Caritas in Veritate Summary: Catholic Social Action (Part 2 of 5)
Catholic social action is based on and in faith. Personal conversion is required to implement CST.
NO FAITH – NO CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTION
Continuing our summary of Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that without God “development is either denied or entrusted exclusively to man…and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development.” (CIV, 11)
By making charity the heart of Catholic social teaching Pope Benedict XVI “personalizes” Catholic social teaching. He moves CST from a focus primarily on “acts” to a focus on the motivation for these acts.
No matter how noble or extravagant our efforts are, for social action to be “Catholic” it must root itself in the theological virtue of charity – which itself is based on and requires belief, acceptance and the integration of God in all facets of life and development.
Implementing Catholic social teaching requires personal conversion – conversion to the gospel message of Jesus Christ:
“Adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.” (CIV, 4)
WITHOUT GOD, SOCIAL ACTION MISSES THE POINT
This was well summarized by Paul Cardinal Cordes when he said, “We have already remarked how for a long time the main emphasis of social instruction was to achieve a more just society. With the latest teaching document, [Caritas in Veritate] the pastoral concern now appears in the widest sense: Social doctrine broadens out to the integral perspective of human salvation and articulates the Gospel.”
He continues, “The victory over death and Christ’s resurrection, embraced by the church since her foundation, has its meaning also for social life…We can not separate social instruction from God’s saving word.” (Paul Cardinal Cordes, Not Without the Light of Faith: Catholic Social Doctrine, speech at The Australian Catholic University, 27 November 2009)
Social action not based on and in faith – in Jesus Christ – is not Catholic social action. In fact, it may even “miss the point”.
That is why “simple activism” is not enough. (Pope Benedict XVI) If our action is not born of a profound and “intimate communion with God” it can even become pointless. (Deus Caritas Est, 18)
SO, WHAT ARE THE NEW RULES?
If the focus of Catholic social teaching is no longer only about achieving a just society, what does it mean, practically, that it also requires our actions to ‘articulate the Gospel’?
It means that “Without God man neither knows which way to go nor even understands who he is”. (CIV, 78)
Pope Benedict XVI notes 8 requirements for Catholic social action: “Development requires:
- attention to spiritual life,
- a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God,
- spiritual fellowship in Christ,
- reliance upon God’s providence and mercy,
- love and forgiveness,
- acceptance of others,
- justice and peace.” (CIV, 79)
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
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