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How You Can Build
A Better World

The U.S. bishops’ Everyday Christianity condensed

One of the great challenges for Christians is as old as our faith, but it takes on special urgency today as we approach the Third Christian Millennium. How do we connect worship on Sunday to work on Monday? How is the gospel proclaimed not only in the pulpits of our parishes, but also in the everyday lives of Christian people? How can we best carry the values of our faith into family life, the marketplace and the public square?

In these reflections, we highlight one essential dimension of the lay vocation which is sometimes overlooked or neglected: the social mission of Christians in the world. Every believer is called to serve "the least of these," to "hunger and thirst for justice," to be a "peacemaker." Catholics are called by God to protect human life, to promote human dignity, to defend the poor and to seek the common good. This social mission of the Church belongs to all of us. It is an essential part of what it is to be a believer.

This social mission is advanced in many ways—by the prophetic teaching of our Holy Father; by the efforts of our bishops' conference; and by many structures of charity and justice within our community of faith. But the most common and, in many ways, the most important Christian witness is often neither very visible nor highly structured.

It is the sacrifice of parents trying to raise children with concern for others; the service and creativity of workers who do their best and reach out to those in need; the struggle of business owners trying to reconcile the bottom line and the needs of employees and customers; and the hard choices of public officials who seek to protect the weak and pursue the common good. The Church's social mission is advanced by teachers and scientists, by family farmers and bankers, by salespersons and entertainers.

Working for justice in everyday life is not easy. There are complex and sometimes difficult challenges encountered by women and men as they try to live their faith in the world. We applaud the efforts of all Catholics to live the gospel by pursuing justice and peace in their everyday choices and commitments.

Let's make a better world

Catholicism does not call us to abandon the world, but to help shape it. This does not mean leaving worldly tasks and responsibilities, but transforming them. Catholics are everywhere in this society. We are corporate executives and migrant farmworkers, senators and welfare recipients, university presidents and day-care workers, tradesmen and farmers, office and factory workers, union leaders and small business owners. Our entire community of faith must help Catholics to be instruments of God's grace and creative power in business and politics, factories and offices, in homes and schools and in all the events of daily life.

We begin at home. Our families are the starting point and the center of a vocation for justice. How we treat our parents, spouses and children is a reflection of our commitment to Christ's love and justice. We demonstrate our commitment to the gospel by how we spend our time and money, and whether our family life includes an ethic of charity, service and action for justice.

Workplace justice. Workers are called to pursue justice. In the Catholic tradition, work is not a burden. Work is a way of supporting our family, realizing our dignity, promoting the common good and participating in God's creation. Decisions made at work can make important contributions to an ethic of justice. Catholics have the often difficult responsibility of choosing between competing values in the workplace. This is a measure of holiness. Associations that enable workers, owners or managers to pursue justice often make the witness of the individual more effective.

Business decisions. Owners, managers and investors face important opportunities to seek justice and pursue peace. Ethical responsibility is not just avoiding evil, but doing right, especially for the weak and vulnerable. Decisions about the use of capital have moral implications: Are they creating and preserving quality jobs at living wages? Are they building up community through the goods and services they provide? While economic returns are important, they should not take precedence over the rights of workers or protection of the environment.

Buying decisions. As consumers, believers can promote social justice or injustice. In an affluent culture that suggests that what we have defines who we are, we can live more simply. When we purchase goods and services, we can choose to support companies that defend human life, treat workers fairly, protect creation and respect other basic moral values at home and abroad. We can also make conscious efforts to consume less.

Stewardship. People who use their skills and expertise for the common good, the service of others and the protection of creation are good stewards of the gifts they have been given. When we labor with honesty, serve those in need, work for justice and contribute to charity, we use our talents to show our love—and God's love—for our brothers and sisters.

Political choices. As citizens in the world's leading democracy, Catholics in the United States have special responsibilities to protect human life and dignity and to stand with those who are poor and vulnerable. We are also called to welcome the stranger, to combat discrimination, to pursue peace and to promote the common good. Catholic social teaching calls us to practice civic virtues and offers us principles to shape participation in public life. The voices and votes of lay Catholics are needed to shape a society with greater respect for human life, economic and environmental justice, cultural diversity and global solidarity.

Supporting the 'Salt of the Earth'

There is simply no substitute for Catholic men and women carrying their faith into the world. Everyday discipleship for justice and the Church's organized social ministry can reinforce one another and help shape a more just society and more peaceful world.

Parishes are essential sources of support and encouragement for Christian discipleship. At their best, parishes help believers prepare and go forth to live the gospel in everything we do.

The Sunday liturgy sends us forth to renew the earth and build up God's kingdom of justice and peace. We encourage our pastors and preachers to listen to their parishioners on the challenges of their daily lives and help bring the insight of the gospel and the principles of Catholic teaching to these experiences. We affirm prayer and worship which help believers apply the gospel to everyday situations.

Across the country, there are examples of Catholic men and women gathering in small groups to examine the moral dimensions of their lives and work. They enlarge their vision beyond the immediate and the individual experience when they are enabled to examine the structures and processes that shape social life.

Catholic schools and religious education programs provide important lessons about living a life of justice and compassion, and promoting participation in civic life. Many parishes participate in legislative networks and community organizing projects that involve parishioners in working for justice.

In thousands of parishes, other social ministry efforts provide valuable opportunities to help believers make choices about their time, money and talents that reflect the justice demands of the gospel. These parishes are convinced that the mystery of Jesus' life, death and resurrection unfolds within human life.

We applaud these efforts and urge our parishes to do even more. Our culture often suggests that religion is a private matter, to be tolerated as long as it is detached from our lives as workers and citizens. Catholic men and women look to our parishes to find the support, tools and concrete help they need to resist this tendency and instead proclaim Christ's love, justice and peace in everything they do.

Catholics need to support one another as we take up these difficult tasks, helping each other to have the courage of our convictions, to stand up for what we believe and to practice in our own lives what the Scriptures proclaim.

Pope John Paul II has declared 2000 a holy year of jubilee. For the Great Jubilee of 2000, our bishops' conference is promoting a "Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice and Peace" as one concrete way for believers to commit to renewed prayer, reflection, service and action (see The Jubilee Pledge below).

A call to Jubilee justice

The beginning of the third millennium is especially significant for followers of Jesus. The year 2000 is a holy year, a time of favor, a reminder that we live and work in a time of special grace between the Incarnation of Jesus and his Second Coming. What does the Jubilee mean for us?

The land belongs to God. We are stewards. The jubilee was an ideal, a reminder that Yahweh, the creator of all, was the true owner of creation and that those who live in a covenant relationship with Yahweh must also seek right and just relationships with all people. The pious Israelite knew that the land was a gift from God. The land and all it signified—work, material goods, financial security, the practices of economic and everyday life—were to be understood within the context of one's relationship with God.

All gifts of creation, including personal talents and abilities, first of all belong to God. The devout Israelite was a steward of God's goods. Natural resources and human talents were to serve all with a particular concern for the poor and weak.

A time to restore freedom and cancel debts. The "year of the Lord's favor" was a time to proclaim "liberty in the land for all" (Lv. 25:10), to "bring good news to the poor" and "let the oppressed go free" (Is. 61). It was a time to restore freedom and justice among people, to reestablish relationships of equality, remedy the conditions that kept people oppressed (Is. 61), to cancel debts (Dt. 15).

The jubilee was intended to relieve the burdens of the weak and give people an opportunity to start anew. There was a clear social message in the jubilee. The jubilee year was an invitation for people to see their lives from a divine perspective: All that they were and all they did should be in accord with God's will for building a community of justice, mercy, love and peace.

Like the ancient Israelites in their time, Catholic laypersons today ought to see the coming Jubilee as a call to renewed practice of charity, pursuit of justice, welcome to the stranger and new efforts to permit all to participate in the life of the community.

We encourage you to read the entire text of Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, which can be ordered from the bishops' conference at 800-235-USCC or read from their Web site, www.nccbuscc.org.

Next: Being Truly Catholic Today (by Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B.)


The Jubilee Pledge
For Charity, Justice and Peace

As disciples of Jesus in the new millennium, I/we pledge to:

PRAY regularly for justice and peace.
LEARN more about Catholic social teaching and its call to protect human life, stand with the poor and care for creation.
REACH across boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender and disabling conditions.
LIVE justly in family life, school, work, the marketplace and the political arena.
SERVE those who are poor and vulnerable, sharing more time and talent.
GIVE more generously to those in need at home and abroad.
ADVOCATE for public policies that protect human life, promote human dignity, preserve God's creation and build peace.
ENCOURAGE others to work for greater charity, justice and peace.


Bringing the Jubilee Pledge to Life

THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS, based on the Jubilee Pledge, were spelled out by various staff members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pray for justice and peace. When you pray, reflect on how you have succeeded—and failed—to serve the poor and to work for justice and peace in your daily life. Pray especially for people who are vulnerable. Choose each day to recall a specific group, a region of the world, or those adversely affected by a recent event, such as a flood, fire, war or natural disaster. Include this group in your personal prayer, during prayers at meals and other times of family sharing.

Learn about social teaching. Catholic social teaching is a rich resource. Periodically read about some aspect of Catholic social teaching in religious publications and on the Internet (for example, the U.S. bishops' site at www.nccbuscc.org, or Catholic Update at www.AmericanCatholic.org). A good starting point is the bishops' summary of key themes entitled A Century of Social Teaching. Be up-to-date on such justice issues as racism, death penalty, international debt, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, sex and media violence.

Reach across the boundaries. Build bridges across boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender and disabling condition. In your parish, neighborhood, school, civic group and workplace, make a special effort to respect and to include those who are different from you. If you are in a decisionmaking position affecting others, examine whether you treat those who are different fairly.

Live justly. The most important opportunities to work for justice and peace do not come through special programs, but in the choices we make and the way we treat others every day. Seize opportunities to promote justice and peace at home, through your financial decisions, in your parish, at school, at work and in community activities. When you pay for services, tip adequately when tips are expected to supplement low incomes.

Serve the poor. Volunteer regularly in your parish, with Catholic Charities or with other organizations that serve the poor and vulnerable, defend life, care for the earth and work for peace. For example, help at a local shelter or food bank, join the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Ladies of Charity, help clean up a river or collect food at work for those in need. Contact your diocesan social concerns office or branch of Catholic Charities to volunteer.

Give generously. The Church's collections for the poor offer opportunities to share what we have. Most dioceses have local appeals to fund Catholic Charities and other organizations. You can work for greater justice and peace at home and around the world by supporting the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, Propagation of the Faith, efforts to aid the Church in Latin America and in Eastern Europe, and the work of other organizations promoting justice and peace. To educate children, let them help decide which charities the family will support and how each family member can contribute to the family's donation to a charity.

Advocate policies that promote human dignity. Advocacy can be done for people and with them. Join a diocesan legislative network, pro-life group or another peace and advocacy group. Join a community organizing effort. Register and vote in light of a conscience formed by Catholic social teaching. Write or call your elected representatives on issues of life, justice and peace. Contact your parish or diocesan social ministry leaders for information.

Encourage others. The Great Jubilee and the new millennium are a time to strengthen our participation in building God's Kingdom. We can do this not only by renewing our commitment to charity, justice and peace but also by encouraging others to do so. Use the Jubilee Pledge in this Update, sign it as a family or share it with a friend. As you act on this pledge, ask a friend or family member to join you, or share with them information on what you are learning or doing. *

Resources such as the Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice and Peace parish kit, pledge brochures and posters, or A Parish Guide to the Jubilee Year, including a national activities calendar, can be ordered from the USCC (1-800-235-8722).

This document is adapted from Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, copyright 1998, and The Jubilee Pledge, copyright 1998, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Provided by Catholic News Service. Used with permission.


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