Catholic Social Teaching
Ways to learn about Catholic social teaching and how to implement it at home, in the classroom, and in everyday life.
Applying the Themes of Catholic Social Teaching (Part 3 of 7)
By Sr. Joan Hart SSDN
3. Option for the Poor
"In our vision of the common good, a crucial moral test is how the weakest are faring. We give special priority to the poor and vulnerable since those with the greatest needs and burdens have first claim on our common efforts. In protecting the lives and promoting the dignity of the poor and vulnerable, we strengthen all of society."
(A Call to the Common Ground for the Common Good, 1993)
The call to a preferential option for the poor reaches back to the prophets. Isaiah spoke of God’s wishing us to share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked. (58: 6-7) Jeremiah urged us to "do no wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan or the widow" (22:3-4). Saint Ambrose continued this theme when he wrote, "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich."
The Latin American Catholic bishops, meeting at Medellin, Colombia in 1968, helped us to focus anew on this call. During the meeting the bishops said that "the church—the people of God—will lend its support to the downtrodden of every social class so that they might come to know their rights and how to make use of them." (20). A year before, in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On The Development of Peoples, the call had taken on greater urgency: "No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need when others lack necessities" (23).
The United States Catholic bishops took up the call in their document, Economic Justice for All, when they said, "As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental 'option for the poor'—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor" (16).
In spite of all these words, the gap between rich and poor in our world only widens.