Jonathan Reyes, director of social ministry and head of Catholic Charities and Community Services for the Archdiocese of Denver, has been appointed to succeed John Carr as the Catholic bishops’ point man on justice, peace, and human development in Washington, D.C.
Many of the reactions so far have focused on the political implications of this shift. What’s most significant, though, is surely the deeply Catholic approach Reyes brings to Christian social work. While many social justice efforts (whether perceived as leftwing or rightwing) ignore or downplay other elements of Christian practice and moral teaching, Reyes has sought to ensure that clothing the naked is tightly bound to catechism, feeding the hungry to administering the Eucharist:
In his work for the Archdiocese of Denver, Reyes supervised an agency that serves 45,000 persons every year and cofounded Christ in the City, which according to its website “aims to form college-age Catholics as missionaries in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.”
“We believe that Christ in the City is a program oriented towards serving the poor in all of their needs: the spiritual works of mercy, the corporal works of mercy,” Reyes said in a 2010 interview. “To help them, to befriend them, to serve them, is a testimony that the Holy Father is calling for.”
This is important for reasons pointed out by the Colombian aphorist Nicolás Gómez Dávila. What might be called social-justice Christianity, Gómez Dávila warned, gives “programs the function of being schemes for putting the Beatitudes into effect. The trick behind it consists in reducing to a collective structure external to the individual an ethical behavior that, unless it is individual and internal, is nothing.”
This implies “that there is a social reform capable of wiping out the consequences of sin. From which one can deduce the pointlessness of redemption through Christ.”
This is why I find Reyes’ appointment so cheering. His career thus far suggests that he sees the Church’s social conscience—defending the unborn, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned—as inseparable from the life of prayer and celebration of the sacraments. The bishops should be applauded for appointing a man who seems to understand that true charity never severs the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.