Social justice in the Church starts with encountering Christ, LEM speaker says

In his lecture given as part of the Lay Ecclesial Ministry annual speaker series through Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Nov. 11, Fr. Don Archambault said that in order to understand Catholic social teaching in its fullest dimension, one must have one's eyes fixed on Jesus. In this photo, Fr. Archambault, right, speaks to a man as part of the O'Hair Park Community Association in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)

Fr. Don Archambault draws on his experiences as inner-city pastor during presentation for Sacred Heart's Lay Ecclesial Ministry speaker series

DETROIT — In order to understand Catholic social teaching in its fullest dimension, it's important to have one's eyes fixed on Jesus, Fr. Donald Archambault said in a lecture given as part of the Lay Ecclesial Ministry annual speaker series through Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

In his presentation, titled “Unleashing the Gospel through Catholic Social Teaching in our Daily Lives and Ministry,” Fr. Archambault drew on his experience as pastor at Corpus Christi Parish in Detroit for more than 30 years and his subsequent community outreach efforts in the neighborhood.

The series is intended to “provide ongoing formation to men and women serving full- and part-time ministries in the Archdiocese of Detroit and neighboring dioceses,” said Michael McCallion, Ph.D., professor of theology at Sacred Heart who planned the event in his role as interim dean to the Institute for Lay Ministry and served as emcee.

Fr. Archambault said lay ecclesial ministers are the future in the Archdiocese of Detroit as the local Church faces the same difficulties seen throughout the world with a shortage of priests, deacons and fewer religious vocations.

The role of the ecclesial minister will continue to grow, Fr. Archambault said in the Zoom presentation.

“The question is, with Catholic social teaching, where does that fit in with everything you are busy doing in a parish right now?” Fr. Archambault said in his lecture, directed toward parish staffs and clergy. “With all the changes in the Family of Parishes, with all that lay ecclesial ministers have to work with, how does that fit in a very practical and real way?”

While there are multiple approaches, Fr. Archambault said, they are all woefully inadequate in comparison to an approach that focuses on the life and words of Jesus.

“Our total response to social justice issues in the Catholic Church and in the world, everything depends on having encountered the living God,” Fr. Archambault said. “We need to contemplate God and what God has done for us.”

Fr. Archambault said the importance of an encounter with God can be seen through the story of Zacchaeus. His life was not changed until Christ befriended him, encountering him face to face.

From a person's encounter with Christ flows another truth, Fr. Archambault said: “If you encounter the living God, then you should love your neighbor as yourself; it flows out of the contemplation for our love for God and God’s love for us. He has freed us from sin and death.”

However, this truth leads to a question that was posed by a scholar in the Gospel of Luke, Fr. Archambault said: who is this neighbor to whom Christ is referring?

Fr. Archambault drew on the story of the Good Samaritan: In the parable, a man is beaten up on the side of the road, half-dead, and a Samaritan stops to care for him. That man is all of us, Fr. Archambault said, and he is in need of being taken in and cared for in the Church.

This is a key insight in preparing one's hearts for social justice work, Fr. Archambault added.

“We are not just helping the poor, but our act of care is an overflowing of thanksgiving for what God has done for us,” he said. “We see that in the story of the woman at the well; when she has that encounter with Jesus, the spirit within her becomes like a well within her, flowing over for eternal life, and she bursts out to share the good news with others.”

Furthermore, the man on the side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan is not just us, but is Christ himself, Fr. Archambault said.

“All our actions to bring social justice should naturally overflow with our encounters with Jesus Christ,” he said.



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