In the 1930s, during a time of economic depression and geopolitical upheaval and uncertainty, Catholic Worker movement co-founder Peter Maurin wrote a collection of “Easy Essays” to help people understand and live Catholic teaching in the social and political sphere.
In 1936, he wrote one called “Blowing the Dynamite of the Church”:
Writing about the Catholic
a radical writer says:
“Rome will have to do more
than to play a waiting game;
she will have to use
some of the dynamite
inherent in her message.”
To blow the dynamite
of a message
is the only way
to make the message dynamic.
If the Catholic Church
is not today
the dominant social dynamic
it is because Catholic scholars
have failed to blow the dynamite
of the Church.
have taken the dynamite
of the Church,
have wrapped it up
in nice phraseology,
placed it in an hermetic container
and sat on the lid.
It is about time to blow the lid
so the Catholic Church
may again become
the dominant social dynamic
Maurin’s critique implied that the vocabulary and density of Catholic social teaching can be a barrier to its understanding and application, particularly for those not trained in a particular philosophical language used by the Church.
The ongoing problem is undoubtedly real. How often do people get stuck on terms such as “subsidiarity,” “common good,” “complementarity,” or “economy of communion”? And, how often do we fail to explain concepts and teachings in ways that are understandable? A lot.
To be sure, there is a “vocabulary gap” in some of the Church’s attempts to communicate its rich social teaching. But complex language is not the fundamental problem. The main reason the fuse of Catholic social teaching has not been lit and the dynamite has not been blown is our failure as Catholics to know and live the Gospel publicly in our daily lives.
Pope Paul VI stated that to evangelize the modern world, we needed witnesses more than teachers.
Pope Francis has made this statement a key theme for his strategy to carry out the New Evangelization, and he himself is leading the way.
The world, even a media culture often hostile to the Church, sees in Pope Francis an authentic witness, someone who indisputably lives what he preaches. And, as a result, along with the pointed and simple way in which he expresses himself — in most cases without too much jargon — he is becoming the world’s parish priest, and people are paying attention.
Pope Francis seems to have lit the fuse in the dynamite of Catholic social teaching. But it is up to all of us as Catholics to blow the dynamite and make the Church a dynamic social force for good in society.
Living the Gospel
Doing so does not mean ignoring or minimizing the “hard sayings” found in the Gospel and in Church teaching. Pope Francis has not done so, calling abortion and euthanasia evidence of a “throwaway culture,” referring to the redefinition of marriage as an “anthropological regression,” and denouncing the “economy of exclusion and inequality” so common around the world today, and increasingly in the United States.
It is not in minimizing or ignoring the challenging truths of Catholic social teaching, focusing only on those with mass appeal and the approval of the media, that we will blow the dynamite of the Church.
Rather, it will be in living strong marriages and building a healthy marriage culture; supporting the poor, the vulnerable, the immigrant, and the women in difficult pregnancies — not just through our tax dollars and donations, but in concrete works of mercy; and in fostering greater economic participation and promoting better care for creation in the daily business, professional and consumer choices we make.
When we do that, those “who have ears to hear” will multiply, the wisdom of Catholic social teaching will be more widely known, and the whole Church will become a dynamic force for building a civilization of love.
Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.