If Catholics were asked for a summary of their faith, it would be impossible to give an exhaustive account. The Creed is probably the best short answer, but it is not even close to doing justice to what Catholicism is about.
Attempting to summarise Catholic Social Teaching faces the same problem. Furthermore, given the complexity of society and constantly changing social structures, CST never stops developing as it is the Church’s way of “reading the signs of the times”.
For these reasons, application of CST should start from the issues at hand, and not CST principles. For example, let’s take the recent discourse on clearing trays from tables at hawker centres. Without sufficient reflection, it might sound like a trivial matter, but if we have a dismissive attitude towards an issue, applying CST becomes very difficult. Thus, we must begin by seeing the situation as clearly as we can.
Imagine a large hawker centre during busy hours, bustling with hordes of diners queueing and eating. Many dirty tables would remain if diners leave without clearing, even as cleaning staff struggle to clean up. It is not surprising if some hungry diners, having waited for a clean table for a long time, get angry and start blaming the staff for being slow or lazy. In this frame of mind, it is easy to forget that the cleaning staff are often low-income earners who do this back-breaking work every day.
Once we have a better idea of what is going on and why it matters, we can then use CST to judge and evaluate the issue. While there are many CST prinicples we can apply, we can mention two here briefly. If the Church teaches that every person is endowed with human dignity and thus should be respected as unique persons made in the image and likeness of God, it is not right that the cleaning staff are experiencing this treatment daily.
If the principle of participation tells us that each of us has a right and a responsibility to have a say in what determines our future and society, then we have a responsibility to not only return our trays after dining but also to encourage others to do the same so that more will participate in respecting and upholding the human dignity of the cleaning staff. We can remind our friends on social media platforms. We can also remind (but not shame) other diners who forget to clear their tables to do so, and also encourage them to remind others too. If we receive unkind words in response to our efforts, then we will experience what it is like to be in the shoes of the cleaning staff who are verbally abused.
The Gospel today tells us that this Kingdom might start small like a mustard seed, but then, “it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”. (Mark 4:32). Starting with these small acts of kindness, let us be God’s instruments for actualising and growing the Kingdom of God here on earth.
First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.