Social Justice and the Mass

Social Justice and the Mass

By Brian Vetter, C.S.C.

“Are you a ‘social justice’ kind of Catholic or a ‘churchy’ kind of Catholic?” This question, in one form or another, is fairly common in my experience. Unfortunately, it reflects an unhealthy and damaging view of ourselves as a Church. This false dichotomy implies that Catholics must choose between praying in a chapel or working in a soup kitchen. This could not be further from the truth of our Christian identity. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to go to Mass to receive the Eucharist, cultivating an ever-deepening friendship with our Lord, and then go forth into the world and struggle for justice. Just as we say that Mass should be a regular part of our lives, actively building God’s Kingdom of justice and peace should also be a regular part of our lives, because both at Mass and in working for social justice, we make God’s abundant, self-emptying love present and tangible to our broken world.

I spent this summer in Phoenix, Arizona, working at Andre House, a center run by the Congregation of Holy Cross for people experiencing homelessness. While there was a lot of work to do to meet guest’s basic needs of food, hygiene, and clothing, it would be incomplete for the mission of Andre House to stop there. There were a number of actions taken by the city of Phoenix that further dehumanized our friends living on the streets and made their lives more challenging than they already were. Social justice, defined as right relationships between different members of society in accord with our God-given human dignity, was and is at stake. As a Catholic organization, we could not continue to have Mass regularly while standing silent and passive as the people we love and cherish, people we know as friends, are treated with such neglect. At Mass every day, when I would look outside the window behind the altar with a clear view of one of the street corners, I saw members of the Body of Christ, people Jesus himself proclaimed to be “blessed.” The Eucharist I was receiving at Mass, in which we are strengthened to be the hands and feet of Jesus, compelled me to try to do my part to build a society in which we could tear down structures of oppression that set us as people against one another in violence and hatred. We at Andre House cannot claim to love our guests if we are not willing to stand side by side with them to fight for their dignity against the structural injustice they face every day. When someone on the margins has been a victim of injustice all of his or her life, it can be especially challenging for that person to believe that there is anyone on earth or in heaven who loves and cares for him or her. It is heart wrenching how common that belief is among us. As Christians, we must imitate Christ to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, and let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18-19). We show our love for the poor, the captives, and the oppressed through encountering one another and working side by side to tear down the walls and barriers that keep us from standing together in love as brothers and sisters in Christ.

At every Mass, we get a foretaste of heaven. We all gather around the table of the Lord as equals, sharing the meal of our Lord and becoming more fully one body in Christ. The Eucharist strengthens us and pushes us forth out of the church doors to bring about this vision to the whole world, as we fulfill the final proclamation at Mass to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Whatever our state of life, we live in a broken world and will inevitably encounter injustice in our daily lives: in our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. Evidence of the margins is everywhere. Our vocation as Christians is to stand in solidarity with people on the margins, those who suffer injustice, together as one human family in Christ. We work for social justice so we can authentically proclaim to those on the margins the words of Our God each and every one of our hearts desperately longs to hear: “I love you.”