Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A God of Life, a Civilization of Love: Justice, Mission, and Catholic Social Teaching

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A God of Life, a Civilization of Love: Justice, Mission, and Catholic Social Teaching

Article excerpt

Abstract

The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Republic of Korea, presents a unique opportunity to reflect on an ecumenical theology of mission. This article draws on Roman Catholic perspectives and specifically asks how Catholic social teaching can contribute to this international and inclusive discussion. Connecting some central principles of this teaching to the core theme of the Busan assembly, the author argues that the central aim of Catholic social teaching is to proclaim a God of life and build a civilization of love. As it fosters justice and peace, the church seeks to globalize solidarity and make more visible the invisible heart of God.

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The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Busan, Republic of Korea, marks an important moment in the construction of an ecumenical theology of mission. Guided by the theme, "God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace," the WCC has reached out to many different Christian denominations in hopes of clarifying a common thread of faith and justice that binds the body of Christ together. In a preparatory document entitled "Together Towards Life," the WCC noted,

   It is the aim of this ecumenical discernment to seek vision,
   concepts and directions for a renewed understanding and practice of
   mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It seeks a broad
   appeal, even wider than WCC member churches and affiliated mission
   bodies, so that we can commit ourselves together to fullness of
   life for all, led by the God of Life! (1)

In light of this focus, my goal in this article is to expand our theological understanding of "God of Life" and add some Roman Catholic perspectives to this search for an ecumenical theology of mission. I do so as a Catholic priest and North American theologian who does research in the areas of Christian theology, global migration, justice, and peace. (2) In the pages that follow I will first look at some broad considerations of justice and peace from the perspective of Christian theology. Secondly, I will examine how these perspectives are articulated in modern Catholic social teaching (CST) and its central framework, which deals with the proclamation of a God of Life. Thirdly, I will suggest that this message in turn orients the universal church towards one central mission, which Pope Paul VI described as building "a civilization of love." Alongside missiological perspectives of other communities, I believe CST can help us clarify together both the principles that shape our vision of mission and how these same principles might help us to elucidate our response to the most urgent and critical social issues of our times. My hope is that in this process we might discover together new ways in which discipleship in the modern world expresses itself by making visible the invisible heart of God, (3) especially in the face of the injustices of today's society.

Justice and peace from a Christian perspective

Poverty, like injustice, is a complex and multidimensional issue. (4) It is beyond the scope of this article to address its manifold aspects, but a brief socio-economic snapshot can ground our theological discussion in some important areas related to distributive and social justice.

Today nearly seven billion people live on our planet. If we were to proportionally scale this number to a village of 100 people, we could get a better sense of its dimensions. In such a global village, the single richest person in the village owns 40% of its wealth. The 6 richest own half of its wealth. And 51 live on less than $2 per day. From the perspective of basic human needs, 82 people live in underdeveloped areas; 40 lack basic sanitation; 13 do not have access to clean drinking water; 25 live in substandard housing; 13 suffer from malnutrition; 7 have a college education, 7 are unable to read and write; (5) and 3 are migrants. (6)

Although the problems of injustice have been with us throughout history, their dimensions today have reached an unprecedented scale. …

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