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Slide Notes

Keynote address by Sandie Cornish for the Sydney Catholic Education Office Mission & Identity Conference, 23 - 24 June 2014.
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On Earth as it is in heaven

Published on Nov 19, 2015

Presentation by Sandie Cornish for the Sydney Catholic Education Office Mission and Identity Conference, 23 - 24 June 2014. It explores how different understandings of Catholic Social Teaching influence how it is drawn on as a resource for the mission of building up the Reign of God on earth.


On Earth as it is in heaven

A Catholic Vision of Social Relationships
Keynote address by Sandie Cornish for the Sydney Catholic Education Office Mission & Identity Conference, 23 - 24 June 2014.
Photo by Werner Kunz


  • the Kingdom of God transforms relationships
  • understanding & drawing on Catholic Social Teaching
  • CST, Catholic schools & the Kingdom
In this address I will:
1. briefly recall how the mission of building up the Kingdom of God calls for the transformation of relationships, including our social relationships;
2. examine three understandings of Catholic Social Teaching and their implications for how we draw on this tradition for mission; and
3. tentatively propose some ways in which Catholic Social Teaching might inform the ways in which Catholic schools contribute to theKingdom of God.

Give us this day our daily bread...

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done ...
The Kingdom of God is a matter of God reigning, ruling or governing in every dimension of our lives and our world.
God's will must be done in our political, social, and economic institutions, structures and processes, not only our interpersonal relationships.
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"The kingdom aims at transforming human relationships..."

John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, n 15
"The Kingdom aims at transforming human relationships; it grows gradually as people slowly learn to love, forgive and serve one another ...
The Kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society, and the world. Working for the Kingdom means acknowledging and promoting God's activity, which is present in human history and transforms it. Building the Kingdom means working for liberation from evil in all its forms..."
Photo by Travis S.

"To evangelize is to make the Kingdom of God present in the world..."

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n 176

Pope Francis invites us to be a church that makes the Kingdom of God present in the world through our words, attitudes and actions (EG n 258) both personally an collectively, privately and publicly.
Evangelisation is incomplete if the Gospel is separated from any dimension of our existence (EG n 181). We are called to give the Gospel flesh in our particular context, not to be mere administrators of institutions (EG n 24 - 25).
Photo by kevin dooley

3 Ways of understanding catholic social teaching

Essentialism / Existentialism / Evolving Tradition
Different understandings of CST among scholars reflect different ways of resolving tensions between continuity and change within the teachings, a focus on principles or on context, the importance of teaching at the universal level compared with the local levels, as well as the use of different theological and ethical methodologies.
How we understand CST will shape how we draw on the tradition, express it, and potentially contribute to its development.
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permanent principles applied to changing realities

An essentialist approach seeks to identify the immutable, essential properties that define what a thing is and to work from them - permanent principles of CST are applied deductively to changing realities.
A globalised world needs some universal ethical values, but this approach also has some limitations.

rejection of continuity & universality

Existentialism focuses on reality in a particular time and place, rejecting continuity and universality.

An extreme focus on context can lead to ethical relativism.

Not all scholars who give significant weight to context are existentialists.
Photo by Norma Desmond

universal & local, principles & context, continuity & Change

evolving tradition
Others see CST as a tradition that evolves through time in dialogue with the people, places and events of history. They acknowledge both the universal and the local, attend to both essential principles and to contextual factors, and see both continuity and change within the tradition.

Drawing on principles

  • criteria for discerning positions
  • operationalised for specific contexts
  • explaining positions
  • determining approaches
  • motivation
We can use the principles of CST to discern our positions on issues and situations, and to explain our positions.
While an essentialist might start from principles and deduce what is required in particular contexts, others might start from context and ask which principles can provide guidance.
Principles such as solidarity and subsidiarity may also guide our approach to action.
Principles such as respect for human dignity and the common good may motivate action.
Photo by ecstaticist

Drawing on content

  • local and universal teaching documents
  • interpretation in dialogue with context
  • criteria for judgement & guidelines for action 
  • development of thought through time
We can also draw on the content of the universal and local teachings which may contain criteria for judgement and guidelines for action as well as principles for reflection. We have to appreciate the relative weight of these elements. It is also important to read documents within their context in the corpus of teachings - have the teachings subsequently developed in a different direction?
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starting from experience

  • what are the signs of the times?
  • does Scripture throw any light on this?
  • do any of the general principles or specific teachings help?
  • does the experience of the faith community help?
  • where is God leading us?
Using a more contextual and historically conscious approach we can start from the data of our reality - what is the current experience? From social analysis we move to theological reflection. How is God present in it and calling us through this reality? Do the Scripture, or the general principles or specific teachings of CST help us to understand the meaning of this reality and how we are called to respond? After taking action we return to reflect again on experience.
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Vision & Mission

The social dimension of the evangelising mission of the Church is part of the task of a Catholic school.

Catholic Social Teaching principles such as integral human development and the common good can help us to express our educational mission as part of the mission of the church.


The content of CST on various subjects can be integrated into curriculum materials and processes.
Interdisciplinary work by teachers, specialists in CST and members of Church agencies could be a formative way of producing such material.
Photo by Enokson

policies & procedures

The policies and procedures of Catholic organisations ought to be guided by and give expression to CST.
Here I would advocate a pastoral spiral approach of starting from experience rather than a deductive approach.

liturgy & worship

Catholic schools are good at bringing social concerns to liturgy and worship.

Professional development

I would like to see beginning teachers offered a general introduction to CST in their first two or three years.
More experienced teachers could be offered a deep dive into the content of CST in their subject areas.
Regular in service is needed to stay up to date with developments in the teachings.

Catholic Social Teaching is a lived spiritual & ethical tradition that helps us to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth as it is in heaven.

Catholic Social Teaching is an important resource for the effort to transform social relationships. We need to get to know it more deeply and draw on it more creatively in our schools and other organisations.
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