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Book ReviewsWant to know more about Catholic Social Teaching? Here’s a primer

Catholic Social Teaching Collection Catholic Social Teaching Collection/ Word on Fire

A Catholic president who prays the rosary and receives Holy Communion, but opposes fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church has sparked a debate and – one hopes – renewed interest in the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

Word on Fire, the ever-expanding ministry of Bishop Robert Barron, has made a significant contribution to the conversation with the publication of its new “Catholic Social Teaching Collection,” an intelligent selection of key texts that provides a true primer for those who want to be initiated in the social doctrine of the Church, and a reference book for those already aware of it.

In explaining the reason for publishing this collection, the editors argue: “Catholic social teaching—when it is not distorted or misrepresented—is famously confounding to the pundits and politicos, both left and right. How can the Catholic Church simultaneously advocate against abortion and assisted suicide but for immigration reform and attention to the poor? How can it stand against the abuse of the environment and for the free market, against the death penalty and for the family?”

The “both/and” dynamic of Catholic Social Teaching may be lost to non-Catholics. But even among Catholics, the main problem is sheer ignorance: is not unusual to find Catholics unaware of the long and rich history of how the Catholic tradition, from the very beginning, has forcefully responded to how we live in this world as Christians.

The volume, in this regard, is extremely useful: the first part provides the texts – some in full, some in excerpts – of 14 documents of the Magisterium, from Rerum Novarum to Laudato Si'. The second part goes back to the texts of both the Old and New Testaments related to our unescapable duties regarding our fellow human beings and creation. This part also provides snapshots of what saints and scholars – from the Church Fathers to St. Oscar Romero – have taught with words and deeds about loving our neighbor and striving for a just order in this earth.

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Except for the brief foreword from Bishop Barron, the book lets the Magisterium speak for itself, peppered with commentary from exemplary Catholics throughout history. This allows the reader to connect directly with the primary sources, rather than other people’s interpretations of them.

This primer on Catholic Social Teaching does not pretend to be totally comprehensive. Instead, it is designed to intrigue the reader to learn more.

Most importantly, as the foreword explains, the purpose of the collection “is to reveal its metaphysical heart—namely, God. With God out of the picture, it is indeed hard to make sense of the array of opinions the Church holds. But with God at the heart of things, the positions fall into harmony, much like the medallions in a rose window. If God exists, then every individual person is a subject of rights, freedom, and dignity. If God exists, then no one is expendable and everyone is equally worthy of respect.”

Catholic Social Teaching Collection, Word on Fire

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