‘Brethren All are We’

Catholic Social Teaching on our Common Humanity

By Chris Sparks

Catholic social teaching is one of the great treasures of the Church, and yet all too often, it’s neglected or overlooked entirely. We continue our exploration of the Church’s social teaching, this time focusing on race, nationality, and our common humanity.

Joseph Pearce is one of the best-known Catholic converts writing today. A noted literary biographer, Pearce may seem like  he must have always been dedicated to peaceful scholarship.

But in his youth, Pearce was a leading racist, nationalistic activist in England.

Primarily, he says, his mind and heart were changed by discovering great Christian writers like G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis while he was in prison. Their living faith allowed the truth to shine transparently through their work, ultimately helping draw Pearce into Holy Mother Church.

The story of his conversion from racism to Catholicism is told in his memoir, Race With the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love. 

Given the upsurge of extremist and new nationalist movements across the world, his testimony is more timely than ever.

Why? Because it vividly highlights that Catholicism and racism are utterly incompatible.

From the time of the founding of the Church, a key Christian tenet has been that there is no essential difference between the peoples of the earth. All are called to enter into the Church as brothers and sisters (see Mt 28:19; Acts 2:5-12, 8:28-39; Rom 10:12-13; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:38-29; Col 3:11).

The Catechism expands on that teaching, saying:

Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: 

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1934-1935; see also Nostra aetate, n. 5).

Ultimately, the Church tells us, the children of Adam and Eve are all called to become adopted children of God and Our Lady in Christ, brethren by grace and Sacrament (see Catechism, 360-361).

And we are to love our family.

From that love of family also arises the just love of one’s homeland and one’s nation (or “ethnic and cultural group”), as St. John Paul II says in his Oct. 5, 1995 address to the 50th General Assembly of the United Nations. The Holy Father goes on to explain that there truly are “rights of nations,” extensions of human rights applying to a community, beginning with the right of a nation to exist.

“[T]herefore no one — neither a State nor another nation, nor an international organization — is ever justified in asserting that an individual nation is not worthy of existence,” said St. John Paul II, though that right to exist doesn’t necessarily mean every nation must also be a “state.”

“[E]very nation also enjoys the right to its own language and culture,” the Polish Pope continued. “History shows that in extreme circumstances (such as those which occurred in the land where I was born) it is precisely its culture that enables a nation to survive the loss of political and economic independence.”

But every nation also has “duties” to other nations and to humanity as a whole, said St. John Paul II, including “living in a spirit of peace, respect and solidarity with other nations.”

Saint John Paul II draws a sharp distinction between justified patriotism (proper love of one’s patria or homeland) and unjustified nationalism, “which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures.”

True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one’s own nation at the expense of others. For in the end this would harm one’s own nation as well: doing wrong damages both aggressor and victim.

Nationalism, particularly in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism, and today we must ensure that extreme nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of the aberrations of totalitarianism.

So what are we called to do?
Always lead with prayer. Pray the daily Rosary for peace in the world faithfully, and persistently make the First Saturdays of reparation to the Immaculate Heart. At Mass, include peace and unity among your intentions. Ask for the intercession of the great saints of other peoples, places, and times for the human family today.

Think globally; act locally. Welcome your neighbors into your home for meals, especially those outside of your friends and family. Listen to your neighbors, especially if they are a different ethnicity, political stance, or faith from you. Serve as a host for foreign exchange students. Volunteer as an English as a second language (ESL) tutor. Read history, especially of the Church and our country’s treatment of different races, nations, and foreign affairs.

Oppose racism. Speak out against anti-Semitism, white supremacy, or other forms of bigotry. Make sure your elected representatives are fighting for “liberty and justice for all.” Support and defend universal human rights as you live your vocation and the duties of your state in life.

Stand with the Church. All races, all peoples, and all nations are welcome in this great communion of saints. All loved, all neighbors, all brethren — let us welcome the stranger as Christ Himself, as St. Faustina did (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1312-1313).

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