By Dennis Wells, M.D.
The current cultural climate in America reflects a great deal of confusion about social values.
Social justice is misconstrued to meet the demands of the loudest voices. The “common good” is falsely portrayed as the personal satisfaction of the greatest number of individuals or the perceived good of the majority, state or nation. The local community is deprioritized while state and national authorities are elevated. The role of the family is no longer valued. Individual rights and freedoms are persistently misrepresented and idolized. The fact that individual rights exist with corresponding duties on the individual seems to be, at times, forgotten in modern America.
Catholics must be part of a positive counter cultural movement by putting into action the principles of Catholic social teaching.
First and foremost is being an advocate for human dignity and working to ensure that the human person is at the center of all expressions of society. From this truth flows the principals of solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity implies that we must work together to achieve the good of the individual and the good of all. Subsidiarity means that we strive for the greatest “common good” by fostering, rather than inhibiting, the good work of the individual, the family and community. This allows the highest order “common good” to be achieved through the summation of lower order goods.
Keeping the concepts of both solidarity and subsidiarity in mind aids one in keeping the value of the individual — his or her rights and freedoms — and the idea of the “common good” in proper perspective. We, the human race, are one large family and community. We have individual rights and freedoms, but they exist in the context of each of our brothers and sisters in the human family and not in isolation.
Each of our rights and freedoms places upon us duties toward those brothers and sisters. We have a duty to one another to seek the good of each in the smallest ways we can influence. In doing so, we approach the “common good” as we, cumulatively, work for the good of one another. The “common good” is the true good of each individual leading to the good of all.
In our daily lives, we should diligently demonstrate these truths in the way we conduct ourselves. In a culture that idolizes individual satisfaction rather than truly valuing the human dignity of the individual, we have a duty to genuinely care for one another.
Many aspects of our lives today make it easy to fall into the habit of isolating ourselves from the community and becoming self-absorbed. In our divisive society where a majority appears to be growing more cohesive only in hostility toward Catholic values, it can be easy to develop a defeatist attitude and perceive our small opportunities to do good as unlikely to be impactful. The onus is upon each of us to harness hope and optimistically bear in mind the power of the summation of these lower order goods toward achieving the “common good.”
In our homes, we should prove not to be a collection of self-absorbed individuals but rather a family celebrating their lives together and parents devoted to their children’s spiritual growth in the Catholic faith. In our parishes, we must get to know our fellow parishioners and participate in liturgical life. The parish should be an extension of our homes and we should care about it and want to see it thrive.
In our communities, our practice as Catholic physicians and healthcare workers becomes and important witness. One must not underestimate the degree coworkers might be influenced by a Catholic’s witness as a professional who lives out the faith in the home, the parish and at work.
Further, let us not lose sight of the impact of each patient encounter. We care for our patients as individuals, not as “the last appointment before lunch” or “the next headache case in the triage bay,” or “the emergency Saturday night add-on in the OR.” We work for the good of each as part of our extended human family, and our example to the patient, patients’ families and our coworkers can have immeasurable consequences.
Dr. Wells is a Congenital Cardiac Surgery Fellow at the Heart Institute of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He has been an active board member of the Greater Cincinnati Guild of the CMA since its inception and has been a member of the national CMA since 2012. He served three years on CMA’s National Resident Board and currently serves on the CMA’s Young Member Advisory Committee.