The words of John Paul II have been echoed by his successors. Both Benedict XVI and Francis have had sharp criticisms for Marxism and for an "unbridled capitalism" that relies entirely upon the machinations of the free market, without recognizing the need for values that can only be upheld through intentional human action.
So what does the Church propose? John Paul II clarifies: "The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another."
In other words, it's up to Catholics to work for the best solution we can in our current circumstances.
What does it mean to put the Church's social teaching into practice in 21st century America? It's a complex question, but before we can even start proposing answers, we need to know what the Church's social teaching is.
What does it mean to say that the dignity of the human person "is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine," or to say that "society and the State exist for the family"? What are the principles of the common good, solidarity, and subsidiarity? What is the universal destination of goods and how does it relate to private property? What is the preferential option for the poor?
Again and again, the bishops have clarified that it is not the Church's role to tell people whom to vote for at the ballot box. Rather, the Church talks about issues and principles. To understand what the Church teaches about the issues - from abortion to migration - and to exercise the prudential judgment necessary to turn those ideas into policies, we must first understand the foundational principles. John Paul II describes the Church's social teaching as "an indispensable and ideal orientation," a viewpoint, and a framework on which to build.
As we enter into what is certain to be a heated election year, why not make it a (belated) New Years Resolution to learn more about Catholic social teaching? Centesimus Annus is a great place to start. So is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. To catechists, teachers, and members of the clergy: Why not resolve to teach the Church's social doctrines more frequently, to help equip Catholics as they prepare to vote?
Educating ourselves on these issues can help us be better citizens, and better Catholics. In the words of Pope Francis: "A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern."