October 12, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

The Gospel is deeply personal, but never private

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him: What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1929).

In Chapter 4 of “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis calls our attention to “The Social Dimension of Evangelization.” The Holy Father reminds us that while our faith in Jesus Christ is deeply personal, it is never private.

“At the very heart of the Gospel,” the pope teaches, “is life in community and engagement with others” (#177). To ignore the social implications of Christ’s teaching is to completely misunderstand his message. “The Gospel is about the loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity” (#180).

On the front cover of my copy of “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis is shown greeting people, his right hand extended in a gesture of welcome. His face is also open and joyful. And while he appears to be in the midst of a crowd, his eyes show that he is looking deeply at someone—like that person, in even the most brief of moments and encounters, is the only person he is focused on, the most important person to him. It’s an approach the pope has lived in his embrace of the poor, the disabled, the immigrant, the suffering and the lost.

Pope Francis calls us to solidarity with the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the stranger and even those whom we consider to be our enemy. But solidarity with others has its foundation in our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and with the individual women and men who make up the family of God.

The work of Catholic Charities and other social service agencies across our archdiocese is known for its efforts to offer shelter to the homeless, support for young women who are pregnant, and other assistance to people in need. Our local Church is no stranger to the needs of the poor in our midst. We are equally generous in our response to needs in other parts of this country, and the world at large. Pope Francis urges us to build on the native generosity of our people, to grow in our awareness and understanding, and to let the poor (“who have much to teach us”) show us how to live the Gospel in our daily lives.

Whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Christ. This is a fundamental truth of Christian anthropology.

We are one in Christ, so what we do for the “least” of our family members—especially the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the immigrant, the elderly—we do to and with and for Jesus Christ.

This fundamental belief, which we accept as a fact, dramatically influences the way we are called to live our lives. No longer do we exist only for ourselves and our own kind. In Christ, we exist for the sake of all—regardless of race, gender, nationality, economic or social status, educational background, political affiliation, sexual inclination or any other distinction. We do not have to agree with everyone or support their customs or actions, but we do have to keep in mind that whatever we do (or fail to do) for these brothers and sisters, we do (or fail to do) for Christ, who is our brother and our Lord.

As we Indiana bishops note in the introduction to our 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana”:

“The Gospels insist that God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that God himself has ‘become poor’ [2 Cor 8: 9]. Jesus recognized their suffering, and he had compassion for their loneliness and fear. He never looked away from their plight or acted as if it did not concern him. Always, our Lord stood with the poor—comforting their sorrows, healing their wounds and feeding their bodies and their souls. He challenged his friends to recognize the poor and not remain unmoved.”

We are called to love the poor, and to serve the needs of others as Jesus did. Let’s make the social dimension of the Gospel an integral dimension of our daily Catholic belief and practice. †

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