Sometimes, when CRL weighs in on a farm matter or when we strongly advocate on a particular agricultural policy, such as limiting subsidies for farm crops and increasing support for conservation programs, we get the question: “Why does the Church get involved in agriculture?”
The Catholic Church addresses agricultural issues because much is at stake in moral and human terms. Food is essential to sustain human life, but the Church also knows that “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Matt. 4:4). Other moral factors must be taken into account so that farmers—all farmers, everywhere—are treated with dignity. Farmworkers must also be treated fairly and justly, both in their fieldwork and living conditions, nutritious food must be made affordable and available to all, livestock should be raised humanely, and environmental resources—namely soil and water—need to be replenished for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
When the U.S. Farm Bill is periodically reauthorized by Congress (as it will be in the coming year), the Church takes particular notice and gives due attention to agricultural policies, food assistance programs and rural development support. Catholic Rural Life provides analysis and resources to inform bishops and our members about agriculture, food and the environment—all through the lens of Catholic social teachings. We do so not to set public policy, but rather to create a moral framework. That is the true involvement of the Church in agriculture, as it is in other public sectors: a moral voice. (See the USCCB webpage: For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections On Food, Farmers, And Farmworkers for more information.)
In her role of creating a moral framework, the Church reminds everyone of the common good and urges all of us to “live in the light” of Gospel teachings. Church leaders can join the public dialogue, raise ethical questions and ask policymakers in their policy choices to keep the vulnerable in mind. At Catholic Rural Life, we advocate for small family farmers, beginning farmers, farmworkers and rural communities. Their labor and their lives deserve dignity and respect. We know this from our patron saint, Isidore the Farmer.
It is also worth noting that our patron saint, Isidore the Farmer, is an ageless reminder that our relationship to the land is a deeply religious one. The life of Isidore was one of a simple laborer, yet he achieved sainthood. His life of physical labor was also one of dignity; that is why the Church is concerned about farmers, fieldworkers, ranchers—all those involved in agriculture. His hard but simple life was conducive to holiness. This truth emerges: If you have your spiritual self in order, your earthly commitments will fall into order also.