Christianity has transformed society again and again. Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom, and the Church has tried again and again to make the kingdom real. The Church has always been concerned for human betterment.
In ancient Rome, the Church protested against gladiator fights and other forms of killing for sport. In the Middle Ages, prophetic voices in the Church were raised to defend the peasants against the tyranny of the nobles. Monasteries were the first hospitals for the sick and the first hotels for weary pilgrims. The Church has always cared for widows and orphans. It has fought against slavery, against the dehumanization of factory workers, and against the exploitation of migrant laborers. In the 1960s Catholics marched for civil rights, and today they march for the right to life in its many forms as well as for many other social causes.
Concern for the poor and the underprivileged springs directly from the Catholic understanding of holistic growth and universal salvation. God wants everyone to reach her or his full potential as a human being created in God’s image. This means first having basic human needs met and then growing to full maturity in Christ through meeting the needs of others. The Gospel is a message to be shared at every level of human life, and the good news is that God’s power is available to redeem the world.
Accepting the Catholic vision means never accepting things the way they are. People are always hurting and suffering. People always need to be healed and set free. But to stop much of the pain and hurt, society itself has to be transformed. Being Catholic means standing with those social reformers who have always wanted to change the world, making it more like God’s kingdom.
The Catholic Church has been around for a long time—nearly twenty centuries. That’s four or five times the age of the oldest Protestant denominations, and ten times as old as the United States. Belonging to a Church with that sort of history gives us a unique historical perspective. At least, it should!
Too often, we Americans live in the immediacy of the present. We forget that most of the problems we face today as individuals and as a society have been addressed by the Church for centuries. How quickly we forget that the English once were our enemies, as were the Germans and the Japanese even more recently. How quickly we forget the conversion of Russia some 1,000 years ago, and that the majority of people who live under communism are Christians. Our history shows that those who were once considered enemies can become friends.
The Gospel can be lived in any place, at any time, under any conditions. Our strong sense of roots and continuity with a rich Catholic past is certainly a value to be cherished. Ρ