Friday, November 29, 2013

Musings on the Church and Social Justice

When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a Communist.

--Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop

The concern for the poor is a dual edged sword for the Church. When she cares for the poor, she is praised. When she challenges people to consider their behavior and obligations to the poor, she is considered to be naive, out of touch and unrealistic at best or leaning towards socialism at worst.

And admittedly, some in the Church do lose sight of the Christian obligation and try to reduce the Church teaching to a political or economic way of thinking.  Things like liberation theology are a distortion of the Christian belief.

Unfortunately, some falsely reason:

1) Either Socialism or Capitalism
2) The Pope is not speaking of Capitalism positively
3) Therefore, the Pope is pro-Socialism.

The problems with this assumption is that not speaking of capitalism positively does not mean speaking in favor of socialism. It can merely mean that the Pope is speaking against abuses in capitalism and calling for a change of heart.

The Church social teaching is not about embracing ideologies. It is about reminding people that Christians are obliged to live their faith in all aspects of their life.

People today get offended by Pope Francis speaking about the waste and lack of concern for others. But they forget that in 1937, Pope Pius XI wrote (in an encyclical condemning Communism):

But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life. We desire therefore, Venerable Brethren, that this divine precept, this precious mark of identification left by Christ to His true disciples, be ever more fully explained by pen and word of mouth; this precept which teaches us to see in those who suffer Christ Himself, and would have us love our brothers as Our Divine Savior has loved us, that is, even at the sacrifice of ourselves, and, if need be, of our very life. Let all then frequently meditate on those words of the final sentence, so consoling yet so terrifying, which the Supreme Judge will pronounce on the day of the Last Judgment: "Come, ye blessed of my Father . . . for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me."[33] And the reverse: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire . . . for I was hungry and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least. neither did you do it to me."[34]

(Divini Redemptoris #47).

It's the same message, 76 years before Pope Francis wrote Evangelii Gaudium (in fact, only a year after he was born).  There have been huge upheavals in the political and economic landscape since 1937, but Pope Pius XI wrote what was true then and is true now. People can sin in ways involving the economy. Some in ways always wrong (like the injustices of Communism). Others in ways that misuse the system for personal gain.

Unfortunately people either want to coopt the Church teaching into looking like an endorsement of their partisan views or treat it as if the Church was deceived into endorsing "the other side."

That's happening again. Communism is largely irrelevant today and Capitalism exists even in Communist nations to some extent. So the Pope doesn't need to speak against Communism's wrongs.  Capitalism is alive and well, so when it goes wrong, the Pope would be remiss to be silent on these wrongs.

The Church teaching is not politically motivated. It is concerned with our relationship with God and neighbor -- relationships which should be our highest priority in life.  If we think of these teachings as political, perhaps we should think about where we stand in our relationships with God and neighbor.

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