For anyone going into Catholic pastoral counseling, a strong understanding of Catholic Social Teaching is important. The teachings of the Catholic Church shed wonderful light on the dignity of the human person and man’s relationship with other people and the world around him as God intended it to be. The teachings provide ethical and moral considerations relevant for all counselors working for the Church.
There are ten specific areas that the Catholic Church addresses. Of the ten, there are three areas that I would like to highlight: option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of work/rights of workers, and stewardship of creation.
As a professional pastoral counselor, we are encouraged to provide some pro bono services to clients who are poor. Working with the poor reminds me of what Jesus said, “what you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” Jesus is in each person, but he is most visible in the poor who resemble him the most in their poverty and suffering. Also, Jesus asks us to give love without expecting anything in return, to love unconditionally. This is carried out concretely when working with clients who are poor and unable to reimburse us for the services we provide for them.
Another of the Catholic Social Teaching themes is dignity of work/rights of workers. In this teaching, the value of each person’s unique contribution to the building up of God’s kingdom here on earth is upheld. In this fast pace, money driven, and competitive society we live in, it is easy to lose sight of the value of work in and of itself. It may be a temptation to think that work was bestowed upon man after he fell in the Garden of Eden.
In truth, work was given to man as a gift before the fall. It only became toilsome after the fall. Work is a gift. God built it into humans to work and find themselves in their work. Work is a participation with God in creation.
When working with clients, I have seen how important it is for people to be working. When they are not working, there seems to be something missing to their lives. They seem less fulfilled.
The last theme I would like to address is stewardship of creation. Humans were given creation as a gift. It is our responsibility to take care of it, not to deplete the land’s resources or treat it like garbage. Every day I am reminded of how humans violate this sacred responsibility through littering, not showing love to other people, and through being wasteful with food/time/things. By not accepting this responsibility, I believe it does great harm to the people who violate the stewardship. They seem to not have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for what God has given them. I think that in some way this diminishes their sense of self-worth. If creation is treated in such a way, what about the self?
When clients take on appropriate responsibilities such as being stewards of creation, they are more likely to be appreciative and grateful for all that they have. They are likely to respect themselves, others, and creation more, seeing all things and not something to be grasped at but rather enjoyed. This produces more optimism, positivity, hopefulness, self-worth, respect, and selfless love.
In contrast, when clients decide not to be stewards of creation but rather treat it with little respect and try to deplete its resources as much as possible, than the opposite happens. They seem to have less respect for self, others, and all of creation. They tend to become more negative and pessimistic when things are taken away or change.
For pastoral counselors these are all important considerations when working with clients. We want to bring out the best in our clients and knowing what the church teaches in regard to these three areas is one way to help bring out the full potential in our clients.