Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

I'm Getting Good...

I wrote a response to a blog article on the Washington Post's online religion page. A lot of the blogs' responses are controlled by the blog owners, a reasonable measure to prevent spammer nastiness that nearly destroyed the blogs. For one reason or another, depending on the blog owner, I am sure, most of my responses never go through. Hmmm... But I am getting better. Rather than go apoplectic at my time wasted, or just sigh in resignation, I have saved my piece and am reproducing it below. (I know, heaven forbid I just do something useful!)

First, a click here to read the reasonably well considered, original post by Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J. to which I respond:

(my response follows)

I am intrigued by this thoughtful article, Fr. Reese. At first you lean into a mistake, labeling the Holy Father "left of most Americans including President Obama." This mistake is huge. The Holy Father himself, while addressing the U.N. in New York, asked them to move beyond worn-out categories of left and right. But then, as the article progresses, you indicate an awareness that the Pontiff isn't so easy to pin down.

Trammatic does a good job of summarizing how this indeciperability plays out in American politics:

"I am a practicing Catholic and find no comfort in either political party. I have either respect for life on the right or the preferential option for the poor on the left, but no place with both. On some issues I'm more conservative than most; on others more liberal. This is evident in near-down-the-middle split of the Catholic voting block."

It is because Christ was neither a liberal nor a conservative, but God. Trammatic is on to something in saying that the encyclical will be worthless here in America. That's because even most 'religious' Christians put politics before Christ, and then try to fit him into one party or the other. The only way to make Jesus Christ, the Infinite Alpha and Omega, the Great I-Am, fit into one political party or another is a grizzly process of amputation: not of his heart or mind or ideas or actions, but of ours.

That's why Americans don't, fundamentally, "get" the Church. Whatever she does, people think she is pandering for the opposite political party. She is at once a leftist for caring about migrant workers and a right-wing nut for caring about unborn children and the aged.

In reality, the Holy Father is not going to call for the world to move 'leftward' politically or economically, any more than any other pontiff has. He is going to ask the world to move inwardly, to examine its conscience, and change its way of thinking and living. He is going to call us to something entirely different than swinging back and forth on some right-left pendulum. He is going to call us to Christ.

Piety, rightly understood, is the key to understanding why the Church's "rightist" and "leftist" concerns aren't actually contradictory. Piety is the virtue and gift by which one recognizes God's fatherhood over oneself and over others as well. Consequently, we recognize our fraternity under that same Father, and His loving will that we love each other. This in turn leads to pity (in the best sense of the world), in which we show tender mercy to those who have fallen beneath us in some way, beneath our true dignity as human beings. Piety, then, inspires not only reverence toward God, but love of neighbor. Conversion, the deepening of our relationship to God as His children, will consequently and necessarily change our attitude toward each other. This does not mean socialism - a political centralization of decisions regarding economic matters - but social conscience. We become aware that our actions - whether choices in the businesses we patronize or candidates for whom we vote - affect other people who are as beloved to our Father as are we. In gratitude for His love, we share it.

Personal conversion is not on the opposite end of some tension or spectrum from social action. Quite to the contrary. In fact, any personal conversion that does not change how we regard and behave toward others is a sham. And any social action uninformed by a deep interior reflection, self-evaluation, and conversion toward God's loving will, is bound to be hollow and domineering.

This stuff isn't difficult. It will be interesting to see whether American Catholics get it, though, and whether we are able to share it effectively with our neighbors.

Ryan Haber
Kensington, Maryland


Marisa said...

Unfortunately, you can no longer read the original post. Even so, I like your post. For the most part, I agree with you. The pope is following a high call that can not be classified in political generalities. However, I think I tend to lean a little more toward the right. If the government concerned itself only with protecting our rights of life (including that of the unborn), liberty and the persuit of happiness, we would all be much better off. As for the care of those in need, that should be left to the generosity and love of those who follow Christ.

Thy Handmaid's son said...

I think you and I are in substantial agreement, Marisa, which makes it possible and fun to disagree productively.

I agree that less is better, when it comes to government - as a general principle. The more it WANTS to do, the less I trust it to do. Its first priority should be to defend the lives and liberty of honest citizens and guests - national defense and civil order. Actually, even that "pursuit of happiness" stuff is overly vague to be a government interest in my mind. I want a government with a concrete, limited job description.

But if, "the pursuit of happiness" is interpreted as undertaking those aspects of the common good that individuals and more local and voluntary levels of association cannot undertake on their own, then I am all for it.

Roads, for instance, will probably be best if they are organized by a combination of local, state, and federal officials because of the complexities involved in charting, planning, and maintaining a useful and efficient highway infrastructure.

Clean drinking water is another illustration. The local government can usually do that just fine, on a day-to-day level, but state or federal intervention or intervention would be necessary in the case of a chemical manufacturer dumping into water supplies that go downstream into another community or state.

A second consideration I have is that to some extent, the government is a voluntary association. I would certainly not object to King St. Louis of France using the public treasury, as he did, to feed the poor. But he did not do what our unchristian government does - tie strings to it by which the poor may be seduced into a system of control and domination. If most Americans were Christian, and most Americans wanted, out of Christian charity, to work together to feed poor indigents, and told their congressmen to set up a program on their behalf, I'd have no problem with the government running such an effort. I believe in democracy. That said, I see little reason why this sort of issue cannot be handled very locally. I'd rather a bunch of local city-managed soup kitchens than a chain of federally managed free lunches.

Such is not the case. We have elected officials manipulating middle-class opinion in order to secure approval for initiatives designed to increase dependency upon, and consequently the power of, those same officials.

Living in the increasing chaos and government malfeasance that we do, my attitude is typically, let the whole government come tumbling down and something better put into its place. But as gently as possible - there's been too much bloodshed already, and let no more tumble down than is necessary for the restoration of liberty and personal responsibility.