Commemorative coin, 75th anniversary of Rerum Novarum

A medal struck by the Vatican to commemorate the 75th year since the publication of Rerum Novarum, the founding document of Catholic Social Teaching.

My series on Catholic Social Teaching started out as a separate blog, called the Catholic Reading Project Online, which I began in the holy Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. The Year of Faith was promulgated just as the United States was facing a rather dismal presidential election. About this time, I began to long for a political party that was founded on principles I could embrace wholeheartedly. In my mind, I called it the Catholic Social Principles party and I began to wonder: what would a world built on a Christian understanding look like? I was certain it would appeal to people of all creeds or no creed, not to Christians alone.

A reading project for the Year of Faith

So I decided that I would spend the Year of Faith trying to understand better how my faith could inform my political understanding. And, since I still thought of myself essentially as a teacher, I thought it would be a good idea to invite others on this learning journey with me. My original project was to start an online reading group that would munch slowly through the major documents of the tradition of Catholic social teaching (CST). We certainly wouldn’t finish in a year, but that was okay — we would need time to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” such a rich body of magisterial teaching.

Although I never got around to building an online reading community for this project, I persevered on my own for a year or two, commenting on relevant items in the news as I slowly read, analyzed, and commented on Rerum Novarum, the founding document of the CST tradition. That was as far as I got on my reading project — not because I lost interest, but because Rerum Novarum gave me so much to think about that I wanted to let it sink in.

An idea that won’t go away

And it has — since then, it has shaped my fiction writing (I’ve been working on a futuristic science fiction series about a world founded on Catholic social principles) as well as my personal political philosophy. In 2015, just as another presidential campaign was getting started, I decided to bring my articles on Rerum Novarum into my reading blog (this blog, A Catholic Reader) and to re-read the encyclical to see what fresh insights it afforded. Once again, the project got bogged down — and, this time, superceded by another blog series I had already started, which compares ancient literary treatments of the Great Flood. Then my blog-writing ground almost to a halt for a while as I got caught up in trying to start an editing business.

Meanwhile, the presidential campaign got weirder and weirder, and it became more obvious to me than ever that we need a new political party — one founded on sound principles, one that could take root slowly and gradually change the way Americans think about our shared political life. If only my “Catholic Social Principles Party” were not just a pipe dream! And then I discovered that such a party already exists — it was founded back about the time I was first dreaming up my Catholic Social Teaching reading project. It’s called the American Solidarity Party, and it is grounded explicitly in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Its membership grew tenfold in the run up to the November 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and I know it will continue to grow, because I believe the “Big Two” parties have demonstrated just how utterly incapable they are of representing the aspirations of the American people.

CST is what the world needs

I believe, as Pope Leo XIII evidently did when he wrote Rerum Novarum, that the key principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person can build a world in which everyone, irrespective of their religious belief or lack thereof, can live a better, more prosperous and fulfilling life. (The ASP has several Facebook groups for party members, and one for the general public: check it out.)

I don’t intend to turn this blog into a site for political commentary — I plan to stick to my guiding principle of focusing on great literature and what it can teach us about being truly human — but I may occasionally remind readers that a careful reading of great works of literature (and Rerum Novarum is one of them), however ancient they may be, can continue to make the wisdom of past ages relevant to our lives today.

So this list of articles will probably continue to grow, slowly, and may eventually include some posts on distributism, which is a way of applying CST to the economic sphere. Because what we read — when we read carefully and deeply and well — can, and should change us, and when we change, the world is changed. And, honestly, who wouldn’t love to live in a better world than this one?