Tag Archives: caritas in veritate

Poverty, justice and Christian love

MICHAEL MILLER writes that there are many problems with the way we engage questions of poverty both in the U.S. and abroad, but one underlying philosophical issue that is often neglected is that we have replaced charity with humanitarianism, a hollowed-out secular and materialist vision of Christian love. We need a more human vision of Christian love . . . 

Michael M. Miller

Michael M. Miller

Concern for the poor is at the heart of Christianity. Saint John Paul II called poverty one of the greatest moral challenges of our time, and to ignore the plight of the poor has consequences for our eternal souls.

Pope Francis addressed poverty in Evangelii Gaudium: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (#54).

The consequence of apathy in the face of suffering is seen clearly in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In his commentary on this passage, St. Augustine notes that it was not his great wealth that sent the rich man to hell, it was his indifference. He just didn’t care. He ignored the poor man.

Care for the poor is not simply a question of charity, it’s also a question of justice. We are called to help the poor, but at the same time, we’re not called just to “do something.” Having a heart for the poor is not enough. We also need a mind for the poor. Our charity and justice must be ordered by reason and oriented to truth.

Pope Benedict writes in Caritas in Veritate: “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality” (#3).

This means our charity and our hunger for justice must be rooted in the virtue of prudence. German philosopher Josef Pieper defined prudence as seeing the world as it is and acting accordingly. This is why prudence is often called the mother of the virtues, because we can’t be just or brave or temperate if we don’t see the world as it is and act accordingly.

Prudence is especially important when we try to help the poor. Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that justice can be destroyed in two ways: not only by “the violent act of the man who possesses power,” but also by the “false prudence of the sage.” Imprudent charity can actually increase injustice. Sometimes our help can actually make things worse.

There are many problems with the way we engage questions of poverty both in the U.S. and abroad, but one underlying philosophical issue that is often neglected is that we have replaced charity with humanitarianism. What is the difference? Humanitarianism focuses primarily on providing comfort and meeting the material needs of people, but this is only a small part of charity. Humanitarianism limits its horizons to the material, and thereby misses the creative capacity, inherent dignity, and eternal destiny of man.

Humanitarianism is a hollowed out secular and materialist vision of Christian love. It is a bad copy. Yet even Christian organizations often operate under a humanitarian model. As Pope Francis has warned, the Church is not supposed to be just one NGO (nongovernmental organization) among many.

Charity, on the other hand, comes from the word caritas in Latin or agape in Greek. Charity is Christian love. To love is to seek after the good of the other. That means that while good works and care for the poor are an essential part of charity, they are not the whole thing.

To desire the good of the other ultimately means promoting and encouraging human flourishing, all the while keeping the eternal destiny of the person in mind. Does this mean Christian charity does not care about material needs? Of course not, but it realizes this is not enough. The provision of material needs should be at the service of promoting human flourishing, helping the person to become all God has called him to be.

Ideas do indeed have consequences, and the shift from humanitarianism back to a richer and more human vision of Christian love changes the way we engage with the poor — not simply as objects of our charity, but as the subjects and protagonists of their own story of development.

It also makes us less focused on ourselves and more focused on the people we are trying to help. Pope Francis has exhorted us to be on the front lines with the poor. It is time for a revolution in charity — in thought and in deed.

MICHAEL MATHESON MILLER is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, the director of PovertyCure and host of PovertyCure DVD Series.

Liberty and solidarity

DR. ANDREW ABELA writes that poverty can only be conquered through businesses leaders working to provide opportunities for the impoverished. Not only is this a Catholic position, but it’s the only way that will work.  We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies . . .

Andrew Abela

Andrew Abela

The market economy is falling out of favor. Politicians who favor statist solutions to all social problems appear to be only too happy to seize upon the dissatisfaction of the poor and the middle class and promote class conflict.

We can make theoretical arguments about how the market economy lifts societies out of poverty, and we can cite the ample historical evidence that this has happened time and again, but if large numbers of citizens hold the perception that here and now their incomes continue to stagnate while owners prosper, then the market economy is truly in jeopardy.

The Church’s social teaching holds the solution. We are called to practice solidarity — the love of others — in everything we do, and particularly in running our companies. Solidarity is “first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 38). This is something we must do ourselves.

Benedict warned that “when both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence…” (Caritas in Veritate, 39).

Benedict is denouncing the conventional view that it’s the job of business to make money and the job of government to tax that money and redistribute it. He says this view weakens solidarity, responsibility and charity. What he’s saying, in effect, is that we should not rely on the government to solve the problem of poverty. If government is perceived to be the solution to poverty, the poor are going to want more government! Instead, we as business leaders should be leading the charge to solve the problem of poverty — and we should do this by drawing more people into the “circle of exchange” (Centesimus Annus, 34), the market economy.

Free markets and Christian love — liberty and solidarity — can and should work together within commercial activity. An individualistic perspective denies this. It sees them as opposing one another. Solidarity, to the extent that it obliges me to “lose myself” in the service of others, seems to put a limit on my economic freedom. By contrast, the Church teaches that the more we serve others, the more free we become.

Pope Benedict affirmed this: “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function. The principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity” (Caritas in Veritate, 35-36). We need solidarity for the market to work well.

Look, we already know this. We know that when business runs well, it runs on trust — even on generosity. Whenever we give a break to an unproven new hire, whenever we extend extra credit to a struggling customer because we believe they will make it, we are practicing solidarity. Don’t believe those who argue that what we’re doing is just “enlightened self-interest.” Yes, doing the right thing will most often lead to good results for the firm, but that’s not only why we do it. We do it because that’s how we love God and our neighbor in our daily work.

This is the only way forward. Pope Francis, in his first encyclical, wrote: “Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood” (Lumen Fidei, 54). Pope Francis affirms it: Christian brotherhood can only succeed under the Father — not under Big Brother.

This will only work if we’re determined to fight poverty through our businesses. How do we do this? Could we find ways to employ people who are considered unemployable? For example, could our employees, on a volunteer basis, run seminars on how to interview for a job? Could we come up with creative ways to serve customers in underserved areas? Could we extend opportunities to employees, customers, and community members to invest in our businesses, so that they can experience for themselves the rewards of being “capitalists”? The more we do this, the less demand there will be for government aid to poverty. And less demand for government, period.

Interested in hearing more? Attend the conference on Liberty and Solidarity at the Catholic University of America, Sept. 24-26, 2014.

ANDREW V. ABELA, PH.D. is the dean of the newly created School of Business & Economics at The Catholic University of America, and a charter member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter.

Benedict’s legacy: charity and truth

Fr Shenan Boquet writes of Pope Benedict’s lasting legacy of charity and truth . . .

Father Shenan J. Boquet

Father Shenan J. Boquet

As the world waited eight years ago for the white smoke to emerge from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, millions wondered not only who the next pope would be, but also how anyone could possibly follow the man who was already being referred to as “John Paul the Great.”

Of course, we now know the answer. The shy and brilliant theologian, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was selected by his brother cardinals, and his papacy was one of persistent and clear teaching about the love of Jesus Christ. The man we now refer to as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, followed his unfollowable predecessor, not by trying to be like him, but by placing his own substantial gifts at the disposal of the Holy Spirit.

Though we cannot possibly consider all of Benedict’s work here, we can safely say that his three encyclicals alone have given us a wealth of material for reflection, effectively bringing the eternal truths, of which the Catholic Church is steward, into dialogue with the challenges of today’s culture.

In the last of these encyclicals, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Benedict addresses the charitable efforts of the Church. First a little background: It is well known that billions of dollars go from the world’s wealthier nations to impoverished nations. Often in the form of loans or material aid, donations go through governments, through large multinational organizations such as the United Nations, and through charitable foundations and organizations.

Over the last few decades, some worthy projects have become progressively corrupted with the false premise that poverty would be alleviated if the poor would stop having children. This insidious lie has become practically impervious to contrary evidence, such as the fact that wealthier nations are quite often more densely populated than the poorest nations — and that wealthy nations became wealthy while they had higher fertility rates, and thus larger families.

Still, the belief that children are an obstacle to progress is now as much a shared assumption of international development efforts as is the need for improved education and infrastructure. Human Life International’s pro-life missionaries know that this destructive attitude is particularly difficult to overcome. Indeed, billions that could be spent on worthy projects go instead to legalize abortion in nations that do not want it and to promote contraception as a means of improving “reproductive health.”

Catholic charitable organizations, Benedict writes in Caritas in Veritate, have a particular responsibility to have a radically different approach to poverty. The good work done by these groups must be done in a spirit of true evangelization, unabashedly bringing the love of Jesus Christ — caritas — to the poor. We provide material assistance in an efficient manner with high professional standards, but we must see in our brother and sister who live in poverty not a problem to be solved, but the greatest resource for their own turn toward prosperity.

Catholics cannot pursue this essential work in the same way as secular organizations, but rather with the knowledge that every person is destined for heaven — and as such has needs beyond mere material assistance. When we recognize this truth, we see in the poor our shared dignity as we are made in the image of our Creator. This is what Benedict means when he calls for “the development of every person and of the whole person.”

Clearly, this is not the prevailing ethos of the international development community. For this reason, Catholic organizations must be very careful about how they pursue their missions. Faith formation of staff must be a high priority.

As Benedict says in Caritas in Veritate, “Openness to life is at the center of true development” (# 28). It’s sad that such common sense would be considered revolutionary, but in the field of international development, it most surely is. Benedict has called for a renewal of the Church’s charitable work, which is as much a part of her mission, he says, as is the liturgy and the sacraments. To ensure that he was not misunderstood, Benedict promulgated new articles within Canon Law this past December, expressly empowering bishops to ensure the faithfulness of the Church’s charitable organizations to the entirety of her social and moral doctrine.

The great work done by Catholic charitable organizations must continue. It can be a tremendous vehicle for sharing both the Gospel and the truths of the Church’s social and moral doctrine. For his eloquent and persistent articulation of these truths in Caritas in Veritate — and in dozens of other statements and documents — we can be very grateful for Benedict’s pontificate. And we pray that Pope Francis will continue to pursue this urgent effort in charity and in truth.

FR. SHENAN BOQUET is the president of Human Life International.

Value-driven service and spending

John Di Camillo writes that we have the obligation to avoid compromising our faith and values . . .

John Di Camillo

The Riverbend Bed & Breakfast in Canada denied a double bed to homosexual couples and offered them separate rooms, citing their objection to abetting immoral sexual practices. It was sued for discrimination. Courts could not grasp the distinction between sexual orientation and practice. The business was fined and had to close.

Jim and Mary O’Reilly, Roman Catholic owners of the Wildflower Inn in Vermont, were sued after their events manager inaccurately informed a lesbian couple that the inn would not host receptions for homosexual marriages. To comply with anti-discrimination laws, the inn’s actual practice was to disclose the owners’ opposition to same-sex marriage but not to deny service. Nonetheless, under the settlement, the O’Reillys must pay $30,000.

Many argue that business owners’ and consumers’ beliefs and values should have no impact on economic decisions because engaging in commercial activity entails a tacit prohibition on manifesting religious belief or moral values. Yet this position constitutes implicit acceptance of the belief in a moral exemption for commercial activity and the value of material goods over spiritual goods.

In his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI instead reaffirms that economic activity “needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good” and therefore “must be structured and  governed in an ethical manner.” This is because “the economy needs [person-centered] ethics in order to function correctly.” We must acknowledge and participate in commerce as Christian witnesses, responding to Paul’s call “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Titus 2:12) while ever mindful of his warning not to be conformed to this world (see Rom 12:2).

The social responsibility of businesses entails stewardship of resources, respect for employees and consumers, and promotion of the common good through policies, services and products. Benedict’s encyclical confirms that the consumer likewise “has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in-hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise,” because “purchasing is always a moral — and not simply [an] economic — act.” In a free market system, the array of choices means I might purchase a comparable quality product at a comparable price from a different vendor; and if, with minimal inconvenience, I can patronize the one that better promotes human dignity, then I am morally impelled to do so.

The practical impact of purchasing decisions on the behavior of a large enterprise is negligible if taken alone. However,  as the Holy Father notes in Caritas in Veritate, “global interconnectedness has led to the emergence of a new political power, that of consumers and their associations.” Consumers working together can acquire the clout of an investor and challenge injustices in business — this is the power of a boycott. Life Decisions International, which researches and publishes The Boycott List, claims that 287 corporations have withdrawn funding from Planned Parenthood as a result of the coordinated efforts of pro-family people, causing estimated losses of over $40 million.

Alternatively, consumers can actively favor businesses. Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was a resounding success on Aug. 1. Over 650,000 confirmed RSVPs, showing strong support for the company’s CEO, Dan Cathy, who had affirmed the natural and biblical understanding of marriage. The company confirmed that it generated record sales that day, reflecting the constructive witness of consumers to good values while integrating multiple facets of human activity.

Given the relevance of morality to economic activity, is there an obligation to boycott every business that supports evil or to refuse every client who may abuse a service? An absolute yes or no would be reassuring but inaccurate. The clear imperative is never to do evil that good may come (as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans), but cases of foreseen evil following from otherwise good or indifferent actions are more nebulous. The principle of material cooperation with evil provides helpful guidance but requires case-specific assessments about the moral distance of causal associations, the moral gravity of the evil, proportionate reasons, and other factors. Careful discretion and prayer must guide these practical judgments.

When it comes to business services and spending, we cannot participate in every good cause or prevent all possible evils. Yet each of us has the obligation to avoid compromising our faith and values, to object to unjust impositions of the civil law, to avoid misrepresentation and scandal, and to work ceaselessly to turn ourselves, our habits, our families, our work, our businesses, and our communities more toward the respect of a fruitful culture of life, recognizing and pruning away what is harmful as best we can.

John A. Di Camillo is a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Church teaching on business responsibility

Dr. Andrew Abela helps mark the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate by discussing Church teaching on the responsibilities of Christians in business. He excerpts from the forthcoming Catechism for Business, tackling this issue of Catholic social teaching as applied to business as found in 118 years of papal encyclicals . . .

Dr. Andrew Abela

Dr. Andrew Abela

To celebrate the June release of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, our selection from the forthcoming Catechism for Business includes just one question about the overarching themes in Catholic social teaching as applied to business. The selected quotations illustrate the continuity and fruitfulness of this teaching across 118 years of papal encyclicals.

What general themes occur throughout Church teaching regarding the responsibilities of Christians in business?

“The Church’s social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or ‘after’ it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.” — Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 79.

“It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love — a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.” — Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 5.

“… the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.” — Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 35.

“What are less than human conditions? The material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love; oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power, from the exploitation of the worker or unjust transactions.

“What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life’s necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go on to acquire a growing awareness of other people’s dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God himself, their author and end. Finally and above all, there is faith — God’s gift to men of good will — and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.” — Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 21.

“The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation — that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile and not as our abiding place.

“As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance or are lacking in them — so far as eternal happiness is concerned — it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright. Jesus Christ, when he redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportion are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Savior. ‘If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him’ (2 Tim 2:12).

“Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ — threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord (Lk 6:24-25) — and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess.” —Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 21-22.

Dr. Andrew V. Abela is chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America. He received the Acton Institute’s 2009 Novak Award for research into the relationship between religion and economic liberty. He is a charter member of Legatus’ Arlington Chapter.

The market needs objective morality

Sam Gregg writes that Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, reminds us that we cannot make economic choices or act economically as if the demands of Christian love and truth have nothing to do with such choices and acts. The Pope reminds us that “it is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply an economic — act” . . .

Dr. Sam Gregg

Dr. Sam Gregg

Amidst the fanfare surrounding the promulgation of Benedict XVI’s third encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) and what can only be described as the simplistic analysis offered by the mainstream media, a number of important insights have been lost — including those especially relevant for people engaged in the daily toil of creating wealth in the worlds of private enterprise, business and commerce.

The first is that this is a profoundly theological text. As with his previous encyclicals, Benedict reminds us that realities such as love, truth and hope are theological realities. The fact that they are theological realities — that is, ultimately known through our knowledge (lógos) of God (theos) — does not make them any less real than the economic world we engage every day of our lives.

All of us are tempted to regard theological imperatives as abstract concepts that have no relevance or place in the “real world.” If, however, we truly believe that the life, death and resurrection of the Person of Jesus Christ is real, then we should have no difficulty in integrating these theological truths into our daily lives.

This in turn means that we cannot make economic choices or act economically as if the demands of Christian love and truth have nothing to do with such choices and acts. The Pope observes, for example, that “it is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act” (#66). That does not mean that business leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs should act less competitively or creatively. As Caritas in Veritate affirms, there is a place for commercial logic and thinking economically. It simply means that Christians should assimilate the commandment of love of neighbor and our responsibility to live in truth into our economic lives.

How does this play out in practical terms? This means that, no matter how intense and stressful the competition, we should never, for example, treat our customers, competitors and employees as mere objects. This is a requirement of justice, but it also reflects the Christian’s recognition that these people are persons made in God’s image.

On a second level, Caritas in Veritate’s attention to love and truth has profound implications for the functioning of the market economy. Significantly Benedict does not call for a “third way” between the market economy and socialism. Nor does he present an alternative economic system to the market. Instead the market economy is more or less assumed to be the only alternative available. What matters is the degree to which the market economy is grounded in the truth — especially the moral truth — revealed to us through faith and reason.

Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust,” the Pope writes, “the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function” (#35). This surely has been amply confirmed by the recent financial crisis. America’s subprime mortgage collapse was partly attributable to the fact that thousands of people lied on their mortgage application forms. It is not surprising that mass violation of the moral prohibition against lying has devastating economic consequences. “The economic sphere,” the Pope reminds us, “is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner” (#36). Against all relativists, Benedict maintains that market economies must be underpinned by commitments to particular basic moral goods and a certain vision of the human person if it is to serve rather than undermine humanity’s common good: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centered” (#45).

At the heart of the economy are human persons. People whose minds are dominated by hedonistic cultures will make hedonistic economic choices. “Therefore,” Benedict writes, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals” (#36). Nor does he regard the market as morally problematic in itself.

“The market is not … the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations” (#36). What matters, Benedict says, is the moral culture in which market economies function.

In addition to these insights, Caritas in Veritate expresses plenty of prudential judgments with which faithful Catholics may legitimately take issue. I myself wonder if the encyclical fully appreciates the potentially tremendous negative impact of massive state-based redistribution of wealth. Of course Catholics may disagree among themselves (and even with the Pope) about those matters that the Church considers prudential. This includes the overwhelming majority of economic policy issues — though not on the subjects such as abortion and euthanasia as Pope Benedict affirmed in a 2004 letter to the then-archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Lastly, I would suggest one thing: Read the encyclical for yourself. It is dense and at times complex, but it also contains beautiful words of wisdom relevant to us all. We have a great Pope. Deo Gratis.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He is the author of many books, including “On Ordered Liberty” (2003) and his prize-winning “The Commercial Society” (2007).