the Church, we saw dissent emerge. Some sought to radically change certain moral teachings on issues of sexuality, contraception and abortion. With Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), Catholic understanding of sexuality and the teaching on contraception were beautifully affirmed. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (“Gospel of Life”) again affirmed those teachings and emphasized that moral law given by God cannot change.
 
Human life issues (abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia and capital punishment) continued to receive prominent attention from the bishops and Catholic laity in local and political arenas.
 
The Church needs to engage society on both human life issues and issues of social justice; it is not one or the other.
 
Catholics know from scripture that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God. Hence, all human beings have an inherent dignity: There is something about each person that is a reflection of God to those around them.
 
Catholics must hold in their heart two great commandments: Love of God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Church must continue to proclaim that message not merely as an abstract concept, but in concrete terms: Life is sacred. Human beings are to be treated as a precious image and likeness of God; they are to be accorded full human dignity, and this includes just treatment in all particulars of their existence in a just society.
 
As members of the Church and followers of Jesus Christ, we must act to further those teachings and to incorporate them into our own attitudes and behaviors.
 

Life Issues Forum: Of Strollers And Walkers

By Mary McClusky
 
The parents of a 3-month-old recently wrote to The Washington Post food critic's online chat to ask about dining etiquette in a city where many restaurants are inaccessible to strollers. 
 
The critic responded by complaining about "strollers the size of Zipcars," but then admitted he wasn't the parent of an infant and invited readers to discuss the topic. Reader comments varied and expanded the topic to include people who use walkers. The chat provided much food for thought on the many ways that we can welcome those whom others might consider burdensome while we are out and about at restaurants, churches, parks, on transportation and in public. Our loving welcome may help others soften their hearts and change attitudes toward families with young or elderly members.
 
The first commenter suggested that parents eat at off-peak hours to avoid "consternation" from fellow diners. As hard enough as it is to raise children in a city, are we now asking parents to eat dinner out with children only from 2 to 5 p.m.? Perhaps as fellow diners we could be patient and understanding and help when we see a parent struggling with a stroller or a temperamental child. Or suggest that a restaurant have a secure place to stow strollers and walkers.
 
Recall God's creation of each of us "in His image" (Gn 1:27), meaning that every one of us is made to be in loving relationship with others. Even the smallest community of love, sometimes as small as two people, mirrors the Divine Trinity. Members of a loving community patiently accommodate one another's needs.
 
My parish during high school displayed this loving acceptance each week as everyone kindly greeted my grandmother making her slow but steady way into church with her walker. On the other hand, I've been present at Mass when a priest stopped during a homily and asked a parent to take a slightly noisy child out of the church.
 
How we treat the defenseless and vulnerable among us not only impacts our salvation but also sends a powerful message to those around us. Our acceptance of others can bear witness to their very existence as God's gift. By our attentiveness and loving assistance, we proclaim that the person in front of us, no matter how young, frail or in need of assistance, is an unrepeatable and precious creation from God. And in turn, we grow in character and virtue each time we choose to sacrifice for another.
So, ask yourself, how accessible is my parish to strollers and wheelchairs? Could we install a wheelchair ramp or elevator to be more welcoming to the elderly or disabled? Is there a place to stow walkers or canes safely? Are there diaper-changing tables in women's and men's restrooms? Or accommodations for parents to participate in the Mass as much as possible if their children become distracting?
 
Perhaps I could smile understandingly when I see a mother and her crying child walking down the airplane aisle toward me, instead of silently praying that they're not seated next to me. Or learn to be more grateful for the gift of children and families being present in our celebration of the Eucharist.
 
Through better accommodations -- but more importantly, through open hearts and loving attitudes -- we can build up a culture that truly welcomes every life in all situations, even a situation as seemingly insignificant as accommodating stroller storage in a crowded restaurant.

Mary McClusky is assistant director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit hopeafterabortion.com or esperanzaposaborto.com.
 

 
 
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