"Big Four" Highlights


Charity and Justice Meet

Book offers lessons on Catholic social teaching from the saints

Catholic social teaching is often misunderstood and seen as a source of division within the Church. For too long, the mission of pro-life Catholics to defend the dignity of the unborn has been contrasted with the goals of social justice Catholics seeking a range of goods such as a just wage and immigration reform. Yet the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person cannot be divided, a point made by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (see section 15). God’s charity, or love, unites rather than divides.

In his new book Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), Brandon Vogt examines 14 saintly men and women who bridged the false divide and serve as models for an integrated social justice view. An author, blogger and speaker, Vogt serves as content director for Word on Fire, a global Catholic media ministry founded by Father Robert Barron. Vogt and his wife, Kathleen, have four young children and live near Orlando, Florida.

Vogt corresponded recently via email with Fathers for Good associate editor Jason Godin.

Fathers for Good: Of all the saints that you examined in your book, which one most helped you better understand Catholic social justice teaching?

Brandon Vogt: It was probably Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. This young, dynamic activist, who died when he was just 24, embodied the full breadth of Catholic social teaching. He personally served the poor, visiting them in their homes and streets. He championed social reform, standing against Italian Fascism. And behind all his activity was a deep life of prayer, fueled by the rosary and the Eucharist. Pier Giorgio understood that in the poor, vulnerable and marginalized we meet Christ himself. That’s what led him to observe, “Jesus comes every day to visit me sacramentally in the Eucharist; I return the visit by going to find him among the poor.”

FFG: How do you think Pope Francis has influenced our understanding of Catholic social justice?

Vogt: By giving it flesh. It’s one thing to understand social justice as a theory, something heady and out of reach. It’s another to see it lived out so clearly and attractively. You might say he’s a living icon of the Church’s social teaching.

From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has emphasized two great themes: mercy and encounter. Catholic social teaching revolves precisely around those same poles. When we look at major themes in Catholic social teaching – like dignity, solidarity and the option for the poor – these are all general expressions of the Holy Father’s emphases on mercy and encounter.

FFG: What are some online ways that our families can live out a more authentic understanding of Catholic social justice?

Vogt: The foundation of Catholic social teaching is the life and dignity of the human person, but that’s often threatened online, especially through pornography. By rejecting pornography ourselves, and warning our children of its disastrous effects, we can take steps toward honoring the dignity of all.

Second, micro-donation [through reputable websites] … allows us to help poor and needy families, even halfway around the world. By donating small amounts like $5 or $10, we collectively help third-world entrepreneurs lift themselves out of poverty. Along the way, we enter into solidarity with them, promoting the right to dignified work.

Third, and this might be surprising, but following the Holy Father on Twitter (his username is @Pontifex) can help shape our social consciences. Every day Pope Francis tweets out prayers and updates about some of today’s gravest injustices. By following his lead, we can pray for justice alongside the global Church.

Visit Our Sunday Visitor for more information about Saints and Social Justice. All royalties from the book go to Catholic Charities USA.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good