Catholic social teaching is often directed outward: challenging individuals, institutions, and communities to explore ways in which behaviors and structures can be improved in order to enhance the well-being of people who have little access to material resources or political authority.
The author of the Gospel of Luke writes with an eye toward “social justice.” Jesus was able to take multiple perspectives on the social situation of his day. As the adopted son of a carpenter from a remote outpost in the Roman Empire, Jesus had a “peasant perspective.” He could identify with the anawim. As Jesus matured and grew to understand his divinely appointed mission, he also took on the role of advocate. In this role, he became immensely popular…and with some folks, he became persona non grata, including in his hometown! When Jesus announced his calling by reading Is 61:1-2 to the people in the synagogue, they moved to throw him off a cliff. Undeterred, Jesus slipped away from the angry mob and began his ministry.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus took time to pray, often in deserted places. He would return frequently to the crowds of people who sought his companionship, his teaching, and his healing. He would also respond to his critics, out of love, seeking to bring everyone into his vision of the reign of God.
Contemporary spiritual writers remind contemporary social justice advocates that a sane work-life balance is necessary, especially if one’s commitment to change the world is going to last over the long-term.
Dutch priest Henry Nouwen wrote, “Busyness has become a sign of importance. Having much to do, many places to go, and countless people to meet gives us status and even fame.” Yet, he continues, “Actions that lead to overwork, exhaustion, and burnout can’t praise and glory God. What God calls us to do we can do and do well.” (Can You Drink the Cup, 108, 109-110)
Trappist monk Thomas Merton shared a similar perspective: “A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.” He continues, “Now work no longer interferes with prayer or prayer with work. Now contemplation no longer needs to be a special ‘state’ that removes one from the ordinary things going on around him for God penetrates all. One does not have to think of giving an account of oneself to anyone but [God].” (Thoughts in Solitude, 84, 85).
These exhortations urge individuals to care for themselves, too. Such care-taking aligns with and even fulfills the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially “the dignity of the human person.” As John Paul II reminded everyone, “We are all really responsible for all.” The advocates and the anawim, need to be attentive to how they maintain and support their own sense of self as made in the image and likeness of God, which includes taking time to pray, balancing commitments, and rededicating oneself to the service of others.
See: Henry Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup, tenth anniversary edition, foreword by Ron Hansen. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2006.
See: Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Associate Professor, Religious Studies