“Where have all the bishops gone?” OR “The people do Social Teaching now!”
Thoughts on 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 29, 2017
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
When last we left St. Paul – as in, last Sunday’s second reading from the 1st Letter to the Thessalonians – he reminded them that he led his life for their sakes. Apparently that’s such a good line that today’s reading from 1st Thessalonians repeats that line in its opening. Last week this line led us to a reflection on solidarity, one of the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching. This week this line leads us to a reflection on subsidiarity, the hand-in-glove other fundamental principle of Catholic Social Teaching.
As solidarity supports the formation of the community of individuals, so subsidiarity asserts the individual within community. Neither one without the other. To put it in a Pauline way – those for whose sake the individual lives also have the obligation to live for the sake of the individual. It’s one of those yin and yang things.
To drive the point home, the happy coincidence that the Gospel reading is Matthew’s recall of Jesus’ teaching of the Golden Rule is reassuring. Typically, the Lectionary is not so interested in themes for each Sunday’s readings, rather that there be, generally, a somewhat continuous proclaiming of New Testament letters on the one hand and the synoptic Gospels on the other. So, having both readings relatable to (and might I add, interpretable for) the principles of Social Teaching should not go unnoted.
These two principles are a solid base for social teaching. Where they come in handy is to address society’s imbalances, deficiencies, and obstacles. Upholding them makes for a good foil to those who argue that the church has no business in politics or the economy.
( I find it curious, that the choice and anti-choice era has quieted that argument considerably, particularly from the anti-choice side of those fundamentalists who like to threaten politicians with being “primary-ed”. This is the practice of running the most conservative candidate by means of boatloads of cash to back them up)
The imbalance of inequality, the deficiency of accumulated wealth, and the obstacle of permanent consolidation within capitalism are all features of contemporary society. The resolution of these conditions is just the place for the application of solidarity and subsidiarity. Catholic Bishops used to teach this. Thankfully, Pope Francis has a clear light to shine on Social Teaching’s place in society’s daily realities. Pope Paul, in his encyclical “Progress of the Peoples”, applied subsidiarity to the right to organize and to redress wrongs perpetrated against members of particular socio-economic classes.
To get a sense, though, of local episcopal leadership on balancing the greater good with individual rights I conducted a completely unscientific google search. I recognize the less than objective approach of google searches. But, when you consider that social media is the source of news for larger and larger portions of the American public, hey, what the heck. My search terms were: bishops on the picket line. Do you want to guess at the results? Go ahead, you try it. What you get is a listing that shows no Catholic bishop being anywhere near a picket line. After four pages of results I gave up – especially when I got to the entry about the Irish Bishop of Kildare, one James Doyle, who spoke out on behalf of workers’ rights in 1830.
I know that there have been bishops who have been strong supporters – even those who have been kicked off the hierarchical ladder – for workers’ rights and for rebalancing the economics of society. But, I think you get my point. Where are they now?
Then, I searched with these terms: bishops at the abortion clinic. Please, try that search also. Do you get what I got? Almost two pages of bishops not only at the clinic, but one who said Mass in front of a clinic. You have bishops in Falls Church, Virginia and Wichita, Kansas who are very forceful in their presence at abortion clinics.
Do you think we could get a Mass said in front of a WalMart?
One refreshing result of the search was a notice of the book, “The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the Working Class.” I had not seen it before, and I bought it for our Community Library. This is a work by young scholars from a variety of traditions who took a look at the question of the state of Social Teaching and workers’ rights today. They went looking for applications and found them in the pew rather than from the pulpit. How appropriate in these days when so many churches are being formed from the bottom up. From Evangelicalism through and to mainline Protestant and Catholic communities this book gives example after example of regular people being the ones who are applying Social Teaching now.
Looks like subsidiarity is alive and well because the People are doing the Social Teaching now. So, stop googling and get on board.
A Prayer (JR)
We construct ties that bind us—each one of us– one to the other.
Loving God, let these bonds, forge unbreakable links as we practice what
we preach: “Do unto others as I would want to have done unto me.“
We pray for confusion among those who would plot and plan
to separate anyone from your justice. Rather, let them also hear the cry
of the widow and the orphan who are your loved ones.
As you are compassionate so let us be. Amen.