Tag Archives: Evangelii Gaudium

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.

Reading Pope Francis

Michael Coren writes that Pope Francis is not the left-leaning socialist many think he is . . .

Michael Coren

Michael Coren

In addition to my work as a television host, radio panelist, columnist and author, I am a Catholic apologist — which doesn’t mean I say sorry for Catholicism. Rather, I explain and justify the Church I embraced nearly 30 years ago in my hometown of London, England.

On one particular weekend last November I left Dallas on a Saturday morning with the temperature rising to 84°F. Within 24 hours I was in Saskatoon, Canada, and it was -18°. It struck me that in spite of more than a 100° climate disparity, it was the same Church I was defending. It’s always the same Church, whatever the weather or language or context.

Random House asked me to write The Future of Catholicism after Pope Francis’ election in an attempt to explain to an often ill-informed and hostile media (and a public eager for knowledge) what could and could not change in Catholicism. The media’s questions were always the same: Would the Pope change Church teaching concerning abortion, same-sex “marriage,” contraception, and female ordination? In spite of wishful thinking from the usual anti-Catholic coalition, the answer is No. What is contained in Scripture, the deposit of faith, and natural law is written in perfectly formed, ancient, timeless stone.

The Church is not a product of fashion but an institution given to us by God and rooted in truth rather than time. The Church may change the way the message is delivered, may emphasize certain aspects over others, may even reform certain non-fundamentals, but it exists not to reflect but to shape the world.

We saw this at the end of November with Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It’s a lyrical, compelling document that affirms the exclusively male priesthood and simultaneously calls for more women in positions of Catholic influence; it magnifies the dignity of the human person and simultaneously condemns the gossip-driven, obsessive triviality of celebrity culture; it explains the necessity of papal authority and simultaneously calls for more national autonomy so the Holy Father can be helped and supported.

There was one particular aspect, however, that seemed to fascinate a media which increasingly reduces the solemn to the sound bite. We have seen this intellectual flabbiness again and again when journalists respond to the pope’s comments. In this case it was his criticism of “unfettered capitalism” and need to make God — and not money — the object of our love and worship. He wrote that extreme economic inequality was cruel, that people were entitled to jobs, food and education — and that some of those who controlled the world’s economies were not always to be relied upon.

Hardly Vladimir Lenin on a rant! The Church has been committed to the poor and the marginalized ever since Our Savior walked the earth. Jesus came for all of us, but if some of those “all of us” are in despair and poverty, the Church has to take notice.

The papacy formed its modern economic teaching as far back as 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. The late 19th century witnessed a vehemently aggressive capitalism that often refused to empathize with workers and their families. This in turn led to the rise of state socialism. Leo condemned both, outlining private property as a basic right but reminding employers that they had a Catholic duty to pay their employees a fair wage.

Fast forward 125 years and Pope Francis is not condemning capitalism, but outlining how a free market without any Christian imperative — especially in the developing world — can lead to ethical disaster. Even in the West, we all know the “low taxes, low morals” brigade who care not a fig for marriage, life, and faith but obsess about fiscal issues. The Church is grander, deeper, better than that. It defies political labels.

Socialism has always limited religious freedom, which is why no Catholic can embrace such a materialistic ideology. But capitalism without God and Christ also runs contrary to religious liberty as we see when the super-wealthy of Hollywood and Wall Street mock and suppress those of us who defend Catholic values and virtues.’

We are Catholic not to be loved but to love. And if anybody is looking for popular approval, the Church is probably the wrong venue. Pope Francis is experiencing something of a honeymoon with the media right now, but his refusal to compromise Christ’s teachings regarding an all-male priesthood, for example, is already earning disapproval from the usual suspects. We look neither right nor left but up; we work to make this world a better place but know that this is merely the land of shadows and that real life has not yet begun. This is the past, present, and future of Catholicism.

MICHAEL COREN is a Toronto-based columnist, author and television broadcaster.

Understanding Pope Francis’ writing on economics

Legatus chaplain Fr. Chas Canoy writes on the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation . . .

CanoyAt a recent Legatus chapter event, we had some lively dinner conversation at our table concerning the pope’s view on economics. The question came up of some ways to respond to friends and family who may ask or have asked you about it, given all the commentary out there like Rush Limbaugh’s. If you too are wondering, please continue to read on.  If not, then I wish you and your family a blessed Advent and a beautiful Christmas season!

First of all, I would first encourage you to take some time over the holy days to read Evangelii Gaudium (EG).  Until you get that chance, I think it’s important to keep in mind what the Pope is NOT saying. He did not say, for example, that capitalism is in and of itself an unacceptable economic system. We also know, from past Church teaching such as John Paul’s Centesimus Annus, that this is far from the truth.

What Pope Francis is pointing out are the abuses that exist or to which free market economies can be inclined if the agents of capitalism neglect or have little or insufficient regard for the common good and the dignity of the human person, particularly the poor. It’s important to note that he has also spoken against Marxist thought and liberation theology. Given his South American background, he has observed corruption of both types firsthand.

Pope FrancisThis leads to three essential points that outlines the necessary context to understand better Pope Francis’ comments:

1.  Protecting the dignity of the human person and fostering the common good are two fundamental principles of any just society (see Gaudium et Spes).  Consequently, every sector of society, including economics, should have as its object and aim the flourishing of its people, with these two elements particularly in mind.
2.  Thus, the pope said, “Money must serve, not rule” (EG 58). In other words, just as the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath, so the free market is for the benefit and flourishing of man, not man for the free market. The one who sees it as the latter may be culpable of what Pope Francis calls the “idolatry of money” (EG 55).
3.  The pope is not an economist. The Church is authoritative in faith and morals, not economics. Whatever the pope’s private views are on the economy, he recognizes that economics and all secular fields have their own proper autonomy. At the same time, economics is not amoral. There are ethical dimensions to economics and every sector of secular society, and in these dimensions the pope acts as pastor and guide.

As you may already be thinking, none of these are inimical to capitalism, properly understood. In fact, I would propose, as I’m sure many of you would, that capitalism, properly ordered to the good, is indeed the most conducive at achieving human flourishing and fostering the common good. While the free market has some natural or innate correctives within its system, the Pope however wants us to understand that it’s not impermeable to the exploitation of the powerful and that in fact no economic system is adequate to ensure sufficiently the protection of the dignity of every human person. Systems ultimately don’t do that; people do.

FATHER CHAS CANOY is a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. He is the chaplain of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter.