Church’s social teaching is for everyone

Categories: Editorial

Albany author explains its essential principles in a way that both liberals and conservatives will grasp and appreciate

By Bob Zyskowski

In our ideologically divided church, common ground for Catholics to stand on together can seem difficult to locate.

Catholics can be passionately prolife, staunch advocates for social justice, singularly pietistic, proponents of liberation theology, committed to the New Evangelization — and any combination of the above.


In the midst of the divisiveness, Barry Hudock, a parishioner of Seven Dolors in Albany, offers a point of view that sees these diverse passions as part of a single whole, a truly Catholic and catholic — big C and small c — whole.

Hudocks’s new book, “Faith Meets World,” published by Liguori, carries the subtitle “The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching.” While that’s an apt description that will draw the attention to those on the more liberal or progressive side of the church aisle, those who take a more conservative point of view may choose to ignore this 143-page paperback.

That would be a shame.

Hudock does an excellent job of explaining not just Catholic social teaching in terms all can grasp, but how the principles of Catholic social teaching are based on traditional Catholic values, values cherished by both conservative and liberal Catholic. Plus, he takes a strong prolife stand.

“We’re not talking politics here,” Hudock writes. “We’re talking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News that God offers to humanity about who God is, who we are, how we relate to God, and what that relationship means.”

He quotes Blessed Pope John Paul II, for example, who declared that “The ‘New Evangelization’ . . . must include among it essential elements a proclamation of the church’s social doctrine.”

“So this is not about which party we belong to,” Hudock declares, “not about being liberal or conservative. For Catholics, this is about being a person and also being Catholic. It’s about being the person God calls us to be in the society that God wants us to have.”

Easy-to-understand language

Catholic social teaching — Hudock teaches — is living out Jesus’ commandment to love one another in the context of society.

He explains just what that means with common language that makes “Faith Meets World” an excellent choice for a Catholic book club, for small groups and adult continuing education programs. The language is simple enough that the book would make a good text for high school-age faith formation, religion classes and youth ministry.

For example:

The first of the social encyclicals, “Rerum Novarum,” was Pope Leo XIII’s response to the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. “Leo insisted,” Hudock notes, “that the willingness of people desperate for income to accept a low wage did not make paying such a wage morally right.”

Another aspect of Pope Leo’s 1891 encyclical was the conviction that “people might be poor for reasons other than their own laziness, that the society around them might push them into poverty or prevent them from getting out of it.”

In 1987 John Paul II noted in “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” that many people and nations remain poor not simply because they are “underdeveloped,” as though they simply have not been able to keep up with other more fortunate ones, “but because of unjust social structures that conspire to keep them poor.”

Facts well presented

Telling anecdotes and analogies bring home the message of the principles of Catholic social teaching.

Human dignity is a foundational principle based on the fact that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. The need for all to be concerned with human dignity is illustrated well when Hudock points out that millions of American workers were protected by labor laws, but migrant workers were specifically excluded for the law’s protection.

Solidarity, the other primary principle, is an awareness of the unity of the human family, but not just an awareness, Hudock tells us, but “the determination to act in such a way that it will bring good to the human community.”

As each following chapter takes on one of the remaining principles — human rights, the common good, the universal destination of goods, the preferential option for the poor and subsidiarity — there are good questions we all might ask ourselves, some worthwhile suggestions for actions we might take, and constant references to the 14 papal encyclicals and Scripture that form much of what the church teaches about how we are to live justly with others.

Considering the often difficult language of the encyclicals, Hudock thankfully paraphrases their teachings. He does a thorough job, too, of backing his writing with clearly annotated references to both the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible.

The final portion of “Faith Meets World” is where the rubber meets the road.

Hudock, who works for Liturgical Press in Collegeville, takes readers through applying Catholic social teaching to real life — in the family, in the area of work, in the economy, politics, the environment, peace and war and finally life and death.

Prolife at the core

Those whose passion is focused in the prolife area will especially appreciate how he connects abortion to the Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity.

”Being a person is never about looking our solely for ourselves with no regard for the well-being of others,” Hudock writes. “Solidarity is the exact opposite of the cynical individualism that demands a parent can do what she wants to ‘her body’ regardless of what it means to a child she carries.”

He adds, “The decisions of some of today’s most prominent Catholic social-justice leaders and Catholic social teaching advocates to ignore the issue of abortion is tragic. Their strident demands that the government has a clear and unquestionable duty and responsibility to protect and support immigrants, the unemployed, children and the elderly, but that what we do to unborn people is all a matter of personal choice, is terribly inconsistent.

“If preferential option for the poor means the most vulnerable among us need and deserve our help and protection, then legal protection of the unborn demands a primary place in our social-justice efforts.”

Careful readers will note that some of the suggestions for action fall on the simplistic side, that Hudock doesn’t let the church off the hook when it has been on the wrong side of what is moral, that some of his analogies are stronger than others, that he isn’t afraid of taking to tasks politicians who would have people pick and choose which of the Catholic social teaching principles to disregard.

Those careful readers will notice, too, that in “Faith Meets World” Hudock challenges us with questions that make us uncomfortable.

Just as Catholic social teaching should.