As this series of articles nears the end of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, one questions lingers. Who is going to do all this stuff?
Who is going to turn the call for a just and sustainable global economy into reality? Who is going to turn the hearts of nations from war to peace? Who is going to build the democratic system and exercise political authority in a morally good manner?
Who is going to make people more important than profits in business? Who is going to ensure the family is strengthened and serves as the foundation of society? Who is going to make sure everyone has the right to dignified work?
In short, who is going to turn the principles of Catholic social teaching into reality?
The Compendium does not ignore this question. It says, "The entire people of God has a role to play as the Church fulfills her mission" (n. 538).
Bishops, it says, have the primary responsibility for ensuring the Church carries out its commitment "to evangelize social realities."
Priests participate in the bishop's mission and have a duty to "make known the social teaching of the Church." By celebrating the sacraments, priests help the faithful "to live their social commitment as a fruit of the mystery of salvation." They should also animate social action.
Those in consecrated life, including sisters, brothers, religious priests and members of secular institutes, witness to "the values of holiness and generous service to one's neighbour." Their commitment to lives of poverty, chastity and obedience direct our attention to the new humanity that Catholic social teaching seeks to encourage.
But the main responsibility for implementing that social teaching lies with the laity. "It belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will," the Compendium (n. 541) quotes from the Second Vatican Council.
It is the people one sees everyday who can provide the catalyst for positive change. One's family members, friends or co-workers can by their words and actions lead one to adopt new attitudes or change their lives. As a lay disciple of Christ, this is your call - to witness to the new life of faith within your various milieus and, in doing so, to be a herald of a better society.
Catholic social teaching has often been called the Church's greatest secret. Proclaimed consistently and frequently by popes and bishops around the world for 115 years, it nevertheless remains largely unknown by most laity. Too many believe their religious duties are restricted to public worship, personal prayer and charitable actions.
Mention that the Church teaches the "universal destination of all goods" – that God created the world to be shared equitably among all peoples – and you are likely to hear that the Church should not be involved in politics. While the Church does not support particular political parties, it is the job of lay Catholics to become involved in the political process and stand up for the principles of Catholic social teaching.
Politics is only one area where those principles of social teaching can be brought to bear. They are also important in the professions, the structuring of the workplace, the arts, education, the media, the family and practically any milieu where lay people may find themselves.
Laity cannot fall to the temptation to live parallel lives – a life of faith disconnected from life in the secular world. The two must be one. Part of integrating faith and life is learning the Church's social doctrine. Social teaching is doctrine just as is the Church's other teachings on faith and morals. It is an inseparable part of the Christian life.
The Christian cannot live as though wealth and power are meaningful in themselves. Our lives must witness to the eternal destiny of each person. We must be "people capable of looking beyond history, without separating (ourselves) from it" (n. 545).
The laity live out this social faith as individuals and as families, but also in lay associations such as the Catholic Women's League, Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul Society, St. Luke's Physicians Guild and basic Christian communities.
Such associations are an expression of Church communion – one body united in Christ to serve a common mission. They witness to the fact that the Church does care about social ills and is active in trying to resolve them. They can also be places to educate the group's members in their social responsibilities.
Who is going to make the Church's social teaching come alive? The laity, of course.
Sixty years ago, Pope Pius XII put it succinctly: "The lay faithful find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society."