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Christian Discipleship: Living out the Church’s Social Teaching
by Dan Mulhall

The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2009 is “Celebrate Service.” This title was chosen, according to Karen Ristau, the president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) because “Civic engagement is a hallmark of Catholic education.” Catholic schools week is jointly sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and by the NCEA.

Christian service is such a big part of Catholic education—whether in the Catholic school, a parish program, or when parents teach their children at home—because Christian service is one of the primary ways that Catholics express their faith in Jesus Christ and live as his disciples.

The principles behind Christian service are summarized into the body of teaching that is commonly called Catholic Social Teaching (CST). This teaching was collected and published by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace in the document The Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church (June 29, 2004). The US Bishops have also published a document to help us know, understand, and teach the Church’s social teaching. This document is called Sharing Catholic Social Teaching (1999).

Catholic Social Teaching is a key part of the Church’s magisterial teaching (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2037). It offers a systematic approach for finding solutions to the problems we face in our every day lives. The aim of this social teaching is to change the world through the actions and attitudes of Catholics everywhere: that’s what disciples of Jesus Christ are called to do!

Catholic schools and catechetical programs focus on Christian service projects so that students and their parents can experience living out the Corporal or Spiritual Works of Mercy. Living Catholic Social Teaching helps to define both “who we are” and “whose we are.”

The Church’s social doctrine developed over the last 120 years to express the tremendous changing that have occurred in the world during that time. This teaching has been explained in ten letters from the pope and gatherings of bishops to provide guidance for Christians to live in the modern world. The ten letters are 

Rerum Novarum  (On Capital and Labor) 1891 
Quadragesimo Anno (Reconstruction of the Social Order) 1931           
Mater et Magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress) 1961
Pacem in Terris (Justice, Charity, Liberty) 1963
Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) 1965
Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) 1967                       
Octogesima Adveniens  (Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum) 1971
Justicia in Mundo (Justice in the World) 1971
Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) 1981
Sollicitudo rei socialis (On Social Concern) 1987
Centesimus Annus (Hundred Anniversary of Rerum Novarum) 1991

The US Bishops in their document Sharing Catholic Social Teaching summarize the CST into seven themes. These themes are

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God’s Creation


These themes provide an easy shorthand to help us live as disciples. How can you help your students to

  • Treat everyone with dignity and respect whether they are illegal immigrants, on death row, or your next-door neighbor?
  • Live Christian lives as members of a community, whether that is in a family, a parish, a small town, or a mega-city? CST supports the rights and responsibilities of these communities and encourages Catholics to participate actively in them.
  • Recognize that all of God’s creation has rights and responsibilities that must be respected?
  • Care for those among us who are poor and vulnerable, those who are special in God’s eyes? The Church teaches that we should have a fundamental option in favor of the poor and vulnerable. This message comes from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25, and the Church’s summary of this teaching found in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Use this worksheet [Joseph, Gr. 3, BAW SC p. 75 to be attached to the word worksheet] to help your students grow in awareness of this responsibility.
  • Protect the rights of workers so that they can experience work as a privilege, a way for humanity to participate in God’s creative efforts? Work should never become an unacceptable burden and workers have certain rights to what they produce and the means to produce them.
  • Stand together in solidarity to support all other human beings when they are being mistreated or abused in any way? There are no exceptions to this. This activity [Joseph—Faith First Legacy School, Gr. 6, pp. 235-236 to be attached to link] offers ways for your students to think about how they can stand in solidarity with others.
  • Love and respect all of God’s creation: animals, nature, even the Earth itself?

Taken together, these seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching provide us with clear guidance as to how we are to live as disciples of Jesus. Just remember that the Church’s social teaching is not just a matter of following rules; it is a matter of following Jesus.



By Jacquie Jambor

Catholic Schools Week, celebrated each year in January, is a tradition that began in 1974. It celebrates the considerable achievement of the children, parents, teachers and administrators affiliated with the 8,000 Catholic schools throughout the United States. The celebration involves 2.5 million students and 165,000 teachers.

So, as we once again recognize Catholic education and all its accomplishments, consider this: Why do you send your child to Catholic school? For many parents, the answer may be as simple as “I went to Catholic school so my children will also.” For others, the question resurfaces each year as you plan for the financial obligations involved. Perhaps you’ve been questioned about your choice by non-Catholic relatives.

When we make school choices, we are entrusting our most precious treasure—our children—to those teachers and administrators. We trust them to provide a safe environment for our children. We expect our children to be physically safe and protected from ridicule and bullying. Fear is a major impediment to learning. Did you choose your Catholic school because it respects the dignity of every person and provides safety for your child?

No matter how fine a school is, no school can compensate for what is lacking in the family. As parents we are responsible for the spiritual, emotional, moral, intellectual, and physical development of our children. While your Catholic school nurtures this development as well, it cannot and should not replace your obligation. Did you choose your Catholic school because it partners with you in fostering your child’s development?

Education is an important element in every child’s life. Whether your child requires remedial assistance or eagerly searches out enrichment opportunities, you want that child to be in the best school possible. Did you choose your Catholic school because it provides a supportive as well as stimulating learning environment?

Without a doubt, religion is an essential part of Catholic schools on many different levels. The powerful influence of living each school day in an atmosphere of gospel values and prayer is invaluable. Life lived in a school community of believers shapes behaviors and attitudes. Examining social studies and current events through the prism of faith adds a critical dimension to learning. Did you choose your Catholic school because of its religious focus?

As you evaluate your reasons for choosing Catholic education, here are 5 things you can do to support your child and partner with your school.

  • Know your school principal.
  • Know and communicate with your child’s teacher.
  • Volunteer at your child’s school.
  • Participate in school programs and family events.
  • Support the school’s rules and regulations.

Most importantly, support your child’s religious formation by regularly praying and attending Mass as a family.

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