Father John Hardin's Modern Catholic Dictionary defines Social Justice as "The virtue that inclines one to co-operate with others in order to help make the institutions of society better serve the common good."
The definition continues, pointing out that the obligation for Social Justice falls upon the individual but that the individual cannot do it alone. It has to be a group effort and it must be practiced within all levels of society - local, national and international.
The question becomes, of course, what defines the common good? For the Faithful Catholic, a society that does not ok the killing of a child formed in the womb of a woman is a good society. A society that does not think someone is expendable simply because they are old or does not make it okay for someone to kill themselves because they are unhappy with their life is a good society by our standards. A society that states marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant and a sacrament and the civil government cannot redefine either one is considered a good society.
Conversely, those who oppose us (often in the Name of Jesus, which is interesting) think the exact opposite. Allowing a woman the right to kill the child she carries is a good thing because it makes HER in charge of what goes on in HER body (even if it means destroying the body of a separate human being). A society that deems pointless or wasteful money spent on the care of a man in his 90's who has a curable illness, or even a manageable illness, is a good society. A society that redefines the word marriage to resemble a simple contractual living/financial arrangement is acting in the common good.
It seems to me that we have lost a foundational definition. We can, as a society, no longer define the term 'common good' without getting into verbal or actual fisticuffs. Because we can't define it, working for Social Justice within the parameters of Catholic Teaching looks much different from that work done outside of those parameters.
It feels, to me, that today I have to do much more than teach new or hopeful Catholics the basics. Today, because of the minefield that has become the American Experience, it is necessary to teach those who wish to become a part of the Mystical Body of Christ that what may feel, look and even meet the criteria for justice in today's society may fall woefully short or go WAY overboard for the Faithful Catholic.
In today's climate I am required to look beyond the commercials on television featuring starving children or dogs and ask some questions. If I want to walk this path towards Christ with any kind of integrity it is my responsibility to make sure what I donate my time, talent or treasure to is something of which Christ would approve. I have to read, listen, discern and if I give in to a gut reaction I better make sure my gut has been properly formed. I better make sure the cause is truly just.
Being a Catholic is not easy. It is worth it, of course, because I get to partake in a life founded by Jesus and designed by the Holy Spirit. No other Christian community can claim a historical connection to Jesus other than our Eastern Lung - the Orthodox - and I will not give up the privilege of receiving Him in the Eucharist ever again. I gave that up for years. It was a mistake. It is not a mistake I will repeat.
The not so easy part comes with the territory, of course. It is an interesting selling point - from the viewpoint of today's world. As a Catechist I am telling someone that joining the Church Jesus founded means holding to beliefs members of your own family might reject. It may result in ridicule from people who claim to love you. You might be accused of all kinds of silly stuff and woe be to you if you make an error or commit a sin. As a Catholic you will be holding opinions and beliefs the world will deem as politically incorrect. All this fun stuff makes my job as a Catechist a little odd. I cannot help but think that anyone who thinks Jesus is a myth underestimates human beings. I cannot imagine being willing to be tortured, enslaved or beheaded for a myth.
Despite the lousy selling points I find that the people coming to us and asking for instruction do so because of a deep and real need to walk in communion with Jesus. They are not ashamed of admitting they need Him and when they find that they can actually, really and totally give themselves to Him through the Eucharist they are eager to do so. They may not understand everything yet but they want Truth.
So many of our young people come to me with a variation of "I was lied to by the world. I am so unhappy. This cannot be what I was born to be and I need something more". It makes me ashamed of my generation. We were spoiled little brats, too busy and self indulgent to be true parents but boy did we have a lot of criticism to dish out about our OWN parents.
Social Justice today has got to include preserving the family. Unless we recapture and make sacred the ideal that children deserve stability, attention, nurturing, health and parameters of behavior we might as well forget trying to reform a school system or a justice system. Until we look at every boy and girl in our circle and tell them "One day, if you become a mommy or a daddy, you are expected to make the raising of those children your vocation rather than a chance to get presents from your family and friends or wear cute maternity clothes" we are not doing our job in spreading Social Justice.
As a Catholic, I must make decisions that will not make sense to other people. I will chose a direction to walk that will upset a lot more. However, in all honesty, I cannot see any way out of it.
I am a Catholic. Out Loud.