Friday, December 31, 2010

Pope Benedict's Social Gospel Message on New Year's Day

A professor at the  Catholic University of Incheon writes in the Kyeongyang Magazine of the difficulties teaching the Social Gospel. Seminarians see it as too complicated, theoretical and difficult. He considers it essential to his mission.

The Social Gospel is the Church's teaching about our role in society, our rights and duties as members of society, and the obligations of a society toward its members. He tells us how he has grown to appreciate the importance of this teaching.

As a middle and high school student during the difficult days of the military rule, he knew something was wrong  talking to the older students. During his high school years, he heard about the separation of Church and State. On Sundays, when he heard the pastor talk about the problems in society, he wondered  whether the pastor was a communist.

He often asked himself why doesn't the pastor stay with religious topics instead of talking about society. He thinks this was probably the thinking of most of the students. His one thought was to do well in his studies and go to a good college. He wasn't concerned about what was happening in society; it would have no effect on whether he and the other students succeeded in life. He couldn't understand why college students were spending so much time demonstrating  and not studying. Their job was to study and leave the running of the government to the politicians.

One day in religion class, after Saturday evening Mass, the teacher gave them  a question to discuss. "If you are faced with a choice between your  country or your faith, what would you choose?"  They  all came to a similar conclusion: without a country, they would not have a faith life. They brought up Vietnam and those that fled the country, becoming refugees. They decided the  country comes first.  Secondly, they would work for freedom of religion.

The teacher, a college student himself, thought differently but wasn't  surprised by their answer. In our society, there is no need to make a choice but the  Catholics both in Korea and the early Church had to make that choice, and they chose faith over the country.

The professor, looking back at that time, remembers how this came as a surprise to him, choosing faith over the country. It was something completely foreign to what he had been taught. He kept trying to figure out what he would do if he were faced with that choice. It was a problem, certainly, but  it was not as important to him as the effort to get a good score on his college entrance exam.

Little by little he began to see that the Church has the right to speak about problems in society. The Gospel message of liberation has to be spoken; this is the prophetic message of the Gospel. But the professor, who now teaches the Social Gospel, understands the problems many are having, even today, in seeing how the Gospel teachings relate to society. 

In looking over history we can see how many times and in how many ways we as Christians have been compromised by the society we live in. The majority is not always right; we have seen the sad results of that thinking in many parts of the world. Pope Benedict gives us  a wonderful treatise on the Social Gospel's treatment of religious freedom in society in this New Year's Message. It is a difficult task for all of us but to work to conscientiatize ourselves and society--by learning, teaching, and living the Social Gospel--is an important part of the  Christian message we have received.

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