Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Catholic Social Thought

Pausing for a moment after our second class this week on Catholic social teaching, led by Fr. Michael Marigliano, our current provincial vicar. Brother Michael led presentations on religious vows and the Capuchin Franciscan life at the candidate discernment weekend in September.

Yesterday Brother Michael introduced us broadly to the historical context of Catholic social teaching. This body of doctrine stands between the sacred mysteries of faith and the ways that human beings live in the world. At the core of the Church's social thought is a social symbol: the reign of God, as proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth to a people in crisis. This living symbol is of primary significance because it articulates a truth of faith: to be redeemed is to be a part of a community where God is the prevailing power; to be saved is to be liberated from destructive relationships and gracefully enmeshed in just relationships. The Church, and its churches, emerged from the Christ-event to proclaim the reign of God, and immediately the question arose: How do we live as faithful witnesses to Christ in the midst of social, political, economic, and cultural crisis? Ever since the first disciples died and the final coming of Christ did not happen when expected, the faithful have had to deal with the social question.

The tradition of Catholic social thought gives the people of God a vision of the human being in community. It calls on disciples to promote the flourishing of the human community and point out what distorts it. It calls on us to describe the human person truly, as loved and transformed by God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The tradition, though rooted in the Gospel and oriented toward the reign of God, is wide enough to engage those who do not share our belief but embrace our hope for a just world.

Catholic social thought, especially as developed over the last 120 years, comprises a critical tradition that examines social conditions in light of the Gospel of Jesus. From papal encyclicals and the documents of church councils to the words and works of lay movements and associations, it is a self-conscious tradition building on 2,000 years of reflection from the faithful who have worked out their salvation in the world.

That was yesterday. Today Brother Michael situated Catholic social doctrine in the context of the once-and-future revolutions in philosophy, the social sciences, politics, economics, and culture. Class today was like sitting through a succession of quick-paced movie trailers. Revolution! The Enlightenment! The turn to the subject! No certainty of knowledge but through reason. The state has no authority from God; it is derived from the people. Along comes Adam Smith, and the economic question becomes how we create wealth. Revolution in France and America ... and don't forget the Industrial Revolution! Steam and steel! Globalization didn't begin with the Internet; it began with the railroad, telegraph, and telephone. Along comes Marx and the class struggle, the Communist Manifesto and the First International. Along come clandestine, mixed, and civil marriages; along come utopian experiments in family systems. Also comes dystopia in the cities. Alcohol! Sex! Darwin publishes his research into the origin of species, and human anthropology must change, to say nothing of theology of creation. From Descartes to Kant to Nietzsche, and clunk! The metaphysical pool has been drained dry. There is no "there" out there, and what is "here" is only what we make of it.

With all of this the Church and all the faithful had to reckon, according to the Gospel. And so must we reckon with the perpetual and perplexing changes today, for in all this lies the passion, and through all this comes the reign of God. How do followers of Jesus engage this world in perennial revolution? Withdrawal? Assimilation? Through transcendence? Through paradox? Transformation? To be continued....

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