The Catholic Church’s social teaching has been frequently described as “the best kept secret.” Somehow, the fact that the church has developed a body of documents on social, economic, political, and cultural matters seems to have been forgotten or just never known by a majority of Roman Catholics. Author Bernard Evans brings that body of documents/teachings alive, and does so in a very articulate, practical, and informed manner. Rather than taking each document in its chronological order of development and explaining its contents, Evans focuses on eight themes that emerge from these documents: (1) dignity of the human person, (2) family and community, (3) workers and participation, (4) human rights and responsibilities, (5) option for the poor and vulnerable, (6) dignity and rights of workers, (7) solidarity and common good, (8) care of God’s creation. However, within these themes he addresses such contemporary issues as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, war, family, marriage, poverty, superfluous income, just wages, unions, and peace.
Excerpts from the church’s body of teachings abound throughout the book. What makes this book even more practical and easy to understand is that each chapter begins with a human life experience that relates to the specific theme. The author concludes each chapter with a set of questions for discussion and a list of three activities. Perhaps, one limitation is that many of the activities refer more to parish than to undergraduate college/university settings. However, one can adapt those activities to whatever one’s situation. In the epilogue, the author gives a list of programs and organizations that can benefit individual and parish efforts at social justice action.
The author could not have chosen a more appropriate title for this work. In his introduction the author recalls the parable of the rich man who feasted on plenty and the poor man Lazarus who hoped just to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Our world is filled with many opportunities to invite Lazarus to our table. Throughout this book the author describes those many opportunities and challenges where we meet Lazarus in our daily lives.
At a time when there is much dialogue among all people concerning justice in the social, political, and economic arenas of peoples’ lives, this book serves as a valuable resource. For any course in the area of church and social justice or as an introductory course to Catholic social thought, this book is very appropriate. Because this work offers a comprehensive, thorough, and valuable exposition of Catholic social action, I would strongly recommend that this book be in the library of every college/university, school of theology, and pastoral resource center.