Sunday, May 27, 2007

Neither Marxism Nor Capitalism, But The Gospel

Among the teachings that distinguish the Catholic Church is her doctrine of the Mystical Body.

The Catholic faith holds that the primary subject of salvation is not the individual but a society. The new life in Christ is a participation in the life of a people, the People of God. It comes through incorporation into the body of which Christ is the head and we are the members. Catholics are saved in the company of others, not apart from them.

Salvation, therefore, is never a purely individualistic enterprise. It is not faith alone, nor even faith and hope, that saves; it is finally these “working through charity” that bring salvation.

As a member of a body, a Catholic must strive not only for his own salvation but for the salvation of his brothers in Christ.

Charity, which is twofold – love of God and of neighbor – demands an active engagement in helping others achieve the sanctification that prepares us for union with Christ in the eschatological wedding feast of the Lamb.

Too often, however, Catholics interpret even salvation within the Church in individualistic terms.

Salvation only encompasses personal conversion and individual piety. It is conversion to the Church, but the Church conceived as a society closed in on itself, concerning itself with matters of supernatural faith, devotion, and personal morality alone. The problem is, the Church has always directed her works to more than personal holiness. Her mission has been not only to renew the life of individual men and women but the life of nations. Jesus did not just command His disciples to go into the world and preach the Gospel to each and every person; rather, He charged them to “teach all nations.”

The Psalms exhort, “praise the Lord all ye nations” and “all ye nations clap your hands, rejoice in God in a voice of exultation!”

The Gospel is to transform the corporate life of peoples, to order their life to the praise of God. Of course, the Gospel transforms individual souls; indeed, this must be considered its final fulfillment. The Gospel, however, is directed to the whole man, not merely to his life of piety and personal morality.

The Gospel speaks to all of a man’s life, both his interior life and his life lived in the world. It addresses not only sin but the arrangements of societal life that derive from sin and lead to it.

In addressing the inaugural session of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean on May 13, Pope Benedict XVI asked whether its theme, “Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him,” could not lead to religious individualism.

“Could this priority” -- making disciples of Christ -- “not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?” asked the pope. Benedict responded to his own question with another.

“What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems ‘reality’?”

His answer, of course, was no. Divorcing political and social concerns from “the foundational and decisive reality which is God,” said the pope, has been the mark of the modern world and of the two great systems of our times, the Marxist and capitalist systems. Both have sought to separate communal from individual morality and have led, on the side of Marxism, to “a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction” and “a painful oppression of souls,” and on the capitalist side, to a growing “distance between rich and poor ... giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.”

The reality of God, however, is “God-with-us,” with an emphasis on the “us.” Faith in God, said Benedict, “gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church,” releasing us “from the isolation of the ‘I,’ because it leads us to communion.”

This “communion with God is, in itself and as such,” said Benedict, “an encounter with our brothers and sisters, an act of convocation, of unification, of responsibility towards the other and towards others.”

For this reason, “the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty.”

Yet, as Benedict pointed out, our encounter with others is not merely had on a one-on-one basis but addresses the political and social problems that affect everyone. It addresses, in the pope’s words, “the problem of structures, especially those which create injustice.” These structures rely on “a moral consensus in society on fundamental values,” but such a moral consensus, by itself, is not enough to make a just society.

“In truth,” said Benedict, “just structures are a condition without which a just order in society is not possible.”

Political and social justice does not arise irregardless of political and economic systems; this, Catholic social teaching, since the days of Pope Leo XIII, has made abundantly clear. Marxism is not unjust simply because it is atheistic but because it denies rights and principles fundamental to man -- for instance, the right to private, productive property and the principle of subsidiarity.

Christian Socialism is an oxymoron -- but so is Christian capitalism. The Church has inveighed against the concept of a free market, unfettered by any principle except the profit motive, as much as she has assailed Marxism.

Capitalism does not create unjust structures because capitalists just happen to be irreligious but because, as a system, it subjects economics to nothing but the profit motive.

For the capitalist, acquisitive activity is to be reigned in by no controls, whether directed toward preserving communities, cultures, the economic security of workers, or the integrity of family life.

At best, the only control over economic activity is to come from individual actors motivated by their own personal “values.”

In his encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI called the notion of “rugged competition” in the economic sphere a “polluted spring” from which “have proceeded all the errors of the ‘individualistic’ school.”

He condemned those who, “forgetful or ignorant of the social and moral aspects of economic activities,” have “regarded these as completely free and immune from any intervention by public authority, for they would have in the market place and in unregulated competition a principle of self-direction more suitable for guiding them than any created intellect which might intervene.”

Pius did not condemn free competition “within certain limits” -- indeed, he said it could be “justified and quite useful”; but, he said, competition “cannot be an adequate controlling principle in economic affairs.”

In addressing economic and political structures, the Church does not transgress the proper limits of her authority, for she sees that these have an effect, for good or ill, on the moral and religious life of individuals and communities — a matter with which the Church is intimately concerned.

Economic and political systems which undermine family security threaten the stability of the family, the school of religion and morality.

Economic and political systems that threaten the integrity of communities can shatter tradition, the cultural memory of a people and the material ground, for most men, of their very moral and religious convictions.

Instaurare omnia in Christo -- Catholics are to “restore all things in Christ.” And “all” means all. All the issues of our day -- abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality, war, economic justice, political structures, pollution of the natural world -- are connected and interwoven with one another, because they have to do with man.

The Gospel of Christ, indeed, has as its object the eternal good of man, but this depends on how we live our lives in the world here below.

The Gospel is to transform everything that touches the moral springs of human life. Everything human is to be made Christian.


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