The Catholic perspective on relational and sexual health is situated within a larger framework of human flourishing. Because human beings are created male and female in the image of God, God wills the flourishing of all human beings. We know this not only through the Genesis narrative, but also through the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus talks about the reign of God at a time when the weakest, the oppressed, the marginalized in society will finally be treated with the respect and just love that they deserve. In chapter 6 of Luke's Gospel, Jesus says: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. These are strong words if we take them seriously. What they are saying is that what God wants, what God desires for us, is a society of justice, peace and joy for everyone (Romans 14:17). God desires a society in which people truly flourish. But such flourishing can never occur in isolation. Human beings flourish precisely in and through their relationships with other people, with the world around them and above all with God. The flourishing of the individual, in other words, is always associated with the flourishing of the community. Where we seemingly flourish whilst others perish because of our actions, such flourishing is false. I cannot claim to be realizing the fullness of my human dignity if doing so requires me to trample on yours. It is on the basis of this understanding that the Catholic perspective develops the idea of the common good, particularly through Catholic Social Teaching. In 1965, in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World—Gaudium et Spes the Second Vatican Council defined the common good as follows: Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result, the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family. The common good is therefore crucially different from the greater good. It does not permit the destruction of some for the maximization of pleasure for others. Rather, it encourages us to see that our own flourishing requires certain basic conditions to be met. One of those basic conditions is a duty to make sure that basic conditions are also met for others. It is a fancy way of saying, 'Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
The basic conditions include the provision of basic goods necessary for human flourishing. These goods are both concrete and abstract. We have seen that as beings made in the image of God, we are created with a capacity for free choice. Indeed our lives are only morally meaningful to the extent that we engage this freedom of choice. Consequently, one of the basic goods that must be provided as part of the common good is our ability to use our freedom. We also have a reciprocal duty to make sure that the use of our freedom does not diminish the capacity of others to use their freedom. This idea of certain basic goods necessary for all human beings to flourish is given expression in the idea of human rights. The Catholic perspective, in its social teaching, lists several rights necessary for the common good. Consider the following extensive quote taken from Pope Saint John XXIII's 1963 Encyclical 'On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty'—Pacem in Terris: Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. He has the natural right to share in the benefits of culture, and hence to receive a good general education, and a technical or professional training consistent with the degree of educational development in his own country. Furthermore, a system must be devised for affording gifted members of society the opportunity of engaging in more advanced studies, with a view to their occupying, as far as possible, positions of responsibility in society in keeping with their natural talent and acquired skill. Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public. According to the clear teaching of Lactantius, 'this is the very condition of our birth, that we render to the God who made us that just homage which is His due; that we acknowledge Him alone as God, and follow Him. It is from this ligature of piety, which binds us and joins us to God, that religion derives its name. 'Hence, too, Pope Leo XIII declared that 'true freedom, freedom worthy of the sons of God, is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church, and which she holds most dear. It is the sort of freedom which the Apostles resolutely claimed for themselves. The apologists defended it in their writings; thousands of martyrs consecrated it with their blood. 'Human beings have also the right to choose for themselves the kind of life which appeals to them: whether it is to found a family—in the founding of which both the man and the woman enjoy equal rights and duties—or to embrace the priesthood or the religious life. The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society. The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfilment of its mission. Of course, the support and education of children is a right which belongs primarily to the parents. In the economic sphere, it is evident that a man has the inherent right not only to be given the opportunity to work, but also to be allowed the exercise of personal initiative in the work he does.The conditions in which a man works form a necessary corollary to these rights. They must not be such as to weaken his physical or moral fibre, or militate against the proper development of adolescents to manhood. Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers. A further consequence of man's personal dignity is his right to engage in economic activities suited to his degree of responsibility. The worker is likewise entitled to a wage that is determined in accordance with the precepts of justice. This needs stressing. The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with human dignity. Pope Pius XII expressed it in these terms: 'Nature imposes work upon man as a duty, and man has the corresponding natural right to demand that the work he does shall provide him with the means of livelihood for himself and his children. Such is nature's categorical imperative for the preservation of man. 'As a further consequence of man's nature, he has the right to the private ownership of property, including that of productive goods. This, as We have said elsewhere, is a right which constitutes so efficacious a means of asserting one's personality and exercising responsibility in every field, and an element of solidity and security for family life, and of greater peace and prosperity in the State. Finally, it is opportune to point out that the right to own private property entails a social obligation as well. Men are by nature social, and consequently they have the right to meet together and to form associations with their fellows. They have the right to confer on such associations the type of organization which they consider best calculated to achieve their objectives. They have also the right to exercise their own initiative and act on their own responsibility within these associations for the attainment of the desired results. As We insisted in Our encyclical Mater et Magistra, the founding of a great many such intermediate groups or societies for the pursuit of aims which it is not within the competence of the individual to achieve efficiently, is a matter of great urgency. Such groups and societies must be considered absolutely essential for the safeguarding of man's personal freedom and dignity, while leaving intact a sense of responsibility. Again, every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men. Finally, man's personal dignity involves his right to take an active part in public life, and to make his own contribution to the common welfare of his fellow citizens. As Pope Pius XII said, 'man as such, far from being an object or, as it were, an inert element in society, is rather its subject, its basis and its purpose; and so must he be esteemed.' As a human person he is entitled to the legal protection of his rights, and such protection must be effective, unbiased, and strictly just. To quote again Pope Pius XII: 'In consequence of that juridical order willed by God, man has his own inalienable right to juridical security. To him is assigned a certain, well-defined sphere of law, immune from arbitrary attack.'
All of these rights, and others listed elsewhere in Catholic social teaching are derived from the dignity of each human person and God's desire that they flourish. By protecting these rights we help people flourish. Where rights are not protected suffering is rife. The Second Vatican Council expresses this in paragraph 27 of its 1965 Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes: Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.
Consequently, even those rights that seem to allow for some sort of individualism or egoism are nonetheless to always be considered in light of the prior right of others to the basic good necessary for their flourishing. So we see, for example, Pope Blessed Paul VI's 1967 encyclical On the Development of Peoples—Populorum Progressio—affirming that the right to private property is not more important than the duty to ensure the basic conditions for the common good are met: Now if the earth truly was created to provide man with the necessities of life and the tools for his own progress, it follows that every man has the right to glean what he needs from the earth. The recent Council reiterated this truth: 'God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all.' All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should in no way hinder it; in fact, they should actively facilitate its implementation. Redirecting these rights back to their original purpose must be regarded as an important and urgent social duty.
This commitment to human dignity and the common good in Catholic Social teaching translates into the call for solidarity. Solidarity can be understood as a virtue, that is an habitual disposition, to stand with and for those who are marginalized and disadvantaged by systems and structures that we have put into place to facilitate our social interactions. Pope Francis put it this way in his Apostolic Exhortation 'On the Joy of the Gospel'—Evangellii Gaudium: Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.
Finally, taking seriously human dignity and the common good means having to take seriously the well-being of other creatures and natural world. The world is created by God. God sees this world as good. God gives human beings dominion over this good world. A Catholic perspective forbids abuse of the world and of other creatures for our own ends. A Catholic perspective obliges us to care for the environment in which we live. All things, created by God, have an intrinsic value which commands our respect. Things are good in themselves not simply good in relation to our needs. Human beings consequently have a duty to respect and protect the natural world as part of God's creation, as part of the goodness that God willed for human beings and their flourishing. Pope Benedict XVI states in his 2007 Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, 'The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:4-12).' And most recently, in his 2015 encyclical On Care for our Common Home, 'Laudato Si', Pope Francis speaks of an integral ecology that takes us to the heart of what is means to be human in the splendour of God's creation being called to care for all that exists. He begins his encyclical by quoting the 13th century Saint Francis of Assisi and then says: In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. 'Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs'. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she 'groans in travail' (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
From a Catholic perspective human beings are free, meaning seeking and meaning making beings in relation to all that is. We are faced with a choice, then, about how we engage in those relationships in light of the kind of beings we want to be. What do we want our lives to mean? This meaning will be realized through the moral choices we make in and through our relationships with others, with the natural world, and with God. Whole-hearted living is possible. Human flourishing is possible. We cannot control everything. Working out the right thing to do in every situation can be tricky. But at its core of our moral decision-making is the question: What do you stand for? The Catholic perspective is one that stands for love, life and justice for all.