Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Social Justice and Faith

Day two of my blog a day for Lent, and I'm feeling a bit zoned out due to this darn cold. Anyways, every so often, it occurs to me that in Catholic circles we seem to have this unhealthy divide between what you might call "social justice" Catholics and, well, let's say "dogmatic" Catholics.

Social justice Catholics are those who tend to put their focus on the here and now, the earthy concerns we have. As such, they tend to be the majority because I think most people just aren't that into theology per se but are rather mostly concerned with "living life"; you could say, they are concerned with theology as applied to worldly matters.  Put another way, they are the Marthas--concerned with making sure people get fed, have clothes, have a living wage, health care, and so on. 

On the other hand, dogmatic Catholics are those who revel in the doctrine of the Faith. They think a good homily is one in which the nature of the Trinity is explored, while homilies that deal with common sense morality are banal. They tend to be the ones who advocate for Eucharistic Adoration, communion on the tongue, personal sin, and in general the intellectual and spiritual aspects of the faith. These are the Marys, and they are concerned with making sure people know the Truth, that they believe it, and that they tend to their eternal souls.

As in Scripture when Martha reproached Mary for "doing nothing" in sitting at the feet of the Lord, it's not uncommon for the Marthas of our day to express similar sentiments about the Marys--they don't do enough, all they care about is "sitting in church" and "being religious."  But as we see, Jesus told Martha, "you are anxious about many things but there is need of only one thing, and Mary has chosen the better part." This is often interpreted as an indication of the importance our Lord put on spiritual-intellectual things--sitting at the feet of the Master and listening to him, and that it is "the better part" can seem somewhat scandalous to our common sensibilities, especially in our contemporary materialistic culture.

On the other hand, there are plenty of indications that while the spiritual-intellectual concerns are better and more important, we cannot forsake the physical here and now, particularly not the here and now needs of those who cannot care for themselves. In St. Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25, our Lord tells us that those who neglect caring for "the least of these" will have no part in his Kingdom.  St. James tells us clearly that faith without works is dead. It is obvious that Christians who care only for the spiritual-intellectual life are missing something crucial.  

We all have our predispositions. We have different gifts and talents. We have different vocations.  But we need to remember that, as St. Paul told us, we are all members of the Body of Christ. The hand can't say to the foot, "we have no need of you." We should, rather, be thankful for each other because together we work to build up the Body of Christ in a way that none of us could do it on our own.

Similarly, in our own lives, we need to be mindful that we cannot become too lopsided. If we are inclined to be Marthas, we need to put extra effort into understanding the doctrines of the Faith, maybe making extra effort to make it to Adoration, read a theological book, pray a bit more, listen to our bishops a bit more.  If we are inclined to be Marys, we need to make time to participate more in corporal works of mercy, think more realistically and concretely about how to help "the least of these," and act on that. 

We all need to realize that the intellectual-spiritual nature is indeed more important ("better"). We need to realize that we must love God first, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and tend to the care of our immortal souls, but we must also not let that turn us in on ourselves--we must love our neighbor as ourselves, enliven our faith with works of charity, both with spiritual as well as corporal works of mercy. We cannot neglect social justice but neither can we neglect the dogmas of our Faith. (We should not let politics/party affiliation cause us to lose sight of the Faith--in the US no one party has a corner on the Faith.)  Just as faith without works is dead, so are our works ultimately worthless if we believe not in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. 

And truly, as we come to understand the Faith more, the more we will be led to love, for it is not a common altruistic motivation that drives us to help those in need, but rather we come to see that our love for God and our love for our neighbor are essentially one and the same--that we love our neighbor in God and because of God. Our social justice cannot be considered apart from our dogmas on the nature of God, our relationship to him, and personal holiness, for it is out of these that our doctrines on social justice flow.  Nor can we neglect social justice on the pretense that we are focused on the spiritual-intellectual truths of the faith. The two flow from the One.