Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Springboarding off Deus Caritas Est

I must preface this entry by saying I loved this encyclical.

If one rummages around the blogosphere, especially Catholic blogs, you begin to see an interesting dichotomy. Progressives vs. traditionalists, orthodox vs. heterodox, etc. You may have noticed that I generally give these arguments a VER-R-R-RY wide berth. I have my views, yes, but I am not the sort of man who likes to join in fights. I am much more concerned with reminding people--from the fringe progressivist who thinks Mass should end in the stoning of a convicted capitalist to the fringe traditionalist who thinks the Church has been adrift since Greek ceased to be language of the liturgy--that what unites us far outweighs whatever may divide us.

What I loved about this encyclical is that it puts many things in context and in a sort of order. As Fr. Richard Ryscavage, S.J. puts it: "In the minds of various Catholic social activists, justice should always trump charity. Pope Benedict XVI disagrees. He uses the strongest teaching instrument of the papacy to affirm the intrinsic salience of the Catholic Church’s charitable work."

Riffing off that, I'd like to chime in with my views on the matter.

There is a reason why the Church has made an emphasis on social justice and that is because there is social INjustice. We don't have to scratch too deeply to find it, either. The solution, however, is not to "press for social justice" per se, but rather, to evangelize and bring more people to God, that they may know Him, love Him and serve Him. A lot of people have equated (in my estimation, mistakenly) the pursuit of social justice with evangelization. I would modestly suggest social justice is not co-equal with evangelization and is the natural and inevitable result of successful evangelization and catechetization. A person who has been successfully (i.e., via good and correct evangelization and catechetization) brought to God cannot, by definition, behave in a systematically unjust way. On the contrary, that person will exhibit not only the sort of just behaviors we laud, but will also be ideally suited to bring others along.

Towards that end, charity is an unparalleled implement in the struggle to evangelize and, by extension, bring true social justice (or as much as can be brought given our fallen condition) to this world. Think of injustice as a tree...what stands a greater chance of ridding it permanently...some foaming-at-the-mouth lumberjack with a chainsaw or a small colony of termites gnawing at its roots?

Christ Himself gave us that answer:

"Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (St. Matthew's Gospel 28:19)

God doesn't want us to "support" things as much as he wants us to DO things. He doesn't command us to support the feeding of the hungry, He enjoins us to actually do the feeding. Notice that Jesus commended the Good Samaritan for putting his compassion into his action, not for standing there and yelling at the priest and at the Levite and saying how much he would support legislation to protect people who fell among robbers between Jericho and Jerusalem.

Which is harder? Which demands more from each of us? Which gate seems narrower? Which seems the product of a genuine faith in Our Lord? A Christian is contemplative in prayer and dynamic in deed, not the other way around. God is love, yes, and that love, through the faithful, must be put into action according to the specific principles Christ has given us. That is inexpressively powerful testimony to our faith, and as wonderful a tool to evangelize and catechize as can be imagined, which brings us back to the most effective path to bring about that which is just. what? Well, we are left to do what Christ commanded: To love our neighbor as ourselves, to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc. and do it the hard way...not by grandiose public display ("Amen, I say to you, they have already had their reward.") but rather, one soul at a time.



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