St. Joseph Catholic Church - Toledo, OH

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September 11, 2016 - Catholic Social Teaching Homily #2 - Solidarity

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Fifteen years ago this weekend, we watched in horror and fear, as the deadliest and most devastating attacks on our country unfolded.  I was in my first month of college seminary and can remember the events of that day vividly.  My innocence was shattered when during the transition from one class to another, a classmate burst into the classroom and gave the dreadful news of what was going on.  We all scrambled to the television and watched as the first of the two towers crumbled to the ground.  I imagine each of you have your own memories of how that day unfolded, with the feelings and emotions that accompanied.

Yet, despite the fear and uncertainty that pervaded the hours and ensuing days - there are other enduring memories. The images of first responders and ‘good samaritans’ who ran into burning buildings, the news of ordinary citizens joining together in an attempt to retake a plane and prevent further destruction and so many who provided care and support to wounded victims, survivors and families - it all left our nation with a sense of unity, togetherness and pride in the shared core values of a people being tested. 

Unfortunately, in the years since we’ve seen these scenes and images of destruction by violence and the coming together of communities multiple times.  We continue to confront the reality of a world deeply divided and torn apart by hatred and fear with the hope that we can overcome the discord with unity.

For every attack there is the corresponding rallying cry: “Remember Pearl Harbor”, “Together we stand”, “Boston Strong”, etc.

Reflecting on this dynamic, my mind turns to the words of St. Paul, “If one member of Christ’s body suffers, all suffer.  If one member is honored, all rejoice” (1 Cor 12:26) which helps to form the basis of the Catholic Social Teaching Principle of Solidarity.  

The Catechism defines Solidarity as “an eminently Christian virtue. It practices the sharing of spiritual goods even more than material ones.”[1]

While having its conceptual roots in Sacred Scripture, as an independently developed theological principal Solidarity can be traced particularly to the very first encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1939 - SUMMI PONTIFICATUS[2] - On the Unity of of Human Society. 

Speaking against errors of his day, he writes: “The first of these pernicious errors, widespread today, is the forgetfulness of that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the redeeming Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross to His Heavenly Father on behalf of sinful mankind.”[3]

Solidarity, which in its essence is understood to be the unity of all humanity, originates in our common origin - God, to our common end - God, and is strengthened in the actions of Christ who in himself is the definitive unity of God and Man.  St. Athanasius, in his 10th Oration on the Incarnation of the Word points out Solidarity of Christ with fallen humanity: “God the Word of the all-good Father, did not disregard the human race, his own creation, when it was sinking back into corruption, but rather by the offering of his own body he destroyed the death men had incurred, and by his teaching he corrected their negligence.  So he restored by his power all that belongs to man’s estate.”[4]

Pope Pius expounds further when he writes “O wondrous vision, which makes us contemplate the human race in the unity of its origin in God . . . in the unity of its nature, composed equally in all men of a material body and a spiritual soul; in the unity of its immediate end and its mission in the world; in the unity of its dwelling, the earth, whose benefits all men, by right of nature, may use to sustain and develop life; in the unity of its supernatural end: God himself, to whom all ought to tend; in the unity of the means for attaining this end; . . . in the unity of the redemption wrought by Christ for all.”[5]

Understanding its origin is one thing.  But what is the purpose or intention of the principle of Solidarity?  “This law of human solidarity and charity,” without excluding the rich variety of persons, cultures, and peoples, assures us that all men are truly brethren. [6]  So ensuring that we see all men as brothers, is the purpose, how do we arrive at this is the ultimate question.

Pope St. John Paul the Great in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei Socialis (On Social Concern) points out that Solidarity must be concrete. “[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On  the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”[7]  That is to say, we can’t simply feel bad for individuals on the other side of the world, continent or city, and do nothing to for them.  Why is that?  Because we cannot answer like Cain when by the Lord, “Where is Abel your brother?” "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9).  Yes, every man is his "brother's keeper", because God entrusts us to  one another.[8]  Solidarity, which helps us to realize that indeed we are all brothers, also compels us to act on behalf of our brothers because of love - “The love of Christ compels us …” says St Paul.  Further St. John the Apostle reminds us that the love of God in us is witnessed to by our willingness to lay down our lives for others as Christ  did for us. (cf 1Jn 3:16-18)

How is this love made manifest in concrete ways: “To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take  effective steps to secure it” Pope Emeritus Benedict writes.[9]  An example -

After a long day at school, and what seemed like a never ending volleyball match - I stopped to get some food which, you guessed it, took forever. Needing to get some gas I pull into the only station in Downtown Toledo. As I pulled in I heard one of 2 gentlemen call out "hey Father". Desiring not to be disturbed I 'popped the collar off'.

At that moment one of the men approached me asking for some money. Long story short, I offered to buy him some food.  A simple request for a sandwich prompted me to buy him 2, a pop and a large water with a banana and an apple. When I walked out with a bag full of things he was shocked, even more so when he saw the banana and I told him there was also an apple. I asked him his name, listened to his story, then prayed with him. Then the other gentleman came over, mentioned "You can't hide, I recognized you Father, even without your ... (pointing to his own neck to mean my collar)." He then asked if I had a rosary as his had broken. I just so happened to have a cord rosary in the car I had made myself. I gave it to him, immediately tears streamed down his face. He and I talked a while and then prayed.

Lesson: even when I just want to go home and eat, am perturbed that a game took longer than I had hoped, and just want to be left alone - I can't help but wonder did God perhaps keep stretching things out so I would encounter these men? Even the most simple of actions, $10 for a few sandwiches and some fruit, and a cord rosary, with a little personal attention can bring God to an individual who really needs it.

But B16 goes further to say, “Besides  the good of the individual, there is the good that is linked to living in  society: the common good.  It is the good  of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who  together constitute society.  … To desire  the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.”[10]

Fr. Robert Sirico writes of this societal seeking of the common good in this way:

“As a virtue, solidarity's context is freedom and justice. Our solidarity with all of the human family implies a special commitment to the most vulnerable and marginalized in our midst. The natural unity of the human family cannot be fully realized when people suffer the ills of poverty, discrimination, oppression, and social alienation, leading to isolation from the larger community. But our response of love must be voluntary to be virtuous. In a special way, solidarity encourages striving for relationships that tend toward equality on the local, national, and international levels. All members of the human community must be brought as fully as possible into the circle of productive and creative relationships.”[11]

Friday's day of Prayer for peace amidst the racial tensions in U.S.

So, in our political engagement , solidarity calls us to work together to find solutions to the wider origins of those ills within our country.  That is, exploring the social structures, attitudes and actions that prevent individuals, and communities from flourishing.

There is also a global perspective to solidarity.  Pope St. John XXIII, in his Encyclical Mater et Magistra:

The solidarity which binds all men together as members of a common family makes  it impossible for wealthy nations to look with indifference upon the hunger,  misery and poverty of other nations whose citizens are unable to enjoy even  elementary human rights. The nations of the world are becoming more and more dependent  on one another and it will not be possible to preserve a lasting peace so long  as glaring economic and social imbalances persist.[12]

We cannot simply build walls around ourselves to keep others out and to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.

On Friday, I shared my story from Thursday night with the seniors at Central Catholic.  At the end of the day one student, who is from Ecuador walked with me to my office talking about some of his experience of South American Poverty which is much worse than here in Toledo.  He made mention of Venezuela which has severe corruption that leaves the whole country with next to no food.  When an Ecuadorian football club played a match in Venezuela many people took food, the headlines read: Ecuadorian Angels bring food from heaven.  In fact despite closed borders, Columbia disregards those who cross to buy food to take home.  That is solidarity.

Thus Solidarity, the unity that binds out of our common origin, end and nature as human persons; sealed by the incarnation and passion of Christ - directs us, in love, to work in concrete ways for our brother.  


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1948

[3] Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus n.35.

[4] St. Athanasius, Oratio de incarnatione Verbi, 10; PG 25, 111.

[5] Pius XII, encyclical, Summi Pontificatus n. 38, as quoted  in CCC 360

[6] CCC 361 quoting Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus n. 35.

[7] Pope St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei Socialis, n. 38

[8] See Evangelium Vitae, n. 19.

[9] Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, n. 7.

[10] ibid.

[11] Rev. Robert Sirico, Solidarity: The Fundamental Social Virtue. Accessed: 

[12] Pope St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, n. 157.


Last Updated on Monday, 12 September 2016 12:06  

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