Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"The Progress of All Peoples"

In a little-noticed coda to the summer he devoted to a concerted reiteration of the church's social Magisterium, in late September B16 launched into two Angelus catecheses on the proper use of capital, and the dangers of its excesses.

From the translations provided by L'Espresso's Sandro Magister, here's the text of the Pope's 30 September talk:
Today, Luke's Gospel presents to us the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Lk 16: 19-31). The rich man personifies the wicked use of riches by those who spend them on uncontrolled and selfish luxuries, thinking solely of satisfying themselves without caring at all for the beggar at their door.

The poor man, on the contrary, represents the person whom God alone cares for: unlike the rich man he has a name: "Lazarus", an abbreviation of "Eleazarus", which means, precisely, "God helps him".

God does not forget those who are forgotten by all; those who are worthless in human eyes are precious in the Lord's. The story shows how earthly wickedeness is overturned by divine justice: after his death, Lazarus was received "in the bosom of Abraham", that is, into eternal bliss; whereas the rich man ended up "in Hades, in torment". This is a new and definitive state of affairs against which no appeal can be made, which is why one must mend one's ways during one's life; to do so after serves no purpose.

This parable can also be interpreted in a social perspective. Pope Paul VI's interpretation of it 40 years ago in his encyclical "Populorum Progressio" remains unforgettable. Speaking of the campaign against hunger he wrote: "It is a question of building a world where every man can live a fully human life, where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man" (n. 47).

The cause of the numerous situations of destitution, the Encyclical recalls, is on the one hand "servitude imposed by other men", and on the other, "natural forces over which the person has not sufficient control" (ibid.).

Unfortunately, some populations suffer from both these factors. How can we fail to think at this time especially of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, affected by serious floods in the past few days? Nor can we forget the many other humanitarian emergencies in various regions of the planet, in which conflicts for political and economic power contribute to exacerbating existing, oppressive environmental situations.

The appeal voiced by Paul VI at that time, "Today the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance" (ibid., n. 3), is still equally pressing today.

We cannot say that we do not know which way to take: we have the Law and the Prophets, Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Those who do not wish to listen to them would not change even if one of the dead were to return to admonish them.

May the Virgin Mary help us to make the most of the present time to listen to and put into practice these words of God. May she obtain for us that we become more attentive to our brethren in need, to share with them the much or the little that we have and to contribute, starting with ourselves, to spreading the logic and style of authentic solidarity.
...and the catechesis of 23 September:
This morning I made a visit to the diocese of Velletri [...]. During the solemn Eucharistic celebration, by commenting on the liturgical texts, I was able to pause and reflect on the correct use of earthly goods, a theme the Evangelist Luke reproposes for our attention this Sunday in various ways.

Telling the Parable of the dishonest but very crafty administrator, Christ teaches his disciples the best way to use money and material riches, that is, to share them with the poor, thus acquiring their friendship, with a view to the Kingdom of Heaven. "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon," Jesus says, "so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations" (Lk 16: 9).

Money is not "dishonest" in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism. It therefore concerns a type of work of "conversion" of economic goods: instead of using them only for self-interest, it is also necessary to think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ himself, who, as St Paul wrote: "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (II Cor 8: 9).

It seems paradoxical: Christ has not enriched us with his richness but with his poverty, with his love that brought him to give himself totally to us.

Here one could open up a vast and complex field of reflection on the theme of poverty and riches, also on a world scale, in which two logics of economics oppose each other: the logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of goods, which do not contradict each other if their relationship is well ordered.

Catholic social doctrine has always supported that equitable distribution of goods is a priority. Naturally, profit is legitimate and, in just measure, necessary for economic development.

In his encyclical "Centesimus Annus", John Paul II wrote: "The modern business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in many other fields" (n. 32). Yet, he adds that capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization (cf. ibid., n. 35).

Starvation and ecological emergencies stand to denounce, with increasing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet.

Instead, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it towards an equitable, sustainable development.

May Mary Most Holy, who in the Magnificat proclaimed: the Lord "has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away" (Lk 1: 53), help Christians to use earthly goods with Gospel wisdom, that is, with generous solidarity, and inspire politicians and economists with farsighted strategies that favour the authentic progress of all peoples.
In 2004, the Holy See issued a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which the drafters dedicated to John Paul II, who they termed a "Master" of the discipline; today marks the 29th anniversary of the election of the Polish pontiff.

Paradoxically, a recent book linked the dramatic uptick of the Irish economy to John Paul's 1979 visit to the Emerald Isle -- when he was memorably applauded 43 times at Galway Bay. Ostensibly as a response to the underside of the boom, however, a "Companion" to the Social Compendium was recently published and formally introducted at a late September event in Dublin by its archbishop, the former Vatican Justice and Peace guru Diarmuid Martin.
Today in Ireland when we talk about the role and the involvement of the laity in Church life, we tend to speak about participation and leadership in local pastoral structures. I believe that we need to get back to grassroots in the formation of lay persons – women and men – for the “secular nature of their Christian discipleship”, their duty “to proclaim the Gospel with an exemplary witness of life rooted in Christ and lived in temporal realities”.

The Irish Church needs more active, articulate lay people who understand and assume their responsibilities as Christian believers in various aspects of society. Irish society and Irish democracy would benefit from a new generation of lay people, prepared and capable of informing public opinion, on the contribution that can be derived from the message of Jesus to establishing values to inspire pluralistic Irish political and social life.

Many were surprised by a comment of Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which affirms “that the just ordering of society and the State is a primary responsibility of politics” and adds later that “the Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible”. Some have seen this as a recipe for the retreat of the Church from commenting on the public arena. I look on this as a remarkably strong emphasis on the importance of politics and on the real purpose of politics. Politics is an essential dimension of the construction of society. We need, right around the world, a new renewal of politics. Around the world we need a new generation of politicians inspired by ideals, but also capable of taking the risks involved in transmitting those ideals into the “possible”, though the optimum use of resources and talents to foster the good of all. Christian politicians cannot be absent from this process of renewal.

Catholic Social Doctrine is effectively about democracy. That may seem strange to some, since for many years Catholic Social teaching seemed to be hesitant to explicitly affirm democracy. I say that Catholic social teaching is about democracy in a particular sense: it is about democracy as participation and discernment.

A book on Catholic Social teaching is not a recipe book, or a catechism old style with a list of ready made answers to the social and political questions of the day. It presents a unified corpus of principles and criteria which draw their origin from the gospels and which are applied to the realities of the times in order to form Christians to make their own personal responsible judgements on the best manner to stimulate the ideals proposed by the Gospel in contemporary culture. Catholic Social Doctrine does not take away the risk of politics, but it aims to provide an in injection of purpose, idealism, integrity and truthfulness into the way politics is carried out.

The Social Doctrine of the Church is about democracy as participation. It is about enhancing the level of participation and discernment that is present in community. It leads to create critical ownership of the political process and active participation.

I believe that many of the problems in Irish society of the future will require a much greater level of community articulation than heretofore, so that we can combat the influence on politics of ideology, superficial news reporting, vested financial interests or sheer inertia. I believe that we need broad community debate -- real debate on such issues as the future of education and real participation in the fight against crime and violence. We had another particularly brutal example of gun violence on our streets yesterday. We all pray that Garda Paul Sherlock will make a full recovery.

If it is permissible for someone often categorised as a diplomat for once to speak out of place, I would say that I was very much encouraged by the community-based approach to fighting crime which I heard in Gordon Brown’s speech two days ago to the British Labour party. I believe he is right. The fight against weapons and knives in our society will only be overcome when we arrive at mobilising the communities in which we live. I still believe there is much more to do on this front.

Having just supported a politician, I now have to stress that the social doctrine of the Church is not a political manifesto and cannot be simply appropriated as the agenda of any political party. Neither is its aim to foster unnecessary divisions or factions within the Church. The Church cannot impose anything as binding, except that which it can draw out of the bible and authentic tradition. It recognises that Christians may work in different ways in order to reach the same goal. At the same time the term “doctrine” draws attention to the fact that the Christian cannot simply decide that anything goes in terms of social conscience and that certain underlying principles of the social doctrine, especially those at the kernel of the Church’s teaching, have binding character in their own right.

The Compendium is a theological reading of the signs of the times. It examines the evolution of the revelation of God’s love in the history of salvation, especially the revelation of God’s Trinitarian love.
The Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN outpost in Geneva at the time of his 2003 appointment to the Republic's capital, Martin -- also a onetime vice-rector of Rome's Teutonic College who, it seems, won't be forgotten by an old German friend of his come consistory time -- will be at the organization's New York headquarters tomorrow to address Pope Paul VI's encyclical on development Populorum Progressio, which marked its 40th anniversary earlier this year. The Belgian primate Cardinal Godfried Danneels will also talk on Populorum at a lecture next week in San Francisco

As veteran readers are well-aware, prior reports have speculated that Benedict's next encyclical will serve as a modern revisitation of the Pauline text.