The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board writes: For years now, especially during national election cycles,…
Editorial: Can Catholics be ‘woke’?
Of the many changes and additions to our American English lexicon in recent years, the near universal adoption of “woke” and “wokeism” is without question among the most dramatic. The adjective was officially entered into Merriam-Webster in 2017 as “US slang” and defined as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”
The ubiquity of the word in media and common parlance can leave Catholics wondering: What does it mean to be “woke”? Am I woke? Should I be? Is “wokeism” — almost a religion in itself — compatible or incompatible with Catholicism?
While these are outwardly reasonable questions, they are also questions that, for Catholics, get complicated quickly. For “woke” is not a word rooted in our faith tradition; it is instead a word with both political and ideological freight that ultimately is not helpful to our Catholic conversation. That the meaning of the word has been culturally appropriated and associated with a progressivism that values and advances “abortion rights” and the breakdown of the traditional family makes it even less so.
This does not mean, however, that some of the values associated with the “woke” movement should completely be set aside with the term. This is the complexity and the joy of Catholicism. To be awake to injustice of any kind, but particularly social injustice, is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith through the tradition of Catholic social teaching. With its seven principles that begin with and are grounded in the life and dignity of the human person, Catholic social teaching defies the political and ideological boundaries that many would prefer to attach to the Faith.
Catholic social teaching obliges Catholics to protect and defend all human life at all stages — including the infant in the womb and the elderly person on his or her deathbed — by calling Catholics to see the inherent dignity of each human person created in the image and likeness of God, regardless of race or any other defining characteristic. We are then to act accordingly. This same teaching calls us to participate in our society and to work to strengthen the family, so greatly under attack today. It clarifies that each person has a right to life and the responsibility to fulfill our duties to our family, neighbors and society. It demands that we treat the poor and most vulnerable with special attention and compassion, putting their needs first. It dictates the protection of the dignity of work and the respect of the basic rights of workers. It calls us to solidarity as one human family, pursuing peace and justice for all people. And it calls us to respect the interconnectedness of all living things through caring for God’s creation.
More than a list of policies, these principles shape society by helping us understand who we are and how we are to be in relationship with others. Even — or perhaps especially — during challenging times, Catholic social teaching provides the framework to help us make good choices that lead us closer to God rather than making bad ones that separate us from him. When Catholics approach society through a proper understanding of Catholic social teaching, any ideological call to “stay woke” pales in comparison.
Unfortunately, as our society and Church have become more polarized, the phrases “Catholic social teaching” and “social justice” themselves have become politicized and have fallen prey to ideology. Rather than being understood and embraced as a whole, with the goal of the salvation of the world, they are picked and chosen as ammunition in agenda-driven movements — or they are ignored altogether. This is a great tragedy of our time, for the advances that could be made in the name of justice for all are many, if only we were all able to come together, rooted in faith, for the common good.
Catholics should not be afraid of standing up to injustice. Doing so is part and parcel of what it means to be a missionary disciple engaged in bringing Christ to the world. Does this mean we are “woke”? No. It means so much more.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young