It’s no secret that to be a Christian is to have an obligation to care for the poor. This obligation comes directly from the teachings of Jesus, who said, “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” And so, throughout our history, the Church has cared for the poor, and exhorted her members to do the same.
But the perennial question Christians must face is: what should we *do*? Is it enough to hand someone a dollar when they’re begging in the street? Is it better to write a check to a homeless shelter? Should the care of the poor affect how we vote?
The social teaching of the church, with it’s emphasis on the rights and dignity of all people, says that we have to do all these things. We can’t ignore the poor in our cities and neighborhoods and should give from our resources to help them meet their basic needs. But we also need to address issues of justice, and look at the social structures that can be improved to lift people out of poverty.
20th century Catholic activist Dorothy Day once said, “If you feed the poor, you’re a saint….If you ask why they’re poor, you’re a Communist.” The Church has had plenty of critical things to say about communism, and about unbridled capitalism as well, but the totality of Catholic social teaching consistently calls us to work for the dignity and rights of all human beings. That means we must both make sure people’s basic needs are met, but also work for justice for all people.
To find out more about the church’s teaching on social justice, you can go to the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/. Or you can look at the web site of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, at http://www.osjspm.org/. It’s information that every Catholic should know, so that we’re working both for charity, and for justice.