Saturday, August 8, 2009

Caritas in Veritate: Charity is More Than Thinking Lovely Thoughts

Section 5. of Caritas in Veritate gets into charity and the Church's social teaching.

This is where ideals start getting interesting. The sort of blandly pleasant sentiments Americans associate with beauty pageants, like 'feed the impoverished...', 'heal victims of [whatever disease is in the top-40 this year]...' - and so on - are nice, and there's nothing wrong with feeling that way. Quite a few people do.

Problems sometimes start when people discover that everybody doesn't agree with their friends about how to feed the world's masses, or whatever's on the agenda.

A Digression on Ideas For Helping People

These days, at least two approaches have quite ardent supporters:
  • Take money away from people who are not on the 'deserving' list
    • Give the money to government leaders and/or agencies
    • Hope that some of it gets through to people
      • Who need help
      • Whose ancestors looked like people who needed help
  • Let people who earn money keep it
    • Let them
      • Hire employees
      • Buy products
      • Build
        • Factories
        • Businesses
        • Homes
      • Give to charities they want to support
    • And stay out of the way
In a perfect world, where everybody was very nice and nobody was selfish, either of these systems - or any other - would probably work.

This isn't a perfect world.

There's a quite lively debate going on here in America, about how health care should be handled. Last month, I wrote that trusting the government to take care of people's welfare would be a fine idea, provided that:
  • Everyone at the leadership level was
    • Competent
    • Selfless
    • Disinterested in anything but each citizen's
      • Health
      • Life
  • All citizens were
    • In reasonably good health
      • Likely to stay that way
    • Able to fully cooperate with the system
    • Diligent in their efforts to maintain their own health
    • Engaged in safe occupations and lifestyles
    (July 26, 2009)
It's been a very long time since I felt like putting my faith in princes: or civil servants and their administrators.

I Must be Conservative, Right?

If a "conservative" is anybody who is not an American "liberal," then I must be conservative. I'm obviously a callous conservative - if you're looking at some positions I take. I'm equally obviously a bleeding-heart liberal - if you're looking at other views of mine.

I have made, and by God's grace will continue to make, a serious and earnest effort to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. (November 3, 2008) That means that what I think won't necessarily conform to the conventions of the dominant culture of a nation that's been around for about 233 years. (April 5, 2009)

Back to Caritas in Veritate - Where Charity Gets Serious

The first couple sentences of this section can be seen as comfortably 'spiritual' and hazy.
"5. Charity is love received and given. It is 'grace' (cháris). Its source is the wellspring of the Father's love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit...."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 5)
This sort of thing can be said in a nice, mild, soft, 'spritual' voice, with the vague smile and unfocused gaze that's sometimes part of the package.

In some circles, it seems that being 'spiritual' in that way is as far as charity has to go.

For me, no such luck. Reading further along, I see that, particularly as a Catholic, I'm expected to do something about those nice spiritual ideas.
"...As the objects of God's love, men and women become subjects of charity, they are called to make themselves instruments of grace, so as to pour forth God's charity and to weave networks of charity.

"This dynamic of charity received and given is what gives rise to the Church's social teaching, which is caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ's love in society. This doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth. Truth preserves and expresses charity's power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history. It is at the same time the truth of faith and of reason, both in the distinction and also in the convergence of those two cognitive fields...."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 5)
It's not enough that we feel charitable, or say charitable prayers. It looks like we're expected to help find a "satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity" - and no, I don't think that you, or I, are expected to go out and single-handedly right the world's wrongs.

On the other hand, it does look like we're expected to use truth, trust, and love for what is true - and both faith and reason - and try to change things. So far, I'm assuming that we're supposed to act withing the scope of our place in whatever culture we're in: barring a special assignment, like the one given to the Maid of Orleans.

Well, nobody said this would be easy.

I haven't quoted all of section 5, by the way. There's a bit about social conscience and responsibility, the danger of social action serving private interests, the logic of power, social fragmentation, and a globalized society at the end.

That's five sections down, 74 to go. No wonder so many people gargle at the fountain of knowledge: this is work.

Vaguely-related posts:
Links to other posts about my study of Caritas in Veritate:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.