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The Common Good

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

A Brief History:

During the latter part of the last century, in most major Christian traditions, sincere efforts were underway to both come to understand and act upon, the mandate, inherent within the call of the Gospel, to influence and transform the culture within which we live - and into which we are called as Christian citizens. This inquiry has sometimes been referred to as the “social question”.

These efforts had mixed results.

Some helped to move our cultures forward in some very important human and civil rights struggles. Others got co-opted by political agendas. The reasons for the beginnings of these movements are multiple, but the mandate that all of these differing Christian communities sought to address, in their own way, is still an integral part of a complete understanding of the Christian mission in the world.

The Christian faith is profoundly personal but it is not “private.” It invites all Christians into the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ which is being accomplished through His Church. That work, because of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, is radically public. It is meant to reach and affect all men and women. It is also intercultural and intergenerational.

It therefore has social implications and obligations. We are never fully human persons in isolation. We are, by both nature and grace, social. We also have obligations in solidarity to the entire human community. We simply are our brother’s keeper. We have a special obligation to the poor (See, for example, the Gospel of St. Matthew chapter 25) and a particular vocational call with a vital social dimension. We are continuing the influence of the Lord in the world that He still loves because as members of His Church we are members of His body.

For years preceding the last ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, Vatican II, seeds of renewal were sprouting throughout Europe among Catholic Christians. These seeds included the flourishing of an entire model of lay apostolate geared toward what we might call the “Evangelization of Culture.”

I use the term “evangelize the culture” in this article to refer to an understanding of our baptismal mission as Christians that both recognizes that we all have a “vocation” to participate in the mission of the whole Christian Church (according to our state in life and calling) and also compels us to be faithful to that call. This two pronged understanding would later be referred to by the Second Vatican Council as the “universal call to holiness” and the “lay apostolate.”

In other Christian communions the understanding of a call to “evangelize the culture” evolved as well. Different communities used various terms to express its essence within the varied confessional communities, their doctrinal emphasis and their linguistic expressions. Most touched upon similar understandings emphasizing that all Christians were called to holiness and that all believers, not just the clergy, were called to participate in the one ministry of the Church.

They also emphasized the unique competence of the lay members of the Christian church to affect the world for good within their daily lives. It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a “glossary” concerning these various efforts; however, I hope to soon undertake that very task. As one who has worked my entire life in ecumenical circles, I know both the potential and the problem of “words”.

These two notions, that all baptized Christians are called to holiness and that holiness has a social obligation, are simply a recovery of two foundational insights of what we will call “Classical Christianity” in this discussion.

The Christian Social Mission:

Inherent in this entire discussion is the recognition of the essential need for all Christians, at every time and in every culture, to understand a fundamental truth; every area of human life, personal and social, and therefore every area of human culture, is meant to be affected and changed by its contact with the ongoing redemptive mission of the Church. The Church has a social mission and social justice is a vital part of the gospel message and mission.

All Christians are called to live and act in a manner consistent with that recognition. In fact, because of their participation in the Church, they are the ones through whom that mission unfolds in “the world.” That mission, which participates in the continuing redemptive missionary work of Jesus Christ, is accomplished primarily through the lives, words and actions of the lay sons and daughters of the Church that He founded. They are called to live their lives redemptively in every segment of human society.

In other words, the Christian faith is meant to inform our entire life, both personally and ...

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