In just a couple months, Our Sunday Visitor will release my new book, Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World. In the meantime, Emily Stimpson interviewed me about the book for the OSV Newsweekly. Here’s an excerpt (you can read the whole thing here):
Our Sunday Visitor: As you note in the book’s introduction, there’s much confusion in the Church today over the nature of Catholic social teaching. Why do you think that is?
Vogt: I think it’s partly because certain words and phrases associated with Catholic social teaching—social justice, economic justice, equality — have been hijacked by different groups and misused. They’ve left a sour taste in people’s mouths.
A second reason is that Catholic social teaching is not taught all that often, and when it is, it comes across as abstract. That makes the teachings seem less accessible.
OSV: How does telling the stories of the saints, as you do in your book, help clear up that confusion?
Vogt: I always hearken back to Pope Paul VI, who said in Evangelii Nuntiandi (“On Evangelization in the Modern World”) that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they’re witnesses.” That point was and is spot on.
What modern man is impressed by is a life tangibly transformed by Christ. The saints don’t just show us why Catholic social teaching is true. They show us how, when it’s lived appropriately, it can change the world.
OSV: When talking about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, you point out that she worked for someone, not for something. Why does that matter?
Vogt: She never served an institution, charity or organization. She served Christ, whom she met in the poor and sick. This is what distinguishes Catholic social charity from secular social services. Catholic works of mercy don’t just meet practical needs. They’re about building a “culture of encounter,” which dignifies those on the margins.
Mother Teresa’s careful and compassionate attention, more than any practical help, gave people joy. She fed their starving bellies and their hungry souls. That’s Catholic social charity in a nutshell: offering practical help bathed in divine, dignifying love.
OSV: If that understanding isn’t there, what happens?
Vogt: When we pull the divine rug out from underneath our works of mercy, it’s easy to become cynical and burnt out — we lose our fire. We also typically become utilitarian, striving to help the most people in the most efficient way, but failing to serve people as individuals with dignity.
Some people criticized Mother Teresa for her inefficiency. For example, she would go and visit the same man every day to clean up his house, even though she could have sent her sisters instead. But what others called inefficiency she called “love.”
Her personal attention honored the man’s dignity and thus changed his life.