In the 1980s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a pamphlet entitled “Economic Justice for All.” This publication came out during a time of prosperity for the United States when consumerism and materialism took on a new meaning. While at the same time prosperity seemed to be growing so too was urban poverty. The U.S. Bishops wanted to address the increasing national and global poverty.
Before I explain why I think the message is still relevant, I want to define at least what I understand economic justice to be. I think economic justice incorporates a variety of practices and values. At the heart of it, from a Catholic standpoint, is the Catholic Social Teaching on preferential option for the poor. The poor includes those living in urban centers, in a developing country, and in rural areas as well. We are talking about material poverty. So for me when I hear economic justice I first think that it is for those materially impoverished, meaning it includes fair trade practices, living wage standards, and closing the wealth gap. However, economic justice goes beyond that into issues of globalization, standards and/or quality of living, worker’s rights, health care, and even education. In some ways, economic justice is an umbrella term. Because of its expansiveness, economic justice, I would argue, includes or at least touches in some way all of the other Catholic Social Teachings: promotion of human dignity, call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, dignity of work and the rights of workers, solidarity, and finally stewardship of God’s creation.
In many ways the idea of economic justice can seem academic and abstract especially considered in light of Catholic Social Teachings. Yet, though it is important to understand the macro-view, practically economic justice can be applied to everyday life. One way to view it is as conscientious consumerism. Thinking about what goods we buy, and asking questions about our consumption and the larger world. “Where did this good come from? In what conditions was it produced?” and other questions are good to consider when considering economic justice. It is to understand that our actions and decisions are not isolated, especially given the interconnectedness of the world.
Sometimes, I think the tendency is to see economic justice as something that needs to occur outside of the United States because somehow we have things figured out here. This idea is obviously a misconception. The need for economic justice exists as badly here as anywhere else. Economic justice is not a left or right issue; it is a human issue. In the United States, we talk of “liberty and justice for all.” I think we sometimes need to qualify what type of justice—in this case, economic justice for all.
In this season of Lent, we are challenged, maybe even called, to remember the marginalized in our society and to work towards justice and peace. We, regardless of our faith backgrounds, should remember those forgotten of our society. Working for economic justice is just one way. The actions can be simple like writing a letter to a representative or filling a rice bowl, but done with a greater understanding about the implications of one’s actions.
Grace Badik can be found every Monday night slaving away over the dirty dishes from the weekly CFJ Community Night. As a senior, she is still uncertain about what road she will take come May, but is certain that whatever road she takes will be a good one.