Sunday, April 6, 2008

Catholic Conscience in the Conceptual Age

This post is a follow up to last week's post about the coming conceptual age. It aims to spark the conversation about our Catholic obligations in the coming age.

As globalization knocks down borders consumers are left with more and more options. Prices are lower and variety abounds. A weekend jaunt to an area megastore such as Walmart is the only field trip one needs to see what variety globalization has brought. As Catholic educators what roll do we play in preparing our next generation to contribute to our American culture? What moral and ethical questions does globalization raise that Catholic education should address?

When purchasing a cup of coffee we have a variety of choices. We can go with a homemade brew of our favorite brand. We can roll through a Dunkin Donuts for a cup of their smooth Arabica bean blend. Or we can visit the neighborhood Starbucks for some scalding hot rich Robusta flavor. For those of us who have been lucky enough to travel abroad we realize that most of the world wakes up to horrible instant coffee in the form of Nescafe.

How many of us put much though into what we buy and how we make purchases. Does our Catholic conscience weigh on our choice? Do we purchase the product from a company that is "socially responsible" who guarantees a fair trade price or do we hunt for the bargain basement price?

Many of these questions are tied to Catholic teachings on social justice. These teachings arise out of many papal encyclicals and have come to be summarized in the following seven themes: 1. Sanctity of human life and the dignity of the person 2. Call to family, community, and participation 3. Rights and responsibilities 4. Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable 5. Dignity of work and the rights of workers 6. Solidarity and 7. Stewardship and care for God's creation. Taken as a whole the propose a beautiful view of the human person and human society. Embracing them is where the rubber meets the road in terms of putting our faith into action in the modern world.

As faith leaders in our buildings we have an obligation to ensure that these teachings are taught and put into practice. We have an obligation to model them for our students. We live in complicated times and putting these seven principles into action is often a formidable task.

Like many high schools we address these issues within out theology curriculums. But are we addressing these issues across the curriculum> Do our economics teachers understand Catholic teachings on free markets and fair trade? Do our history teachers and those who teach current events frame the discussion in terms of the principles above? As administrators do we live these principles in the choices we make? Where do our school uniforms come from? Do we use candy bar sales as a fund raiser without knowing the origin of the chocolate? What products do we sell our students? How are our school endowments invested? Are there screens in place? Or should we bother? Does worrying about all of this just make us neurotic?

I don't have all the answers but If we can start the dialogue on these issues I think we could all share good ideas with one another. One idea our school will begin implementing next fall is a fair trade coffee bar for our students in the morning. Working with our friends at Catholic Relief Services through their "fair trade" distributorships we will be providing coffee to our staff and students at reasonable prices. By purchasing the beans directly from CRS assisted cooperatives we will be helping to guarantee fair trade prices while raising consciousness about social justice issues.

Pictures courtesy of Flickr


Jacqueline DeCarlo said...

One thing that shapes my work at Catholic Relief Services (and we are so pleased to help connect our partners with the coffee bar concept!) is thinking on the teachers I had who made the most impact on me, who shaped my thinking. Certainly youth ministers had a role, but Mr. Drucker who taught Intro to Economics with his pro-Milton Friedman views and Mr. Anderson who was my civics teacher criticizing President Carter (yes, I date myself on this one!) made powerful impacts on me for good or for ill.

I am motivated today because as this post indicates I think we can argue that educators have an even more relevant role to play in how our students develop their consciences.

My hat is off to all classroom teachers and we at CRS stand ready to try and give you the resources you need to make the faith-reason connections with you and your students! For a start, please visit our "Going Global With Youth" site at

Charlie A. Roy said...


We are looking forward to the whole "Fair Trade" Coffee bar concept in Catholic High Schools. It should be a real kick.