NEW YORK — One day after President Donald Trump became the first sitting president to address the March for Life, Cardinal Blase Cupich cautioned that “the Church’s job is not to discern which political, partisan or military force we should support in order for good to triumph,” but to see Christ as the “starting point” for the Church’s social ministry.

“What is needed is an integrated and consistent approach, with the priority being our attention to what Christ is doing, saving us by bringing us together, bringing about the Kingdom of God by creating a people,” said the archbishop of Chicago.

His remarks were delivered to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Saturday, an annual event in the nation’s capital, organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.

The four-day event includes workshops on Catholic social teaching, followed by in-person lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of Catholic legislative priorities.

In his keynote address, Cupich highlighted the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that provided “a new way of being church and of understanding our baptismal call.”

“It makes us more aware of the need for a consistent ethic as we promote human dignity and justice for all,” said Cupich. “It also helps us achieve a proper balance as the Church engages the world of politics and as we take up our ministry to the least in our midst.”

In particular, he emphasized that the Council taught that holiness and salvation is not an individual exercise, but one that must be understood in relationship to the community.

“This teaching stands in stark contrast to the not-so-subtle message of so much American public discourse today — namely that what matters most is the individual person, choice, personal freedom,” he said on Saturday. “What the Council Fathers wanted to underscore was that it is in our relationship with one another as a human community that we are saved.”

“Such an approach also subverts any attempt to fragment our Catholic social teaching, pretending to offer so-called non-negotiables, which ends up reducing our moral tradition to a single set of issues,” he said.

This year’s Social Ministry Gathering was intentionally scheduled to take place immediately following the annual March for Life in an effort to focus on bridge-building across a spectrum of social justice issues, ranging from migration, human trafficking, abortion, and poverty.

Turning to Pope Francis, whom Cupich pointed out is the first pope to be a “son of the Second Vatican Council,” he said that Francis helps reorient the focus to see where Christ is already active in the world and how Christians might best engage that work.

“Instead of starting with what we are doing or should do, his attention is on what Christ is doing,” he said. “He understands that the pursuit of a holy life is about encountering this Christ who is already active and present, and joining in his saving work.”

“This is what it means to read the signs of the times,” he continued.

Drawing heavily from Francis’s 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, Cupich quoted at length a passage that in November he attempted to have the U.S. bishops include in their new introductory letter to their voting guide, known as Faithful Citizenship.

“Pope Francis warns against such an ‘ideological error found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend,’” said Cupich, citing Francis.

“He goes on to say, ‘our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.’”

“What is needed is an integrated and consistent approach, with the priority being our attention to what Christ is doing, saving us by bringing us together, bringing about the Kingdom of God by creating a people,” he continued.

“Absent this focus, we risk our call to holiness. ‘We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness,’ Francis observes, ‘that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.’”

In the end, the bishops voted to include only the first section of passage 101 from Gaudete et Exultate, citing concerns about its length.

In pointing the way forward, Cupich said that bringing salvation to the world will first come from a “deep and loving respect for the poor,” where Christ is already alive and at work.

“Those we serve are not objects of our charity,” he said. “They don’t exist to make ourselves feel better by offering our help. Rather, as Pope Francis often reminds us, we must see the poor for who they are: protagonists, subjects of their own history, but also worthy contributors to society, precisely because their unique experience has taught them what it means to belong to a people.”

“If we do not help those in need, we have failed Christ, precisely because of the way persons are related — not only to one another, but also to God. If we do not understand this fundamental Gospel truth, then we do not understand the call to Christian holiness,” he said.

In his closing remarks, he turned once more to warn against compromising with worldly powers for political success, and in the process, losing the fullness of the gospel.

“When we fail to make what Christ is doing the starting point as we take up the social ministry of the Church, we end up with a distorted view of the Church and our very call to holiness,” he concluded. “So too, losing sight of Christ’s saving action as our point of reference, risks fragmenting our approach to social justice by giving priority to one issue or a set of issues according to our standards or worse yet, our compromises with worldly powers.”

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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