One of my favorite parts of my job as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Intern for the Archdiocese of Seattle is the work that I get to do around education and outreach on Catholic social teaching.
At the core of Catholic social teaching is the belief that all people are made in the image of God who desires to pour forth love into the world. So, to begin this conversation with students, I often like to begin with a seemingly simple question: “Who is God? What is God like?”
Responses are often straightforward and profound: “God is present in everyone.” “God is caring and loving.” “God’s image looks like us.” “God is like a friend to me.”
When we live into our authentic call as children of God, attentive to the ways the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world, these are characteristics we are invited to model. We are called to be caring and loving, brave and powerful, like a friend, vessels of love and justice in the world.
And yet, as Pope Francis reminds us in his Lenten message: “The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, others and creation itself.”
When students are asked to brainstorm ways that life is threatened in their schools, communities, and the world, responses cover the spectrum of our shared brokenness: “Racism.” “Bullying and bad friends.” “School shootings.” “Family and school drama.” “Lack of opportunity.” “Gun violence.” “Discrimination.” “Climate change.”
As we move towards the end of this Lenten season, we know sin. We see sin’s destructive power in our lives, in broken relationships with friends and family, in the toxic and debilitating forces of shame and self-criticism, in gossip and untruths. We know sin in our communities and in our world; In the heart-breaking injustices of racism, hatred, poverty, and inequity. We both participate in and are harmed by broken systems and structures in our country and our Church. We know sin all too well.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus says: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). It is difficult to look at the world through God’s eyes of compassion. It is difficult to acknowledge our own sinfulness and the ways that we perpetuate systems of harm.
Similarly, our Lenten practices can sometimes be uncomfortable. We experience hunger during our fasting. We may experience awkwardness or discomfort in trying a new prayer practice. It is also true that embodying the invitation of Catholic social teaching can sometimes be a challenge. It is hard to consider our lives as deeply interconnected to the well-being of our neighbor, and it is challenging to know how to act out of this.
Organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) work to address the systemic roots of poverty in our communities. We must each confront the ways in which we have allowed systems and structures to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. When we learn how to identify unjust systems that undermine the dignity of God’s children, we can more authentically live out our call to Catholic social teaching. The work of CCHD and the groups it funds is unique and often creative because it goes beyond a “helping” model and into developing creative and sustainable ways of making systemic change.
Rooted in Catholic social teaching, CCHD works to embrace in new ways the realities of the preferential option for the poor, the call to family, community, and participation, the life and dignity of the human person and solidarity. CCHD responds creatively to the invitation of Catholic social teaching to bring us back into right relationship with one another. It does this in new and creative ways, and in ways that may be challenging.
During Lent, we are invited to see differently, and then to act anew. We are also invited to see that God is working in new ways through CCHD to bring us back into relationship with one another.
As we continue to move through Lent towards the new life of Easter, the invitation and wisdom of Catholic social teaching, as embodied through CCHD, patiently awaits us: Come back to who God is, come back to who we are.
As we continue to journey through Lent, take a moment and reflect on how your choices and actions reflect our call to live in right relationship with our neighbors with this examination of conscience in light of Catholic Social Teaching (also available in Spanish). Afterward, learn more about the power and work of CCHD and find ways to get involved in your community.
Claire Lucas is a senior at Seattle University studying Psychology and Theology & Religious Studies, and is currently the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern at the Archdiocese of Seattle. A self-proclaimed Catholic social teaching nerd, Claire is passionate about fostering attentiveness to the signs of the times and building communities of loving solidarity via fair-trade coffee and spontaneous dance parties.