On September 21, New City Press will release my latest book The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching!
You can buy the book either in hard copy here:
…Or you can order it on Kindle here.
In celebratory anticipation, I thought I would spend the week giving you a few tastes of the book in the hope of whetting your appetite. The book is intended for any person of good will, Catholic or not, who is interested in learning about what the Church actually teaches about how to order our common life as human beings sharing the same planet. It is written in non-scholarly language for ordinary people precisely with the goal of making the rich Tradition of the Church clear and comprehensible to anybody who is trying to understand it. This excerpt is from the Introduction.
I once spoke about Catholic Social Teaching at a parish. On one side of the room sat the parish’s Pro-life group. On the other side sat the parish’s Peace and Justice group. Neither saw themselves as having anything in common with the other. Yet the whole point of my talk was that in the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16), both are part of the same Body, engaged in the same salvific mission to the world.
How did they not see that? Thereby hangs a tale.
Thinking Beyond the Categories of the World
Some think of Catholic moral teaching in terms of the private and personal (and, for the most part, sexual). So for many, the Church should focus on so-called “Non-Negotiable teaching” (first and foremost, abortion and, to a lesser degree, euthanasia). Those with such a perspective tend to place on a lower rung Catholic teaching about more public issues such as taxation, workers’ rights, poverty, immigration, politics, public spending, climate change, technology, health care, war, torture, gun violence, racism, or the death penalty. For them such issues are 1) a distraction from the Non-Negotiables, 2) politically “liberal,” and 3) subject to “prudential judgment,” a term which is commonly understood to mean “doing as we like.”
Conversely, others think the Church should focus on these very public issues affecting billions of people around the globe. To them, the primary mission of the gospel is to create a just society in which the stranger, the orphan, and the widow are cared for and just structures are established to shield the vulnerable from the rich, powerful, and privileged predator. These folks sometimes regard the Church’s teaching on our sex lives as a distraction from these issues.
Each group tends to like some aspects of the gospel, but each also tends to think there are areas where the Church should mind her own business. And (mark this) each therefore tends to evaluate the Church’s social teaching in light of their political and cultural priorities rather than evaluating their political and cultural priorities in light of the Church’s teaching. Consequently, they wind up on opposite sides of the room, darting suspicious glances at each other. Worse, they dart suspicious glances at the riches of the Tradition itself.
The trouble, very simply, is that a gaggle of warring voices in our culture assails us, urging us to think not with the mind of Jesus Christ, but with our favorite news vendor, or political party, or TV show, or pundit, or folk hero, or social media mini-pope, or circle of peers. The result is that actual Catholic teaching on how to order our common life remains the Church’s best-kept secret.
That’s not because the Church hides it. It is there in plain view in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church1—and more especially in the words of Jesus Christ himself. Rather, it is nearly invisible because the gospel is eternally at cross purposes with all those voices in our culture that are so much louder than the Church. So we are taught by our culture to ask, “Is it political, progressive, conservative, spiritual, left, right, modern, ancient?” but not “Is it in accord with what Jesus taught?” It is rather like when Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” and got a wide diversity of opinions and guesses in response (see Matthew 16:13-14). The Church’s moral teaching is regarded with tremendous confusion, not because it is confusing but because we are confused.
Thinking with the Mind of Christ
So who is right? Should we care more about private, personal “pelvic” morality or primarily focus on what is popularly called “social justice” issues like poverty, racism, crime, and so forth? The answer of the Christian tradition is “Yes.”
By the way, on Saturday, September 19 at 1 PM Eastern/10 AM Pacific, I will be having a Facebook livestream to talk about the book and take questions! Hope to see you there!