In a rapidly changing world, it’s not uncommon for faithful Catholics to seek guidance from timeless teachings to shape their homes and communities. One such source of wisdom is the encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Rooted in the historical context of industrialization and the plight of workers, this encyclical continues to offer profound insights and guidance for contemporary Catholics looking to foster a Catholic culture in their homes.

II. The Dignity of the Human Person

At the core of Rerum Novarum is the unwavering emphasis on the inherent dignity of every human being. Pope Leo XIII writes, “For, every man has by nature the right to possess property of his own” (Rerum Novarum #6). In today’s world, where human rights and social justice remain paramount, this concept resonates profoundly. As faithful Catholics, we are called to recognize and uphold the dignity of every individual regardless of their social or economic status. This teaching not only aligns with the Church’s pro-life stance but also challenges us to advocate for the vulnerable and marginalized in our communities.

III. Workers’ Rights and Just Wages

Rerum Novarum’s teachings on workers’ rights and the obligation to provide just wages are as relevant today as they were over a century ago. We are witnesses to ongoing labor issues, from precarious employment to wage disparities. The encyclical’s call for just wages and dignified working conditions speaks directly to these challenges. “We always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them,” Pope Leo XIII says in RN #47.

Pope Leo XIII also talks about the rights of man’s soul – the right to rest on Sundays for worship. In RN #42, he writes, “In all agreements between masters and work people, there is always the condition expressed or understood that there should be allowed proper rest for the soul and body.”

By drawing inspiration from Rerum Novarum, we can engage in discussions and advocacy that promote fair labor practices and the rights of workers.

IV. Role of the State and Subsidiarity

In a world marked by debates about the proper role of government, Rerum Novarum offers valuable insights. The encyclical emphasizes the importance of the state in regulating economic matters and protecting the vulnerable. “The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error (RN #13),” wrote Pope Leo XIII.

At the same time, it introduces the principle of subsidiarity, which calls for decisions to be made at the most local level possible. This principle resonates with the Catholic emphasis on community and individual responsibility.

In RN #32, he states, “The State chiefly prospers and thrives through moral rule, well-regulated family life, respect for religion, and justice, the moderation and fair imposing of public taxes, the progress of the arts and of trade, the abundant yield of the land-through everything, in fact, which makes citizens better and happier.”

Today, as we grapple with debates on government intervention and decentralization, Rerum Novarum invites us to reflect on how we can strike a balance that promotes the common good while respecting individual liberties.

V. Wealth and Responsibility

The encyclical’s perspective on private property and the moral responsibility of the wealthy challenges us to reflect on income inequality and wealth redistribution. In an era where disparities in wealth and resources persist, Rerum Novarum reminds us of the duty to use our blessings for the benefit of all. It is not useful to deny the reality of sin. Human nature will always be fallen. No governmental system can eradicate sin. Pope Leo XIII warned against the dangers of socialism. His words apply even more to its cousin—Communism. One of the many errors of Communism is that it believes it can perfect/solve the problem of wealth inequality.” All men are called to virtue no matter what class they are in. The rich are called to be generous, and the poor are called to be moderate in their desires.

VI. The Importance of the Domestic Church

As we seek to foster a Catholic culture in our homes, it’s crucial to remember that the family existed before the State—its rights and duties are independent of the State. Pope Leo XIII’s wisdom emphasizes the importance of the domestic church, where faith is nurtured, and values are instilled. He wrote in RN #13, “The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.” The family existed before the State–its rights and duties are independent of the State.

In an increasingly secular world, our homes must remain havens of faith, where the principles of Rerum Novarum are not just discussed but lived out in our daily lives.

Conclusion

As faithful Catholics striving to nurture a Catholic culture in our homes, Rerum Novarum remains a beacon of wisdom and guidance. Its teachings on the dignity of the human person, workers’ rights, the role of the state, subsidiarity, wealth, and responsibility continue to resonate in our contemporary world. By embracing these principles and applying them to our lives and communities, we can contribute to a more just and compassionate society, rooted in the timeless teachings of our faith.

Pope Leo XIII’s message serves as a reminder that Catholic social thought is not an artifact of the past but a living tradition that can shape our actions and decisions in the present.

Rerum Novarum is relevant in the 21st century. Pope Francis has constantly called for Catholics to reach out to those on the peripheries (this includes the poor). The concept of caring for the poor is biblically based, and while not phrased in that exact way, the message is present in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical.

In a world that grapples with economic inequality, labor disputes, and the challenges of maintaining faith in the face of secularism, Rerum Novarum continues to offer a timeless roadmap for faithful Catholics seeking to shape their homes and communities in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

Recognizing the inherent dignity of every person is the starting point. Upholding workers’ rights, embracing subsidiarity, and living our faith in our homes are essential steps. This is how we pave the way to a just and compassionate society.

“And if human society is to be healed now, in no other way can it be healed save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions” (Rerum Novarum #27).

Picture of Matthew Chicoine

Matthew Chicoine

"Matthew is a left-handed cradle Catholic who enjoys reading everything Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Chesterton and is also an avid comic book fan. He is married to his wife Jennifer and has four children. Matthew’s favorite saints include Athanasius, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, and John of the Cross. Discover more of his Catholic content by visiting: thesimplecatholic.blog."

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