By Tony DeGol
If you had to point out the best kept secret of the Catholic Church, what would it be?
In Doctor Donald Asci’s opinion, it is Catholic Social Teaching.
So much attention is focused on Church teaching involving contraception, abortion, and other key issues in society, he maintained, but how often do you hear about Catholic Social Teaching?
“The church never gets enough credit for the Catholic Social Teaching that we have and that’s wrong because they’re some of not only our best teachings, but some of our most expansive teachings,” he stressed. “We poured a lot of time and energy in this. This is not one small thing we dabbled in. This should be our flagship, this should be our hallmark – not only what the world should know about us as Catholics and what we do in our Catholic faith, but how we understand ourselves.”
And with those comments, the tone was set for a special diocesan-wide convocation on September 20 at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg.
The packed gathering served as a launch to season three of the diocesan renewal initiative ARISE Together in Christ.
Titled “In the Footsteps of Christ,” the new season, set to begin in early October and continue for six weeks, will focus on Catholic Social Teaching.
In short, Catholic Social Teaching is defined as Catholic doctrines on matters of human dignity and common good in society.
Among the principles are Human Dignity, Respect for Life, Association, Participation, Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable, Solidarity, Stewardship, Subsidiarity, Human Equality, and Common Good.
Asci, a Professor of Theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, was the keynote speaker.
He used the opportunity to focus on the deep connection between Catholic Social Teaching and Christian Discipleship.
“Catholic Social Teaching is what we believe about God and our lives together,” Doctor Asci explained. “Catholic Social Teaching is the Gospel and its impact and importance in our lives together. It really is how the Gospel can transform the world in which we live.”
Catholic Social Teaching is not the Church meddling in the world, he continued. In fact, there is a limit to what the Church can do in the world. Nor it is not the Church trying to tell citizens how to vote.
Also, Catholic Social Teaching is not the Church acting as a “know-it-all,” nor is it concrete solutions to very complex problems.
“The Church does not teach the concrete solution, but rather what our faith would lead us to in principle,” Doctor Asci clarified.
Mercy is a key aspect of Catholic Social Teaching, he added.
According to Saint Thomas Aquinis, mercy is not telling people they are fine as they are. Rather, it is that we are deeply moved by the distress of another, and we take steps to alleviate that distress.
Catholic Social Teaching calls us to imitate that sentiment, Doctor Asci insisted.
“In that way, we can be like Jesus in embodying that mercy,” he said.
Rita Redden, a member of Saint Patrick Parish in Johnstown, was among the many who attended the convocation, which was presented at no cost to participants thanks to an Impact Grant from the Independent Catholic Foundation. Redden is heavily engaged in ARISE at Saint Patrick.
“I’m being inspired to look at Catholic Social Teaching as an individual rather than as a person who has to solve the world’s problems, so I think I’ll be able to look at it with a fresher perspective and not feel so overwhelmed with the problems that we face every day in this country and in the world,” she offered.
Ryan Beiswenger was encouraged by Doctor Asci’s message that no Catholic – no matter how well-intentioned – can solve society’s problems overnight.
“You can go at it little bits at a time,” said Beiswenger, a member of Saint Joan of Arc Parish in Frugality. “Just try to tackle things that are manageable as one person or as a group.”
Added Allison Gressler of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Altoona: “I think that’s something I needed to hear because I try to tackle everything, so to know it’s just little bits at a time made me feel reassured.”
[Top photo: Diocesan ARISE Coordinator Sister Linda LaMagna, CCW, Doctor Donald Asci, Bishop Mark, and Milissa Else of RENEW International, which offers the ARISE program.]
[Inset photo: Rita Redden, a member of Saint Patrick Parish in Johnstown, takes notes during the convocation.]