July 7, 2006

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

A place at the Lord’s table

The third principle of Catholic social teaching provides instruction for each of us as members of the human family with regard to our rights in this world and responsibilities toward one another.

The first fundamental right in this principle is the right to life. This right has primary position since, without it, no other rights really matter.

Following this fundamental right to life is the right of every person to those things required for human decency. Much debate can begin with a definition of what is a right and what is a privilege.

However, the Catholic Church clearly defines a number of rights necessary for living a dignified life, namely, the right to food, clothing, housing, health care, education, security, social services and employment.

It might be useful to go to the extreme to demonstrate this principle. Let us consider the AIDS orphan in Africa—she has done absolutely nothing to create this state of life for herself, created by the death of her parents to AIDS.

Who will now ensure that she gets an education, has clothing, a home, a future? The Church would tell us that it is our (the human family’s) responsibility to care for her needs.

In 2002, the U.S. bishops shared a pastoral reflection titled “A Place at the Table,” in which they seek to inspire each and every one of us to help ensure that all of humanity has a place at the table of the family of God. This table is not only an image as the place to eat food, but the place where voices are heard and policy decisions are made.

People of wealth, power and influence often have a very strong voice at the table, so we are called to help amplify the voice or, at times, “be” the voice of the poor and vulnerable. Who will be the voice of that young AIDS orphan?

Corresponding to the rights of all are responsibilities. Here we could say that indeed we are our brothers and sisters keepers—we are responsible for one another. Here we would also find the biblical principle of stewardship: for that which we are given, we are called to share, for all that we have is not ours but rather God’s.

We can all be very proud that the Catholic Church carries out this responsibility in some very profound ways. We accomplish this through Catholic Charities’ministries, Catholic health care, Catholic education, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and various other resources.

We take very seriously in an institutional way our responsibility to serve those in need and provide a voice for the voiceless. And we are called as individual baptized Catholics to do the same.

As uncomfortable as it may be from time to time, this principle of Catholic social teaching requires us to look at our brother or sister—no matter their race, creed, language, way of life—and assist them when we see unmet needs.

As followers of Jesus, it is part of his Gospel mandate to do no less.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries.)


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