In today’s Gospel the disciples are discussing among themselves who was the greatest. The response of Jesus is, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He then takes a child, places him or her in their midst and says, “Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” At the time of Jesus children were regarded as being rather insignificant. In the American Bishops document on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship they speak of how we should treat those considered to be insignificant.
While the common good embraces all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. A basic moral test of our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst. In a society marred by deepening disparities between rich and poor, Scripture gives us the story of the Last Judgment (see Mt 25:31-46) and reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the “least among us.”
The bishops also speak about the dignity of work and the rights of workers.
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Employers contribute to the common good through the services or products they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers – to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age, to the choice of whether to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property, and to economic initiative. Workers also have responsibilities – to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to treat employers and co-workers with respect, and to carry out their work in ways that contribute to the common good. Workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.
The bishops remind us that we are one human family. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor as global dimensions and requires us to eradicate racism and address the extreme poverty and disease plaguing so much of the world. Scripture calls us to welcome the stranger among us – including immigrants seeking work, a safe home, education for their children, and a decent life for their families. The Gospel invites us to be peacemakers. Decisions to use force should be guided by traditional moral criteria and undertaken only as a last resort.
Finally, the bishops speak to our stewardship of God’s creation. We should strive to live simply to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We have a moral obligation to protect the planet on which we live.
These themes from Catholic social teaching provide a moral framework that does not easily fit ideologies of “right” or “left,” “liberal” or conservative,” or platform of any political party. They are not partisan or sectarian, but reflect fundamental ethical principles that are common to all people.