“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:4-8).
There are ten foundational principles which comprise the social teaching of the Church. One of the Ten Principles of Catholic Social Teaching is the Principle of Participation. This principle highlights the importance of everyone working to build up the community. According to Romans 12:4-8, we have the right and duty to exercise our God-given gifts and talents so that society may benefit as a whole.
As part of the human community, we must participate in order to promote the common good. The community exists only because men and women work to develop it. Social institutions, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, founded by concerned members of the community, are a means to helping the poor and vulnerable. Without participation by members of society, these institutions cannot provide valuable benefits to those who so critically need them.
The practice of building up the community can be a challenging task, especially given the complex social and political structures that enable participation in the community and the Church. Many people are disheartened by our society’s structures, especially with the political landscape. However, participating in building up community is crucial. It is how Catholics promote the dignity of the human person, thereby fostering the development of each individual. Pope John Paul II stated, “A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, the people, must give it this soul.” Participation in the building up of community promotes the social values of truth, freedom, justice and love.
There is a caveat to the Principle of Participation. While working to build up the community, we must do so responsibly with the primary goal of benefitting the common good, not just for the sake of furthering personal, financial, or political goals.
Many people practice the Principle of Participation every day by working, whether at a paid job or through volunteer work. More than just a way to earn a living, work is a form of participation in God’s creation. The solidarity many experience with other workers of the same profession helps them to understand their one, shared vocation, and further promote the common good. Society must ensure that the dignity of work is protected, by protecting workers’ rights, ensuring the right to productive work, fair wages, the ability of workers to organize and join unions, to possess private property, and ability to take economic initiative.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Philadelphia has many ways, customized to each local community for you to transform the lives of your neighbors as well as your own life, including through participation and building up the community. Like that of its founder, blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the vision of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “is to embrace the world in a network of charity.”