The Integritas program had its second seminar for the year on Thursday night on Catholic Social Teaching and integrating the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The readings for the seminar included excerpts from Rerum Novarum, the writings of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and Tracy Kidder's book on Paul Farmer's relief work in Haiti, Mountains Beyond Mountains. It was led by Prof. Margie Pfeil of the Theology Department, who is deeply involved in South Bend's Catholic Worker Community, where Integritas will be visiting over the coming weeks.
Prof. Pfeil urged the students to consider what we lose out on when we do not consider the gifts and talents of the marginalized, and that when the good of one person is diminished, then the whole common good suffers. She explained that both Pope Leo the Great's defense of the rights of laborers and the dignity of human work and and Dorothy Day's desire to treat every person she encountered with mercy and love spring from a philosophy of personalism. Giving an encounter with a person centrality creates a Catholic calculus that upends utilitarian measures of effectiveness or the common good. In Catholic Social Teaching, going back to Thomas Aquinas, common use of created goods is the primary value, and private property is secondary; from the earliest practice of the Church, whatever one has in excess of one's needs belongs to the poor and needy. It turns out that the Gospel is far more radical than Marxism.
She challenged students to re-imagine how the structures of society could look. Students debated the merits of having a "Christ room" in every home, to welcome those in need of shelter, rather than sending the homeless to institutional shelters. Students quickly pointed out that unless one knew those in need and had reason to trust them, such an invitation could easily leave one vulnerable to betrayal or violence. It became clear that to practice charity the way Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement envision it, one would have to work at building relationships with those to dwell on the margins of society, and leave the comfort zone of familiar places and regular routines to make space for people who do not fit into society that way. It quickly became evident that this work of practicing the corporal works of mercy involves a transformation of heart, allowing us to encounter everyone as Christ. What is demanded of us is not generosity, so much as charity: not opening our pocketbooks to a person so much as opening are hearts, and everything follows from that.