Monday, January 30, 2012

Charity in Truth: Freedom, Responsibility, and God

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

I think most of us like 'freedom,' when it means that we can do pretty much whatever we like. Add 'responsibility,' and it's a little harder to work up enthusiasm.

Here's how today's chunk of "Caritas in Veritate" starts:
"A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 17)
I think the idea of individual responsibility has been coming back into vogue. The notion that folks should 'do their own thing,' and 'look out for number one,' was attractive. Particularly after the conformist '50s. I've mentioned "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956) before. (May 14, 2011)

Following individual whims turned out to be an idea that looked good on paper, but not so much in practice. My opinion.

"Conscience" isn't About Being Inhibited

Admittedly, for some folks "having a conscience" means being perpetually afraid of saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong clothes, or thinking 'wicked' thoughts. What we say, wear, and think does matter: but living with anxiety isn't a virtue. The Catechism has a pretty good introduction to a reasonable approach to developing a conscience. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1776-1802) I think this gives the basics:
"Some rules apply in every case:
  • "One may never do evil so that good may result from it;
  • "the Golden Rule: 'Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.'56
  • "charity always proceeds by way of respect for one's neighbor and his conscience: 'Thus sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience . . . you sin against Christ.57 Therefore 'it is right not to . . . do anything that makes your brother stumble.'58"
(Catechism, 1789)

Vocations: For Everybody

For many Catholics living in America, a "vocation" is something a priest has. That's true enough, but there's more to it than that. Everybody has a vocation:
"VOCATION: The calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter. God has created the human person to love and serve him; the fulfillment of this vocation is eternal happiness (1, 358, 1700). Christ calls the faithful to the perfection of holiness (825). The vocation of the laity consists in seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will (898). Priestly and religious vocations are dedicated to the service of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation (cf. 873; 931).
(Catechism, Glossary)
I've been over this before. (December 11, 2011)

"Shared Responsibility"

I spent my teens in the '60s. I've said this before: the social and cultural changes weren't all about being irresponsible. Folks around my age were, many of us, genuinely concerned about problems like poverty. Proposed solutions weren't always sensible, and I'll get back to that.

I think we'll have folks who are below the 50th percentile in terms of wealth until Judgment Day:
"The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me."
(Mark 14:7)
Pretty much the same thing is in Matthew 26:11 and John 12:8, without the "whenever you wish" part. I think it's fairly obvious that, although we can't expect to do away with poverty entirely: we're expected to help folks who need it.
"...This is why 'the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance'[40]. This too is a vocation, a call addressed by free subjects to other free subjects in favour of an assumption of shared responsibility...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 17)
"Shared responsibility" may sound like the idea that we're supposed to help the poor by taking resources from folks who have more than we do, and giving them to folks who have less. I think that's missing the point.

I also think that the failure of Caritas in Veritate - and Catholic teaching in general - to conform to either the contemporary liberal or conservative mindsets puzzles quite a few folks:

Freedom and Truth

"Besides requiring freedom, integral human development as a vocation also demands respect for its truth. The vocation to progress drives us to 'do more, know more and have more in order to be more'[41]. But herein lies the problem: what does it mean 'to be more'? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of 'authentic' development: it must be 'integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man'[42]...."
(Caritas in Veritate, 18)
This "to promote the good of every man and of the whole man" sounds a little like efforts to make a 'perfect' society: where everybody would be equal, class distinctions wouldn't exist, and all that. The 20th century saw several efforts like that: of which North Korea is one of the few remaining.

Back to Caritas in Veritate:
"...The truth of development consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development. This is the central message of Populorum Progressio, valid for today and for all time. ... The Christian vocation to this development therefore applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane; which is why, 'when God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose and the 'good' begins to wane'[50]."
(Caritas in Veritate, 18)
I think 20th-century efforts to create a 'perfect' society failed because they ignored two important points:
  • God matters
  • Human beings act like human beings
Human beings are individuals. We're supposed to help each other: but I don't think it's reasonable to pretend that our primary identity is that of a group. As for pretending that God doesn't matter, or doesn't exist? I think that's been considered a 'sophisticated' or 'intelligent' attitude in some circles: but I think the notion's silly.

Moving on.

Massive Social Programs?

I suspect that quite a few folks in America assume that 'helping the poor' means creating yet one more government agency to manage a tax-funded program. That's probably not the best approach to the reality of poverty. Or, I think, much of anything else.

Here's something from 1991:
"...In fact, where self-interest is violently suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control which dries up the wellsprings of initiative and creativity. When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a 'secular religion' which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world...."
(Centesimus annus)
No wonder some folks think the Catholic Church is run by crazy people. The Church says that we should:
  • Help the poor
    • And so must be "liberal"
  • Not do abortions
    • And so must be "conservative"
I can see how, assuming that contemporary "conservationism" and "liberalism" were the only possible philosophies, the Church would look like a mass of contradictions. It's not, and I've been over that before. (November 3, 2008)

Finally, an excerpt from something quoted in Caritas in Veritate:
"...When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the 'good' begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation. And so we have become more and more aware of our need for humility before the delicate complexity of God's world...."
("Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI," 23rd World Youth Day, Benedict XVI (July 17, 2008))
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Brigid said...

Forgot to capitalize: "everybody has a vocation"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Oops, fixed, and thanks!

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