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Social Justice


In God’s Image:

Disability Ministry and Catholic Social Justice Principles

Dennis C. McNulty, D.Min


Before we consider social justice and what it means to the lives of persons with disabilities, take a quiet moment to center your self and to consider what social justice means to you.  How would you define it? 


Social Justice


It would be very easy to state that 30 years ago, people with disabilities, their families, friends and their advocates were waiting for the world to change.  How much more true would it be of those people who were waiting 40 years ago or 50 years ago or even more years ago?  But, it is strange that, despite all the progress… here we are in 2008 still waiting for the world to change.

What are we waiting for?


The fact is that we are not waiting at all… We are not called to wait.  As people called to social justice, our Church, Our God calls us to act, to be people who practice justice …. To act in ways that promotes the common good of all the members of our church, our society, our world.


As a people we share a belief, because of that belief we are drawn to worship as a community, and as a result of this belief & worship we are called to “act justly” … to create justice because of our belief.  These three elements are needed to answer our call to be a people of God.. to be people who act in God’s image.


Disability Ministry, Catholic Social thought, everything we do to promote justice is summed up in the phrase, “In God’s Image.” 


The practice of social justice is a way that we act “In the Image of God.”  We tend to easily throw around the phrase “Image of God.”  It is easy for us to state that people are made in God’s Image.   But what does that mean?  One aspect to be in the image of God is to act like God.  Think of our belief in a triune God who through out history has related to us in justice, as creator, as redeemer, and as the spirit that enlightens and sustains us.  We are created in the image of this God but it is when we answer the call to be like God to other people that we come closer to understanding our vocation to build a just society.  It is important that we realize the starting point for all of our social justice activities is God. 


It is God who first acted in history by showing us justice;


God gives us Life and Dignity of the Human Person
The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.


God calls us to Family, Community, and Participation
We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.


God gives us Rights and Responsibilities
The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.


God shows an Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring.


God invites us to share in God’s creation: The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.  If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected.


God calls us to be one: Solidarity
We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.  Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.


God calls us to care for God’s Creation
We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. 


(For an alternate presentation of the principles of social justice and an example of their use in contemporary pastoral statements, Click Here.)


Social justice is not just a response to God… It is a call to act in God’s Image. Our call to be like God and to act justly toward others.   Everything I have said forms the foundation of our teachings about the place of people with disabilities in our Church. 


To appreciate the words of the Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, released on November 16, 1978, one must read the statement in the context of the social justice principals of the Church.  The release of  Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, ushered in the birth of the modern social justice teachings.   All of the social justice documents since the first one spell out our call as Christian.  The 1978 Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops simply apply the social justice principals to persons with disabilities.


To really understand what we are doing in Disability Ministry we must understand the principles that drive us forward.  In your dedication and your concern for persons with disabilities you are assisting God in calling forward a people whose dignity is such that the Church is incomplete without them. 


There is an important point that we must keep in mind.  When we practice justice it is not in a sense that we will completely solve all issues.  You are one step along the path.  You start where others have left off and others will pick up where you leave off.  Our call is the pursuit of justice. 


“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. You are not obligated to complete the work. Neither are you free to abandon it.”    –The Talmud   


Social justice is our call.


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Last Update to this page was March 15, 2011

Copyright © 2006 Dennis C. McNulty