Saturday, 28 March 2015

Together for the common good

It is excellent news that here in the UK there has been a genuine and broadly-based interest in Catholic Social Teaching over the last few years.  Although that is not so surprising considering the shallowness and narrowness of the political 'debate' in Britain in recent decades.  That is not to say that the debate was much better in the good old days when citizens had a 'reasonable' level of trust in politics and politicians.    The truth is that liberal democracies such as the UK are now facing a cul-de-sac, a dead-end  in every sense.  A recent book edited by Nicolas Sagovsky and Peter McGrail shows us a way to get out the mess that modern capitalism, statism and individualism has brought about  by exploring the concept of  the 'common good' as it has been developed in the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Go Here

 The publication of Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation (SCM Press) this month shows how people on the left and right of the political spectrum as well as across religious traditions are discovering what the social teachings of the Catholic Church can bring to the ‘conversation’ about the future of the country.  We should all pray that the book will be successful in facilitating a ‘national conversation’ as to the task of realising the common good.  It is really a remarkable publication which we can only hope and pray will help to shape the political agenda in this country - especially as we enter into a general election campaign.  Given the importance of a British Catholic, Cardinal Manning, in the story of CST in the late 19th century it is appropriate to keep him  in mind as we talk about the importance of CST for Britain in the early 21st century.

In praying for this 'conversation' between Christians and other faiths ( and those with none) to yield fruit we might as Catholics remember the important connections between Catholic Social Thought (CST) and the Sacred Heart.

So, although it is encouraging to see CST being discussed in this new book,  it is important to make sure that the development of the social teaching of the Catholic Church is understood within its proper spiritual and religious context.   As is well known, for example, Pope Leo XIII’s  great encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) has an important and defining place in the history of CST.  And, of course, we may also draw attention to the considerable role played by Cardinal Manning in developing Catholic social teaching in the late 19th century.  It is by no means a coincidence, however , that both Cardinal Manning and Leo XIII were greatly devoted to the Sacred Heart.  In the case of Leo XIII,  it was his encyclical on the Sacred Heart (Annum Sacrum) in 1899 which marked  the consecration of the whole world to the Sacred Heart.  Pope Leo (1878-1903)-saw the strengthening of the devotion as absolutely necessary in the fight against the evils of  secularism and an economic system which was predicated Annum Sacrum as the greatest act of his entire Pontificate!

Why? The reason was simple: real change can only come when Christ reigns in the hearts of human beings.  Politics has its limits: we should not place too much hope in political processes.  As Leo put it in the encyclical: it is in the Sacred Heart that 'all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.' - and not in states and markets or  ideologies.   It is from love of God that we can draw strength to confront evil and promote and defend the common good. Pope Leo passionately believed that the social teaching of the Church and its spiritual and religious teachings were absolutely integral to one another: hence the centrality of the heart of Jesus.  For Leo, devotion to the divine love and mercy of God as expressed in the heart of Jesus was therefore a form of both personal and public  resistance to the materialism and secularisation of the age.

Change involves human beings, it is not just about 'the state' or 'the economic system': the "sovereign power of Christ over men’ he said, ‘ is exercised by truth, justice, and above all, by charity.’   Of course, as Leo appreciated,  the state and the economic order are important and needs to be changed in line with CST:  but change also involves individuals changing their lives.  CST is all about changing the heart.  Social change has to begin in the hearts of each one of us. Servant of God, Dorothy Day, a great figure in the story of CST, (Read Here)  summed it up in this way:

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.' - Dorothy Day, from Loaves and Fishes

 The Sacred Heart serves to remind us that Jesus wants a relationship with us as individuals.  Jesus wants to change our heart: he asks us to learn from his meek and humble heart!  The personal is political.  Yes, we must seek change in the social, political order and structures.  Yes, we must challenge and oppose forms of economic organization which are destructive of human dignity. But, that is not enough. It is never enough.   The Catholic Church, as Pope Francis reminded us, is not an NGO,  it is our mother ( here)  who is concerned above all with our internal life - our  heart .  So if we wish to advance the common good, we must first  open our hearts to God, for as Pope Leo taught:  ‘in that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed'.  All our hope and all our trust. Without Christ in our hearts, he warned, we will destroy ourselves by an 'excess of liberty.' Liberal democracy is paying the price for the ' excess of liberty'  and excessive materialism.  As Christian citizens we should be very wary about putting all our hopes in the hands of government or in markets.  All too often that has resulted in a misplaced and dangerous faith in the state or the market, or a misplaced faith in philosophies and theories. And all too often that has resulted in the moral and spiritual aspects of public policy being ignored or marginalised. Ultimately we must place all our hope in the power of God's love working in the human heart.

Thus reading Rerum Novarum  without reading Annum Sacrum  is really missing the entire point of CST.  As human beings we have to understand the limits of what politics,  state or the market can achieve.  Without change at the individual level in the depths of our interior life, change at the other levels are in reality and inevitably rather shallow. In a world which is profoundly individualistic and materialistic, real and deep change has to be at the individual and spiritual level.  A better world needs a change in our hearts: because our interior life and the life of world are connected.    It is for this reason also that Cardinal Manning (1808- 1892)  although someone was very much engaged in the politics of his time, was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart.  So, I would encourage anyone who is interested in CST to read  Dignity and Rights of Labour, Burns and Oates, 1934,  ( a collection of Manning's writings on CST) to grasp the scale of his criticism of the economic and social order, but also to read his great book on the Sacred Heart: The Glories of the Sacred Heart, published in 1876.   Read about his open solidarity with the rights of workers in London, and his practical involvement but also about the pilgrimage he lead to the shrine of  the Sacred Heart at Paray-le -monial (in 1873) as a way of witnessing opposition to the materialism and secularism of the times and as a witness to the power of prayer in the face of the very injustices that he opposed in social and economic terms!  His support for the striking dock-workers  ( Read here Cardinal Nichols on Manning -  here for a report on the significance of the strike. ) , and his (much criticised) pilgrimage to the the shrine of the Sacred Heart in France were simply two sides of the same coin.  Consider, for example, his observations  made in one of his sermons to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of St Vincent de Paul in 1861:

Look at the condition of the classes of England; the  separation of the rich from the poor ; at the unequal  distribution of wealth ; at the unwieldy miseries and  irremediable distresses of our millions. Private charity -  is exhausted ; public relief breaks down ; and pauperism  and hunger gain head against all we do. We were told  the other day, that every week one person at least dies  of actual starvation in London. Whether that be so or  not, I cannot tell ; it is a statement put forward by those  who ought to know. With all our wealth and skill and  pride of government, the political powers of the world  are incapable of redressing evils such as these, which are  the degradations of barbarism, not the maladies of  Christian society. There is only one power that can  redress these social evils, that is, the supernatural power of charity. ..[it] is the  universal action of the same supernatural charity which springs from the Sacred Heart of Jesus...(Manning, Ecclesiastical Sermons, Vol. I., p. 89, read here -  my emphasis)

His point in this sermon  was that we utterly delude ourselves if we think that we can solve the problems of inequality and injustice, poverty and hunger by the use of our wealth, or our intelligence, or government.  He, of course, called for action from government and the exercise of intelligence  and skill to address the problems of inequality, but he also had no doubt that the only power that could change the world was the power of love.  Political power, however exercised, was 'incapable' of actually overcoming the evil which was in the world - such as the evil of wealth which is concentrated in the hands of a few.  No. For Manning, evil could only be overcome by the supernatural power of love. He saw that power being exercised in the work of people like St. Vincent de Paul. And in  the face of evil, Christians had to harness this power of love through prayer and in social action and in political activism to shape public opinion.  Christianity could not and must not stand passively on the side-lines, it had to be in the vanguard of confronting and challenging evil in all its social and economic and institutional manifestations.   Catholics in particular had to challenge the idea of progress as something that could take place in a society which had abandoned Christianity.  Although a minority then, as now, British Catholics, he believed, had to be active in opposing the ways in which religion is marginalised in a secular and increasingly statist society.  Real progress was fundamentally about moral and spiritual progress.  Manning took on the claims of modernity head on.  He disputed that human progress was just about the forward march of reason and science and ever better institutional arrangements and structures.  Benedict XVI makes Manning's   point in a more contemporary way in Spe Salvi:

good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. . . It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.  (Benedict XVI: Spe Valvi, 25-6) 

Manning believed that Christians, like St. Vincent,  should challenge the moral and spiritual corruption of their societies; they should  ensure that the rich understood the responsibilities of wealth; they should  attend to the divisions  in society; and they should  'teach the poor to know'.  The common good was not just the responsibility of government, the common good was the responsibility of everyone.  Why? Because it concerned spiritual and moral corruption and improvement.  And that meant harnessing supernatural power: the love of God.

Manning believed that for humanity to reach its full potential it had have a care for the moral and spiritual  dimension of political, economic and social life.  Like Pope Leo, Manning’s approach to ‘social teaching’ was not to see it as detached from individual spiritual life and prayer:  quite the opposite, for Manning the devotion to the Sacred Heart was a personal but ‘political’ or social act and the social teaching of the Church was prayer and love in action.  In the heart of Jesus the public and private realms are united.  It is not surprising,therefore, that Saint John Paul  - the 'Pope of the Sacred Heart '-  ( as this blog has often noted) - also made several major contributions to CST: not least Laborem Exercens (1981); Sollicitudo Rei Socialis ( 1987) ; and Centesimus Annus  (1991).

What the Catholic Church has consistently taught in relation to social teaching from the very beginning (in Cardinal Manning's work and writings and later in Rerum Novarum ) is that, in the words of Benedict XVI in Caritas in Vertiate:

Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law ... It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches .. and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter.. (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.

Above all else, Christianity is about a personal relationship with the love of God made flesh in Jesus. As  Benedict  points out  in the encyclical :

Being A Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

This is a central theme of Pope Francis’s  major statement on CST, Evangelii Gaudium - in which he cites the above passage from Caritas in Veritate ( see 1: 7)   CST in all its theological and philosophical richness is grounded in and founded upon the belief in a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.  This is clearly stated in the first opening paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. .....The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.  I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them...

Our Christian joy, he says ' drinks from the wellspring of his brimming heart' (1.5).  And yet so much of our world is perverted by a 'covetous heart' (1.2).  However, our life in God has 'its source in the heart of the risen Christ'. (1.2)

SO: caritas, love,  is at the heart of the doctrines of CST.  Love is at the heart of subsidiarity, solidarity, the common good, and the dignity of the human person - and all the other key principles.  Because of this, the encounter with Jesus is at the very core of CST. AND, what is the most important symbol of Caritas and the call to a personal encounter with Christ in the Catholic Church?  Answer, the Sacred Heart. Simple. In contemplating Jesus with a heart wounded and on fire with love we enter into the great truth of Christianity: God the Almighty humbled himself to show us that He is Love!

The Sacred Heart in the Catholic tradition is the great symbol of the relationship Jesus desires to have with us as individuals: a heart to heart, and profoundly intimate encounter.  So although we must welcome the way in which CST is being employed by non-Catholics to develop a critique of modern society and foster a conversation between different faiths and between those who have none, we must never lose sight of  what the purpose of that teaching actually is: to show us how to follow Jesus Christ who loves us.   It is really all about love. Which is why, the Sacred Heart, as the most important symbol of God’s love, is so central to the task of translating CST into action.  To quote Pope Francis, who has as we have noted  in this blog,  has stressed time and time again the importance of a spirituality of the heart:

[The] Sacred Heart of Jesus, [is] the highest human expression of divine love..[it is] the ultimate symbol of God's mercy – but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth. HERE

The role of the Church is not to be involved in politics per se , but to illuminate the public sphere by showing how the Gospel of Jesus Christ  - and the power of God's love - is relevant to the problems we face in the public sphere and how it can contribute to the struggle to secure the common good in the face of human sinfulness.  CST does not favour any particular form of social/political/ economic order.  It is perfectly possible to be a supporter of CST on any point on the ideological spectrum  provided that position is drawn from the key principles of the teaching. The purpose of CST  is to make you into  better conservative or a better democratic socialist or whatever. And these principles of CST have their source in the pierced heart of  Jesus - the 'highest human expression of divine love.'  For it is  there we find the core and very centre of CST: we must love God and love our neighbour as Jesus loves us. We must love with all our heart. Once again, just to state as Benedict put it, ‘Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law’.

Politics is about power.  CST has a very profound thing to say about this relationship between power and politics: do not fool yourself in thinking that politics is just about power of a material or secular kind.   There is also power of  a spiritual or supernatural kind which must be channeled into social and political action.  Cardinal Manning, perhaps the most important British Catholic associated with CST, put it best when he said that: 'There is only one power that can  redress these social evils, that is, the supernatural power of charity.'  The very same charity which ' springs from the Sacred Heart of Jesus'.

Given this, I do not think that  it is so surprising that CST is contributing to the formation of  new kind of consensus which can form a basis for a conversation between different faith traditions and people of no faith.  Manning actively gave his support to a cause ( a strike) which united people of different faiths and of none.   I think Manning, who so annoyed conservative Catholics  ( and he really annoyed them!) for the way he collaborated with other Christian denominations and the way he was respected and loved by the working classes and the Labour movement  and supported the cause of Russian Jews,  would have wholeheartedly endorsed the efforts of Together for the Common Good. We can only hope and pray that the teachings which he did so much to develop and promote can, in our present time,  serve the cause of unity and understanding between all people of good will who seek to advance the cause of the Common Good.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in you as we seek to disseminate and put into practice the social teachings of the Church.

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