Sacramental Social Doctrine | William L. Patenaude | Catholic World Report
Authentic Catholic endeavors for social justice must be rooted in the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ.
In their elusive quest for social justice, civil authorities have over the centuries learned much from the Church. As a result, a great many forms of state-sponsored welfare—especially in the growing liberality of the West—are a testament to the two-thousand-year presence of the Gospel and the outpouring of grace in the seven sacraments.
Modern social activists have largely forgotten this. Indeed, the idea that the Church is responsible for the West’s charitable genetic code is unintelligible for many.
This amnesia is a threat to social cohesion and to the state’s desire to attain what is right and just. In forgetting the role Christianity, the West not only forgets its identity but also its strength. Thus it will fail to achieve such goals as universal health care, expansive forms of welfare, and the moral foundations that make civilization possible. In time, as state-mandated compassion meets its limits (financial and otherwise), civil authorities must and will conclude—either through reason or empirical evidence—that governments can only do so much when they actively restrict the presence of God.
The state seeks social and civil justice primarily through the passing and enforcing of laws. In contrast, the Church speaks in her catechism of proposing principles for reflection; providing criteria for judgment; and offering guidelines for action (§2423). The Church does not dictate particular political or social policies. Rather, she hopes to baptize people and cultures in two ways: with the offering of her teachings and with the grace of God.
When we consider the former, the relationship between the Church’s social doctrines and society has a sacramental character—a relation that seeks not to destroy the nature of human cultures and start from scratch, but to challenge, engage, and, hopefully, elevate them.