I’d better explain that.
I think acting as if people matter is a good idea: all people, not just the ‘right’ ones.
I’ll be talking about “the poor of the land,” private property, the universal destination of goods, and a job that’s not even close to being done.
What makes them Saints is that they “practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828)
We’re all different: rich, poor, strong, weak, smart, not-so-smart. That’s a good thing, or should be.
Like I said earlier, prosperity isn’t bad. What matters is how we deal with good times, which brings me to last week’s rant from Amos.
“Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!
“1 ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating!
“We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!’
Quite a bit’s changed in the 27-plus centuries since Amos lived: but some folks still put gaining and keeping wealth at the top of their priorities list.
It was a bad idea then, and still is.
My parents remembered that there’s more to life than wealth: so I never considered running away to a commune.
On the other hand — I didn’t, and don’t, have the horror that some older folks had for places like Drop City.
I think I understand why some kids from affluent families decided that buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like — made no sense at all.
I came to the same conclusion, and opted out of the rat race.
‘Those crazy kids,’ with their ‘un-American’ talk about peace, love, and brotherhood, seemed to take at least some of our Lord’s values seriously — a sharp contrast with venom-spitting radio preachers of the day.
Their tirades against commies, Catholicism, and rock music, helped me learn to love rock ‘n roll, eventually helped me become a Catholic, and that’s another topic.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common;
Forsaking worldly goods and living apart is an option, not a requirement. But there’s a long tradition of monks and hermits who took that path. The vowed, folks in religious orders, chose one of the three kinds of vocation. (Catechism, 871–873)
Most of us are part of the lay faithful: folks who “…participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ….” (Catechism, Glossary)
Ownership of private property should be part of our life. (Catechism, 2211)
Private property is a good idea: it helps maintain our freedom and dignity, and gives a measure of security. But the right to private ownership isn’t absolute.
This isn’t a perfect world; so achieving that balance, let alone maintaining some approximation of balance, has been a challenge: and still is.
But leaders like Hammurabi started writing law codes more than a thousand years before Plato and Aristotle.
Babylonian law defined justice as balancing an offense with an equally-severe punishment: by Babylonian standards. Law #22 in the Code of Hammurabi balanced robbery with the death penalty.
That may seem harsh — partly, I think, because we’ve made some progress in the last 3,700 years toward building truly just societies.
And we have a great deal more work to do in that direction.
Taparelli’s “Civiltà Cattolica” says that capitalist and socialist theories don’t pay enough attention to ethics. I’m inclined to agree with him.
One of my happy surprises after becoming a Catholic was discovering that social justice, Catholic style, makes sense.
I keep saying this — I should love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:43–44, 7:12, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Luke 6:31 10:25–27, 29–37)
If I thought a perfect society existed in 1950s or 1860s America, or 11th century Europe, I’d demand the suppression of comics, a return to bustles, or the re-union of England, Daneland, Norge, and part of today’s Sweden.
Besides, we can’t turn back the clock. The only direction we can go is forward.
And that’s okay.
Like I keep saying; the Catholic Church is catholic, καθολικός, universal, not tied to one era or one culture.
That includes freedom to worship: freedom for everyone. I can hardly expect others to respect my right to worship, if I try forcing them to agree with me: or heap abuse on those who are not just like me. (Catechism, 1738, 2104–2109, 2357–2359)
If we help others keep what is good and just in our society, change what is not, and act as if we really believe that loving our neighbors makes sense: we can make a difference.
It will be a long, hard job. Folks can’t be forced to embrace truth: particularly when it means giving up some cherished injustice, or long-established privileges. We must be patient.
After two millennia of passing along principles like “love God, love your neighbor, everybody’s our neighbor,” slavery became illegal in several countries. More remarkably, I think, it became unpopular — or at least unfashionable.
A few generations later, the United Nations made genocide illegal. It’s a step in the right direction.
Some Christians behaved abhorrently, and some folks who aren’t Christians are helping end slavery and genocide.
The point is that after two millennia, we’re making real progress toward ending two ancient social evils.
Maybe, if we keep working with all people of good will, somewhere around the 42nd century we’ll have an “international authority with the necessary competence and power” to resolve conflicts without war. (Catechism, 2307–2317; “Gaudium et Spes,” 79 § 4)
And we’ll still have work to do. Humanity has a huge backlog of unresolved issues.
Some of my take on why love should matter:
- “Shopping Center Attack: Why I Care”
(September 20, 2016)
- “Love, Mercy, and 9/11”
(September 11, 2016)
- “Mother Teresa: ‘The Moment Passed’ ”
(September 4, 2016)
- “Not Going Native”
(August 14, 2016)
- “Citizenship and Being Catholic”
(July 24, 2016)
- “St. Francis’ poverty often misunderstood, priest explains”
Carl Bunderson, CNA (March 24, 2013)
(From https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/st-francis-poverty-often-misunderstood-priest-explains/ (March 24, 2013))
- “Populorum Progressio”
Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Development of Peoples (March 26, 1967)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum.html (May 1, 2015))
- “Quadragesimo Anno”
Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Reconstruction of the Social Order (May 15, 1931)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno.html (May 2, 2015))
- “Rerum Novarum”
Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor (May 15, 1891)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html (May 2, 2015))