Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.’ Justice in the World, 1971 (JM#6).
This powerful statement from the 1971 Catholic bishops’ synod recognised the challenge of Jesus to look at how we act towards those who are disadvantaged. Today this is certainly those whose homes have been damaged beyond repair in the Christchurch earthquakes and for whom compensation is elusive. It may also mean the people of the poorest part of New Zealand, the Hokianga, who do not have access to the healthcare and warm, dry housing they need, perhaps the children whose parents are unable to provide for them beyond mere survival. Listening to the cry of those who suffer … we have shared our awareness of the Church’s vocation to be present in the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted (JM#5).
In November the Church will mark the 40th anniversary of this document presented to Pope Paul VI by the Second General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 1971. The Synod was the culminating point of the development of the Church’s social teaching after Vatican II. The document stands as a testimony of the vision of Paul VI and the bishops of the time and stands out as one of the truly great social justice documents in the Church’s history, as relevant today as ever.
What are these 210 synod fathers saying to the members of the Church in Palmerston North and Wellington? What does it mean that justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel?
One way we baptised Catholics preach is by the example of our lives. Next month the archdiocese holds a Stewardship Institute in which people can learn to recognise their talents and those of those around them and encourage each other to use these talents as well as their gifts of time and treasure in the mission of the Church – to model the social justice call in the gospel in whatever is happening around us. The Palmerston North Diocese will also come together for three days focused on all aspects of prayer.
Ken Untener in his 1999 book Preaching Better suggests that praying and preaching – action on behalf of justice – go hand in hand. For homilists, preaching is part of the liturgy. Bishop Untener says when preparing a homily, the homilist enters into ‘a special relationship with the Holy Spirit … [which] puts us in a prayerful mode. We are engaged in one of the most effective and central activities of our ministry and that is enjoyable, fulfilling’ (page 9).
The 1971 bishops praised priests worldwide for their dedication in their ministry to word and sacrament as well as their pastoral work in the apostolate. But their call to recognise social justice and transformation as key elements in their preaching of the gospel needs constant attention. Forty years on, have we got it right? www.osjspm.org/