Christmas in July

For Catholic social ethicists, the eve of a social encyclical on the economy resembles Christmas Eve. There’s great anticipation in the air. What new gifts will the Pope offer to the tradition of Catholic social teaching? How will they be received by the various members of this global Catholic family? Will we be able to play with these gifts immediately in the context of social injustice, or will we need to decipher a user’s manual before we can properly apply them? Will they be conducive to ecumenical group play?

Like a little kid making last minute amendments to their Christmas wish list, here’s what I’m hoping to find tomorrow when Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") finally appears in my inbox:

  • A discussion of the impact of the global economy on the causes of urban poverty, both in under-developed countries and over-developed nations like our own;
  • Attention to the personal and social sins that fuel the gross socio-economic inequities that fracture civil society;
  • Further development of the spiritual practices named in previous documents that might resist sin and shape a more just economy on the local level, such as social charity, solidarity, poverty of spirit, or pacifism;
  • A reiteration of the importance of work as a source of human dignity in terms of creative self-expression that generates the kind of wealth that might promote the common good;
  • A recognition that poverty links the economic justice issues that rally the liberal left with the life issues that fuel the advocacy of the conservative right, whether those be abortion, national security, the health of families, mass incarceration, or disease prevention;
  • Practical suggestions for harnessing the economy so that it might serve humanity and creation, whether through new green technologies, micro-lending, or workers’ cooperatives.

Either way, the new encyclical will undoubtedly offer us plenty of gifts to enjoy. ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

Maureen H. O’Connell

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9 years 6 months ago
Santa Benedicta was good to you this Christmas!
9 years 6 months ago
From Giuliano Ferrara's Il Foglio on July 4th, translated by Teresa Benedetta. The newspaper gave full play on Page 1 to the Italian text of two paragraphs from the encyclical.    A small preview of 'Caritas in veritate' 34. Love in truth confronts man with the stupendous experience of giving. Gratuitousness is present in life in many forms, often not recognized because of a vision of existence that is merely production-oriented or utilitarian. The human being is made for giving, which expresses and realizes his dimension of transcendence. Sometimes, modern man is erroneously convinced of being the only author of himself, of his life and of society. This is a presumption that results from the selfish closing-up in oneself, which derives - to use an expression of faith - from original sin. The wisdom of the Church has always proposed keeping sight of original sin even in the interpretation of social facts and in the building of society: "To ignore that man has a wounded nature, inclined to evil, is a cause of serious errors in the fields of education, politics, social action and customs". (85) Added for some time now to the list of the fields in which the pernicious effects of sin are manifested is that of the economy. We have evident proof of this even in these times. The conviction of being self-sufficient and to have succeeded in eliminating the evil that is present in history just by his own actions has led man to identify happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material wellbeing and social action. Likewise, the conviction of the need for autonomy in the economy, which should not accept 'influences' of a moral character, has pushed man to abuse the economic instrument in a way that has been ultimately destructive. In the long run, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems which have suppressed the freedom of the individual and of social bodies, and precisely because of this, are not capable of assuring the justice that they promise. As I stated in the encyclical Spe salvi, this is how Christian hope is taken out of history (86), whereas it is a powerful social resource in the service of integral human development that is sought in freedom and justice. Hope encourages reason and gives it the power to orient the will. (87) It is already present in faith, or rather, it is aroused in faith. Love in truth feeds on hope, and at the same time, manifests it. As an absolutely gratuitous gift from God, it comes into our life as something that is not owed to us - it transcends every law of justice. A gift by its nature surpasses merit - its rule is excess. It precedes us in our very spirit as a sign of the presence of God in us and of his expectations from us. Truth, which like love is a gift, is greater than us, as St. Augustine teaches.(84) Even the truth about ourselves, of our personal consciousness, if first of all something 'given'. In every cognitive process, indeed, truth is not produced by us but is is always found, or better yet, received. Like love, it "is not born from thinking and wishing, but in some way, it is imposed on the human being". (88) Because it is a gift received by all, love in truth is a force that constitutes the community, and unifies men according to modalities in which there are neither barriers nor limits. The community of men can be constituted by us ourselves, but it can never be, with only our own powers, a community that is fully fraternal nor one that goes beyond every limit, namely, to become a truly universal community: the unity of the human species, a fraternal communion beyond every division, is born from the con-vocation of the word God-Love. In facing this decisive question, we must specify, on the one hand, that the logic of giving does not exclude justice and is not juxtaposed to it afterwards and from the outside; and on the other hand, that economic, social and political development requires, if it is to be authentically human, that we make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity. 35. The market, if there is reciprocal and generalized trust, is the economic institution that allows an encounter among persons as economic operators who use contract as a rule for their relationships and who exchange fungible [freely interchangeable] goods and services among them to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice which regulates precisely the relationship of giving and receiving among equal subjects. But the social doctrine of the Church has never stopped calling attention to distributive justice and social justice in this very market economy, not only because it is part of a vaster social and political network but also because of the fabric of relationships within which it is realized. Indeed, the market, if left only to the principle of equivalency of values exchanged, does not produce that social cohesion which it needs in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and reciprocal trust, the market cannot fully carry out its own economic function. Today, it is this trust which is lacking, and the loss of trust is a serious loss. Opportunely, Paul VI in Populorum progressio underscored the fact that the economic system itself would take advantage of generalized practices of justice since the first to benefit from the development of poor nations would be the rich ones. (90) It is not just a question of correcting dysfunctions through aid. The poor are not to be considered as a 'burden'(91), but rather as a resource, even from a point of view that is strictly economic. Nonetheless, the viewpoint of those who think that the market economy structurally needs a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function best must be considered erroneous. It is in the interest of the market to promote emancipation, but to truly do this, it cannot count on itself alone, because it is not capable of producing by itself something that goes beyond its own possibilities. It should draw from the moral energies of other subjects who are capable of generating such energies. ....   Footnotes: 85 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 407; cfr JOHN PAUL II, GIOVANNI PAOLO II, Lett. enc. Centesimus annus, 25: Lc., 822-824. 86 Cfr n. 17: AAS 99 (2007), 1000. 87 Cfr Ibid., 23: L c.,1004-1005. 88 St. Augustine explains in detailed manner this teaching in the dialog on free will (De libero arbitrio II 3,8,27 sgg.). He indicates the existence within the human soul of an 'internal sense'. This sense consists of an act which takes place outside of the normal functioning of reason, an act that is not reflected upon and is almost instinctive, for which reason, considering its transient and fallible nature, admits the existence of something above it that is eternal, absolutely true and certain. The name that St. Augustine gives to this truth is sometimes God (Confessions 10,24,35; 12,25,35; De libero arbitrio li 3,8,27), and more often Christ (De magistra 11,38; Confessions 7,18,24; 11,2,4). 89 BENEDICT XVI, Lett. enc. Deus caritas est, 3: l.c., 219. 90 Cfr n. 49: Le., 281. 91 JOHN PAUL II, Lett. enc. Centesimus annus, 28: Le., 827-828.  


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