justice for us: Catholic social teaching at home
What does it mean to live justly in the world today? How does our faith invite us to work for peace and justice wherever we are – even at home?
My friend Haley wrote a wonderful book on how her family embraced a counter-cultural lifestyle of seeking the Gospel more intentionally – The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture.
Inspired by her example (and wishing I could have read her book years ago), I’ve been reflecting on how Catholic social teaching has informed and inspired our parenting in big and small ways.
I hesitated to share this because we struggle daily with living out these parts of our faith. (I’d rather tell you to go read Haley’s book instead!) But what I loved most about The Grace of Enough were the practical ideas to start small in your own life.
When I shared these thoughts on Instagram, many of you asked if I’d be willing to write them up – so voila! If you’d like to read Haley’s book, check out the bottom of the post for your chance to win a copy.
Catholic social teaching & family life
Catholic social teaching set my faith on fire as a young adult. I loved learning how the Church calls us to act for justice as an integral part of our faith.
Over the years I have come to see Catholic social teaching as a call to conversion. When you start to learn the depths of how we are called us to be in the world as Christians – in radical, compassionate, just ways – the more your life changes as you listen to this call.
In our family we fall short and compromise these beliefs in daily ways; we still have so far to grow. But these small, stumbling starts are important. Changing the world starts at home.
For each of the 7 principles of Catholic social teaching, I’ve offered one concrete example of a small way we try to live these out in our family. I’d love to hear how you’re connecting these values with your daily life, too.
Life & dignity of the human person
The foundational principle of Catholic social teaching is that human life is sacred. We are called to respect and protect life from conception to natural death.
With our family: We try to use “person-first” language. For example, when the kids offer to pray for “homeless people, poor people, sick people,” during our evening prayer together, I gently rephrase their petition: “Let’s pray for people who are homeless, people who are sick, people who are poor, etc.”
We’re not being politically correct; we’re putting the dignity of the human person first. It’s a subtle nuance, but it makes a difference. We’re praying for our brothers and sisters.
What defines each of us is that we are a human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
Call to family, community, and participation
Catholic social teaching reminds us that humans are not just sacred, but social. All people have the right to participate in society for the common good.
With our family: We try to talk to our kids in ways that are participatory. For example, when a child protests that a decision is unfair, I’ll say, “Talk to me about it. If you think you should be able to do x, let’s see if we can work toward a compromise.”
I try to explain that hearing their perspective doesn’t mean we’ll change our mind as parents on a given decision, but it does mean that we respect our children. We want to hear what they have to say.
Yes, it takes more time and patience to explain rather than order. But when possible, we aim to talk to our kids in ways that invite them to be full members of our family.
Rights & responsibilities
Catholic social teaching insists that human dignity can be respected only when fundamental human rights are protected. Corresponding to these rights are responsibilities – to each other, our family, and the wider society.
With our family: We call household chores “responsibilities” for both adults and kids. This mindset reminds us how we all need to pitch in for our household to work – and how even the youngest children can grow into more rights and responsibilities each year.
Honoring each child’s rights and responsibilities shapes kids’ self-understanding, too. When one of our sons asked (without prompting!) if he could start pulling the garbage cans down to the curb – having seen his dad do it and wanting to do the same – I saw how this responsibility affirmed his worth and dignity and his place in our family.
Option for the poor & vulnerable
The best explanation I’ve heard for the option for the poor comes from family life.
When one of your children falls and gets hurt, you run to that child with laser focus. It doesn’t mean you love your other children any less in that instant of concern – simply that you know one of them needs you acutely right now. The option for the poor means that God has special concern for the poor that we are called to emulate, too.
With our family: I use our grocery shopping to think about how much we’re giving to local food shelves and hunger advocacy organizations. If I can spend extra to buy organic or get snacks for my kids, then I can spend at least that much to give extra to those in real need.
Of course I love the children in my family first and foremost, but I can’t forget about other children. As a parent I am called to help feed others and to work toward a world where children don’t go hungry. The option for the poor reminds me there is no such thing as other people’s children in the Body of Christ.
The dignity of work and the rights of workers
Catholic social teaching upholds that humans are called to work as a participation in God’s creation. Workers have basic rights that must be respected, including the right to safe working conditions and just wages.
With our family: We try to buy fair-trade and ethically sourced goods where we can. Buying second-hand clothes for our kids has been a huge step toward this goal. When we do buy new, I try to support companies with good working practices and ethically sourced materials and labor.
We also try to watch how consumerism creeps into our house, the temptation to want more, better, faster, easier, and shinier. How can we try to temper our desires and live more simply instead?
(We have a long way to go in this regard, so I loved Haley’s book for practical inspiration!)
Catholic social teaching reminds us that we are one human family. Despite our differences, we are called to work with our brothers and sisters toward peace and justice for those who are suffering and oppressed.
With our family: When the immigration crisis in our country heated to boiling earlier this year, I had to act – as many of you did. When the kids saw me writing letters and calling our representatives, they noticed. Now when they see me sitting down to my computer, they’ll ask, “Are you writing letters again, to help immigrants?” (I’m humbled say that no, I’m usually not.)
But the reminder that they’re watching spurs me on. I want my children to see that their parents are willing to speak up and act on behalf of others. Solidarity is a call we all share.
Care for God’s Creation
Catholic social teaching insists upon wise stewardship of creation in partnership with God the Creator. We must care for the planet and the people who live on it, as an act of faith.
With our family: Care for creation has impacted many big and small decisions we’ve made for our family: cloth diapering, composting, gardening, recycling, thrifting. None of it ever feels like enough. But every time we roll the garbage cans down to the curb, I’m reminded that the less we put in the landfill, the better stewards of creation we can become.
Every small step gives us the chance to live out our values and teach our kids, who are always watching (for better and for worse). For every time I fail or fall short, I figure God gives another chance to try again tomorrow. We’re growing together, and all of that is grace.
Win a copy for yourself!
What’s one way you try to work for justice in your everyday life? Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of The Grace of Enough.
Entries will be accepted until October 14, 2018, at 11:59 pm CT. The winner will be notified by email on October 15.
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By teaching my children detachment to worldly things and to be generous.
Thank you for this post. I do not think of these things enough and am grateful to read some practical ways I can start implementing Catholic social teaching more within my own life.
Thank you and I would love to read Haley’s book.
Beautifully written post, as always – love the ‘person-first’ language examples. I remember writing proposals for a healthcare company and we would be careful to say ‘people with disabilities.’
Love this post and I’d love to read Haley’s book!
I have seen Haley’s book floating around on the other blogs I read, but truly didn’t know this was its focus. I’m very impressed and very intrigued!
I feel like I am constantly falling short of fulfilling these Social Teachings and it is most apparent when I see my poor habits in my kids. They do catch on to some good habits, we pray in the car when we witness an accident of the side of the road and we lessen our waste by shopping secondhand, but I wish that I could be setting a better example.
Thank you for sharing this and for the chance to win a copy of this amazing book, I would love to read it.
Thank you so much for these inspiring ideas, Laura! My oldest daughter just turned two and we’ve been teaching her what ‘garbage’ and ‘recycling’ are (funny how explaining something to a toddler can distill your beliefs!). Now when we are at the park and she notices trash left behind, I remind her that it’s not supposed to be on the ground and needs to be disposed of properly. She now offers to ‘put it away’ in the trash or recycle…followed by a healthy handwashing! It’s a small example but we are teaching her to be a good steward of the environment and the resources God has given us.
I am Protestant, but discovered CST at my Jesuit grad school and am glad to think more about how to incorporate these ideas in our family. Thank you!
What an answer to prayer this book is! I can’t wait to check it out.