Tag Archives: subsidiarity

Takin’ It to the Streets

16 Jan

Pope Francis5As we continue our tour of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), we come to a chapter that clearly is close to the Holy Father’s heart. This chapter is entitled “The Social Dimension of Evangelization” (EG 176-258). He’s clearly very concerned about an impoverished if not distorted approach to evangelization that would downplay the social dimension of the Gospel (EG 176).

Today we will consider the Pope’s reflections on how the heart of the Gospel, or “kerygma,” necessarily has communal and social repercussions (EG 177-85). After all, according to the Holy Father, “the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (EG 177). This perspective clearly reflects the understanding that authentic faith cannot be separated from our life in the world.

Pope Francis remarkably notes that Christ has not only come to redeem individual persons, but also human relationships (EG 178). There is a profound connection in the Gospel between evangelization and human development. The Holy Father says that our “primary and fundamental response” to God’s love is “to desire, seek, and protect the good of others” (EG 178).

He then goes on to provide strong biblical support for the proposition that fraternal love must go hand in hand with our acceptance of the Gospel. For that reason, we can say that charity is a “constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (EG 179, quoting Pope Benedict XVI). The Church exists to evangelize, which means that the Church exists to radiate the love of Christ to the world, inviting all to a relationship with the living God.

The Holy Father urges us to avoid two extremes when it comes to the Gospel. On the one hand, he says the Gospel is not merely a “me and Jesus” proposition. On the other hand, it’s also not simply about doing random acts of kindness to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is all about the Kingdom of God (EG 180)! Our very lives must bear witness to the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This kingdom encompasses every aspect of human existence, and it injects supernatural hope into human history (cf. EG 181).

From this perspective, we understand that the Church has so much meaning and depth to offer to everyone. For that reason, the Pope insists that faith cannot “be restricted to the private sphere” or seen as existing only “to prepare souls for heaven” (EG 182). God desires us to experience legitimate “enjoyment” (see 1 Timothy 6:17) in this life as a foretaste of the fullness of happiness prepared for us in heaven. Therefore, our conversion necessarily entails our commitment to work for the common good.

Further, faith cannot be considered an exclusively private matter such that it is excluded from our social lives (EG 183). Our faith impels us to seek to make a difference in the world and work for the just ordering of the society. The Pope insists that the Church cannot be relegated to the sidelines in the fight for justice, as her positive message has much to offer the world today.

Pope Francis readily admits that the apostolic exhortation is about evangelization, not the social doctrine of the Church. For the latter, the Pope heartily recommends the faithful to study the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, especially in light of the many grave social issues confronting the world today (EG 184). He also states the obvious fact that the Church does not have a “one size fits all” solution to the various complex issues we face today. While the Church articulates the operative principles, it is up to the local Church and communities to apply these principles to their unique circumstances.

The Pope ends this section by informing us that he is now going to take up two issues that he believes are most urgent and significant at this moment in human history: the inclusion of the poor in society, and the promotion of peace and social dialogue (EG 185). We will take up those issues in the next installment of this series.

Musings of an Accidental Conservative

29 Jan

liberal and conservativeI have long disliked the label “conservative.” I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I’m not a political ideologue. I am a Catholic who believes what the Church teaches, and for that reason alone I’m often called a “conservative” these days.

After reading Bishop Finn’s recent post in which he courageously affirms that the National Catholic Reporter, long considered a leading voice of “liberal Catholicism,” should not be considered a “Catholic publication,” I figured the time was ripe to give my top ten list of reasons why “liberal” and “conservative” are not useful terms when it comes to Catholic beliefs. These are in no particular order:

(1) Term Limits

“Conservative” and “liberal” are already entrenched as political terms with their own specific meaning. The terms are necessarily adversarial and divisive when used in the context of the Church, since they imply a struggle for supremacy between two more/less equally legitimate camps. With St. Paul we might ask, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). When we try to use two emotionally charged terms from one context and apply them in a completely different context, of course there will be misunderstanding exacerbated by strong emotional responses.

(2) Not in Catholic Lexicon

Okay, when we hear the terms “conservative” and “liberal” we think of political terms. But let’s go further: they are not Catholic terms in a strict sense. I’ve been though all 2,865 paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church many times, and I don’t recall ever seeing those terms used. Instead, the Catholic Church has its own vocabulary to describe one′s relationship to the Church. Shouldn’t we use that instead? The problem of course is that many consider themselves Americans first, and Christians or Catholics second, so they let American culture define the rules of engagement even within the Church. Perhaps during this Year of Faith we can strive to recover a more fully Catholic worldview.

(3) Radio, Radio (second Elvis Costello allusion this month, but accidents happen)

We tend to think of “liberal” and conservative” as two extremes on a continuum, sort of like a radio dial. The stations at the left side of the AM dial (in the 500s or 600s, say) would be “liberal” and the stations at the far right (1500s and 1600s) would be “conservative.” Both have a place on the radio dial, though people might gravitate toward the numbers in the middle away from the two extremes, where most of the more popular stations tend to be located.

Similarly, we often hear of Catholics who are 100% with the Church described as “conservative” or even “ultraconservative,” while those who dissent from the Church on hot-button moral issues are called “moderate.” Maybe a Catholic who is truly a Catholic is considered a “conservative” by political pundits, but all Catholics must be “conservative” when it comes to upholding Christian moral teaching in the public square. What are we saying, that being “too Catholic” or “too religious” is one extreme, and being hostile to God, religion, and all public morals is the other extreme, such that the desirable middle ground is to be “sorta Catholic” or “mildly dissident”? Yet I’ve personally run into that sort of thinking many times in the Church.

(4) Conversion

Nobody should go around calling people heretics or apostates. Yet we go way too far in the other direction. We’re not willing to speak hard truths with charity. We’re not willing to say that any position that conflicts with established Catholic teaching on faith and morals is heresy. Instead, we call it “liberal,” which is then taken as a legitimate, perhaps even chic, way of being in the Church. While most people don’t want to consider themselves heretics, many consider the “liberal” tag a badge of honor. My point here is that those who part ways with the Church should be called back into full communion. We’re less inclined to do so when we regularly use euphemisms to conceal the need for repentance and conversion. Let’s face it: When we tolerate dissent and heresy rather than call to conversion, we are not truly loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

(5) Good Liberal vs. Bad Liberal

Of course part of the problem is that the terms themselves are vague and ambiguous, especially given the frequent blending of their political and ecclesial ramifications. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring the social legitimization of evils such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage is an abomination for Catholics. “Liberalism” in the sense of favoring big government programs may be problematic for Catholics at times, such as when the principle of subsidiarity is violated, but it’s not quite as cut and dried (but close). And then there’s “liberalism” in the sense of the Church’s staunch defense of human dignity and social justice, which generally speaking is a very good thing (when the concept isn’t hijacked). But in the Church, “liberal” typically equates with “dissident” or ”heterodox,” which is clearly not a good thing, yet is given cover because of its legitimacy in some political contexts.

(6) Good Conservative vs. Bad Conservative

The Church has been entrusted the “deposit of faith” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20), which she protects and “conserves.” She holds fast to Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15), and she’ll prevail against the ”powers of death” (cf. Mt. 16:18). So while the Church is a living organism that grows and adapts to new situations, there is no doubt a pervasive “conservative” dimension to her essential constitution. Since being a faithful, practicing, “normative” Catholic is also considered being “conservative” in a political sense, we must resist the temptation to “default” our way into uncritically accepting all aspects of political conservativism, even as we generally embrace the conservatives’ approach to many issues, especially what are generally called “social issues.”

(7) This Ain’t a Democracy

It should go without saying that the Church is not a democracy. Yet the more we politicize the Church, the more weight we give to the assumption on the part of many that, in the words of the dissident “Voice of the Faithful” organization from a decade ago, we can “keep the faith, change the Church.” If we get enough people to show up at a town hall meeting or to sign some petition, would the Church change her fundamental structure or reverse her moral teachings? Of course not! So why use political terms that suggest with proper maneuvering we might be able to elect a new Pope or push through an agenda that’s fundamentally at odds with the Catholic faith?

(8) Divine Element

Because of the political, democratic connotations of “liberal” and “conservative,” we tend to downplay the fact that Christianity is about following Christ. It’s His Church, and it’s one (and holy, Catholic, and apostolic). In politics, we’re trying to get others to side with us, or at least to vote for our candidate or issue. In the Church, it’s the other way around. It’s about God’s grace changing us, persuading us to follow Him more completely and unreservedly.

(9) Stop Thinking

Obviously in the political realm we sometimes have to speak on a macro level, and so blocs of people who tend to vote a particular way are labeled as such. Yet I think we should resist labeling and resist being labeled as much as possible in the Church. It’s an excuse to stop thinking, or even to write off somebody without really knowing them. When someone is identified as a “liberal” Catholic by a “conservative” Catholic, or vice versa, then we’re institutionalizing division and dissent within the Church, and wounding her witness to the world.

(10) Communion, not Class Struggle

The key term in understanding the Catholic Church is “communion,” as through God’s grace centuries of strife and division are overcome in the person of Christ, in whom we truly become brothers and sisters. In our largely secular society, many people consider themselves “Catholic” but really don’t fully identify with or participate in the life of the Church. Then there are others who stay in the Church to reform her in their own image. Rather than see in all this chaos some sort of class struggle between the so-called “liberals” and “conservatives,” we should perceive a call to foster both the visible and invisible bonds of unity within the Church (see Catechism, no. 815; there is also a wonderful discussion in Pope John Paul II”s encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, nos. 35 and following).

In other words, we must be better Catholics and build better Catholics. Without the conviction of faith, then it’s only about tactics.

Catechesis on the Fourth Commandment

19 Nov

This week we transition from the first three commandments, which set forth our responsibilities to God, to the last seven commandments, which specify how we are to love our neighbor. The first of these commandments is:

Honor your father and your mother.

It’s no accident that our duty to honor our parents comes next. In the first instance, we must honor those to whom we owe our very lives. St. Paul goes so far as to say that human parents are a reflection of God’s fatherhood: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15; cf. Catechism, no. 2197).

The Fourth Commandment is the only commandment dealing with love of neighbor that is not expressed in terms of “Thou shall not.” Rather, the commandment points how we should act to foster life-giving relationships in the home, which has been called a “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature” (cf. Catechism, nos. 2204-06).

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully summarizes the duties of children toward their parents:

“Children owe respect (filial piety), gratitude, docility, and obedience to their parents. In paying them respect and in fostering good relationships with their brothers and sisters, children contribute to the growth in harmony and holiness in family life in general. Adult children should give their parents material and moral support whenever they find themselves in situations of distress, sickness, loneliness, or old age” (no. 459).

Meanwhile, there is a beautiful section of the Catechism (nos. 2221-33) that describes the duties of parents toward their children. I think every Catholic parent would find guidance and even food for meditation in that section. I would only highlight here the parents’ role as the “first heralds” of the Gospel to their children as well as their ongoing responsibility to form their children in the faith and Christian virtue.

When children become adults, parents should welcome and joyfully respect the Lord’s call to one (or more!) of their children to the priesthood and religious life. Sure, parents should also rejoice should their children be called to Christian marriage or the single life, but in today’s social climate calls to the priesthood or religious life are too often opposed or even thwarted by Catholics parents who don’t fully appreciate the beauty and goodness of such vocations.

The Fourth Commandment does not only apply to family relationships.  It calls upon us to honor and respect all who hold positions of lawful authority.  Examples would include our bishop and pastor as our spiritual fathers, as well as our secular leaders. Only God’s authority is absolute, but we are to respect all those with authority in our lives, and obey legitimate exercises of such authority.

Authority should always be exercised as a service, putting the community ahead of one’s own interests.  It should respect:

Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God.  All citizens should collaborate with public authorities for the sake of the common good (see Catechism, nos. 1905-12).  This moral obligation on the part of all citizens includes these duties, among others:

  • Pay taxes
  • Exercise the right to vote
  • Defend one’s country
  • Voice just criticisms in defense of others or the community

While citizens are generally called to submit to lawful authority, a citizen is obliged in conscience not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral code.  “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The Economy and the Election

1 Aug

This week The Leaven published “The Economy and the Election,”  the fourth in a series of reflections related to the upcoming election, offered by the leaders of the four dioceses in Kansas.

The purpose of this series of articles is not to tell us how to vote or to provide some sort of “voter’s guide.” Rather, as our teachers in the faith, the bishops are helping us to understand our role as Catholics in society, and what that means as we exercise the right and responsibility to vote in the upcoming election. As the most recent reflection makes clear, “The Church’s duty is to articulate principles; it is the duty of the lay faithful in their mission to renew the face of the earth to put those principles into action.”

While I think the document in its entirety is worth reading (it’s not that long, btw), we do well to consider the bishops’ conclusion:

“If the primary criteria in our evaluation of candidates for public office is, ‘Which person will help me get the biggest piece of the pie? (either because of their support for lower taxes or for programs that directly benefit me),’ we are failing to employ the principles of our Catholic social teaching. We end up adopting a politics of self-interest, not stewardship.

“In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously posed the question, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Perhaps we can take this even further. Taking our cue from the saints, ask what you can do for your country, for your state, for your community, for your family. Ask what you can do for the poor and most vulnerable and needy in your midst. How you answer these questions should inform your vote.

“When you think in those terms, you become drawn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which have always been part of our Catholic tradition. You will also become drawn to what Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘market of gratuitousness,’ a culture governed by human solidarity, not the thirst for acquisition–a culture that looks first to the family, churches and the local community to provide for the needs of the poor and the vulnerable, and a culture that lives to serve and not be served (cf. Mt. 20:28).”

For those wishing to go deeper into the social teaching of the Church in preparation for the upcoming election, I recommend reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is generally available at Catholic bookstores, and which can also be viewed online. It is a masterfully summary of the Church’s social teaching as it has developed over the past century. If you read just six or seven paragraphs per day, you will have read the entire volume before the election.

May we truly “think with the Church” and bring the Gospel to bear on the important issues we face in our community and in our world!

What Does the Compendium Say About . . .

13 Oct

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is to the Church’s social teaching what the Catechism of the Catholic Church is to Catholic teaching in general. It predictably touches upon topics such as economics, politics, the environment, and peace, but it also reaffirms Church teaching in other areas of social concern that might raise the eyebrows of those who view the Church in politicized (“liberal” vs. “conservative”) terms, with “social justice” reflecting a more “liberal” perspective. Here’s what the Compendium has to say concerning some hot-button issues today:

Human rights “Pope John Paul II has drawn up a list of [human rights] in the encyclical Centesimus Annus: the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother’s womb from the moment of conception; the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child’s personality . . . The first right presented in this list is the right to life, from conception to its natural end, which is the condition for the exercise of all other rights and, in particular, implies the illicitness of every form of procured abortion and of euthanasia” (no. 155).

Contraception “Also to be rejected is recourse to contraceptive methods in their different forms: this rejection is based on a correct and integral understanding of the person and human sexuality and represents a moral call to defend the true development of peoples. . . . All programs of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned . . .” (nos. 233-34).

Abortion and Direct Sterilization “Concerning the ‘methods’ for practicing responsible procreation, the first to be rejected as morally illicit are sterilization and abortion. The latter in particular is a horrendous crime and constitutes a particularly serious moral disorder; far from being a right, it is a sad phenomenon that contributes seriously to spreading a mentality against life, representing a dangerous threat to a just and democratic social coexistence” (no. 233).

Same-Sex Marriage “The family, in fact, is born of the intimate communion of life and love founded on the marriage between one man and one woman. . . . No power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits and purpose. Marriage in fact is endowed with its own proper, innate, and permanent characteristics. . .” (nos. 211, 216).

Subsidiarity and “Big Government” “Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine and has been present since the first great social encyclical. . . . The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfill their duties. . . . Experience shows that the denial of subsidiarity, or its limitation in the name of an alleged democratization or equality of all members of society, limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative (nos. 185, 187).

Social Engineering and the Concept of Justice “Justice is particularly important in the present-day context, where the individual value of the person, his dignity, and his rights–despite proclaimed intentions–are seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to make exclusive use of criteria of utility and ownership. . . . Justice, in fact, is not merely a simple human convention, because what is ‘just’ is not first determined by the law but by the profound identity of the human being (no. 202).

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church may be viewed online, but hard copies are available at most Catholic bookstores.