SALT LAKE CITY — Effectively preaching the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding social justice is a challenge, because it should be seen as an integral part of the liturgy and not as a political statement, the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, told diocesan priests at the spring convocation on May 10. "These are two aspects of our ministry that really go hand in hand. This is an important subject for us to mull over."
To that end, the topic of the convocation was "Catholic social teaching and the ministry of preaching." The main presenter was Father David Garcia, who has been a priest for 37 years in the Archdiocese of San Antonio and also is Catholic Relief Services’ senior advisor for clergy outreach.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It works in the spirit of Catholic social teaching to assist impoverished people in more than 100 countries on five continents. Bishop Wester is a member of the CRS Board of Directors.
Being in solidarity with the poor "is basically our role as priests," Fr. Garcia said, pointing out that Pope Benedict XVI is the most recent in a long line of popes to stress charity as an integral aspect of Catholicism.
Pope Benedict has written two encyclicals on social justice, stressing courageous, generous engagement in the fields of justice and peace, Fr. Garcia said.
Catholic social teaching’s founding principal is that the life and dignity of the human person must take priority over all else. Also, there are universal human rights: Every human being has the right to food, clothing, housing, health care, education, security employment social services and religious freedom.
When preaching social justice, it’s important for priests to realize that "it’s not just your ‘thing,’ Fr. Garcia said. "This is the Church’s teaching."
Acknowledging that parishioners may have difficulty dealing with homilies about social teaching, Fr. Garcia said preaching isn’t meant to force decisions on people. Rather, it’s about generating insight and inviting people to discover the meaning of God’s kingdom.
"A good homily, when we finish it, when they walk out of the church, is not ‘Oh, Father, those words were so beautiful, thank you very much,’" he said. "It’s nice to hear that from somebody, but what I would really like to hear … is, ‘What can I do? What could we do?’"
This reaction, he said, is the result of a homily that truly touches the heart.
Also speaking at the convocation was Father Louis Anderson, a retired priest from the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Mich., who has been a CRS Global Fellow since 2004. As a Global Fellow, he preaches social justice in various parishes.
When he retired, "I said to myself, ‘I don’t believe we priests are ever done being priests, and I even though I’m not in a parish…. We still have a ministry to fulfill: proclaiming the gospel, leading the people, teaching the people," he said. "Our role is to enable them to be the Christians they are called to be and we are serving the Church by stimulating that kind of an awareness."