Dunedin vicar-general Fr Gerard Aynsley has expressed hope that the young people coming out of Catholic schools would be able to connect their lived faith to living justly.
“That’s the challenge,” he told participants at the Te Kupenga and New Zealand Catholic Education Office online symposium series. Fr Aynsley’s talk on the topic of justice, the second of the series, was held on August 2.
He said the aim of Catholic schools’ curriculum is that “young people will develop an understanding of how God’s justice can protect and transform our world”.
Fr Aynsley stressed that it is not just any kind of justice, but God’s justice, something that doesn’t come from our own thinking, but from tapping “into that divine mystery that is God”.
“[God] actually becomes for us the source of our capacity to be just,” he said.
Fr Aynsley observed that justice is a topic that captivates young people.
“A lot of our young people love the fact that there’s a call to make a difference,” he said, noting that, at the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon, as well as other World Youth Days, young people are called upon to make a difference in the world.
“I think often, in that stage of life, we can be cautious about standing tall. But hopefully, as we learn justice, we do stand tall, confident in what we have to offer. And hopefully, our young people, right from year 1, are developing that inner confidence, that inner sense of their dignity, [and] their capacity to make a difference,” he said.
Fr Aynsley said that Catholic Social Teaching has “a rich and intelligent heritage”.
He said that, as opposed to other visions of social justice, Catholics do not just strive for the “greatest good”, we strive for “the common good, the good of each person and every person”.
He said that part of our intellectual tradition is the concept of natural law that arises from “God who creates”, and gives us meaning beyond what we create for ourselves.
In the Scriptures, Jesus taught us to give preferential treatment to the “Anawim”, the poor who are vulnerable, marginalised, socio-economically oppressed and powerless, Fr Aynsley said.
Some of the key scriptural themes, he said, are the Great Commandments, as well as the parables of the Good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus, and the Last Judgement.
And then, he said, there are the papal encyclicals which document the responses of our popes to the most pressing social issues of their times.
“Our justice tradition . . . [is] an intelligent tradition. It’s got a history. It’s got a real voice,” he said. “[The encyclicals] remind us that our faith speaks to our world at a particular time and in a particular context.”
He cited Rerum Novarum, an encyclical on capital and labour, written by Pope Leo XXIII in 1891 against the backdrop of the industrial revolution. The social justice issue on labour had been taken up by various popes in various encyclicals written in 1931, 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991.
Fr Aynsley said that Pope Benedict XVI wrote Caritas in Veritate in 2009 as the world headed into a global financial crisis, while Pope Francis wrote Laudato Sí’ to address the social and environmental crisis happening today.
Fr Aynsley said he hoped that he has encouraged people to delve more deeply into Catholic social teaching.
“As a cheeky final, how are our year 13s going to vote this year? Not who they’ll vote for, what is going to influence their voting?” he said.