Politics in action can be ugly. I was impressed by this analysis on the Counterpunch website of the shambolic recent events in Washington:“The drama played out on January 6 reflected the distress generated by historical developments in late-stage capitalism: globalization and automation-induced job losses, accelerating wealth and income inequality, reduced access to educational opportunities and health care, food insecurity and hunger, and the threat of becoming homeless.”
The author, Roger D. Harris, moves behind the specifics to look for causes and identifies the way the world is organised – the politics of capitalism – as the cause of distress, anger and violence. What he lacks, though, is any hope-filled alternative; and this is what Catholic Social Teaching can, in fact, offer.
I’ve been excited recently that Pope Francis has highlighted the importance of Catholic Social Teaching (or CST) by using it explicitly in his own teaching and writing. Was I the only reader of the recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti to have been stopped in my tracks when I read “the principle of the universal destination of created goods”? (Paragraph 12). The principle is that, while most of the wealth of the world ends up in the hands of the top 10%, it belongs to everybody – to the 100%.
Alongside the Universal Destination of Goods, the core values of CST are quite simple and easy to understand: Human Dignity, the Common Good, and the Preferential Option for the Poor. But to make these possible, we need Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
Solidarity entails feeling connected to others, and bothered by what happens to them, so that when we see suffering and injustice we respond as though it was happening to us, or to those dear to us. This is a movement in our hearts and it’s from side to side, across society.
Subsidiarity is a movement in our heads, and it’s top to bottom, through the strata of society. Subsidiarity means that decision-making should involve the people who are affected by the decision. Decisions that affect us should not be made exclusively somewhere else, whether in Westminster or Rome; for this to happen, those who hold the power have to let go of tight control and involve local communities.
It’s tempting to respond to current events by focusing on the personal, and giving up on the structural; in effect, retreating behind the front door, closing the curtains, and putting the telly on. But if we do this, we leave the influence and the decision making to others.
There is a common saying that we get the politicians we deserve. Maybe we get the political system we deserve.
At this point we have to appreciate the wisdom of Charles Peguy’s remark: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” If we want to be involved, if we want to form community, we have to acknowledge our own responsibility to do so. More bluntly, being Catholic Christian does not mean being inactive or silent in the face of injustice. We are called to be people of peace and reconciliation.
Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Kelly was fond of saying “It’s our duty to be a little less ill-informed”, which gives us the duty of noticing what is happening on the structural scale as well as on the personal scale. Having noticed what is happening, then we are asked to make the world more Godly, more as God wants it.
So, some big questions: how do we live in the Kingdom of God, be active citizens, work to make the world a better place, resist ignorance and prejudice, and live in harmony with the rest of creation and with our brothers and sisters?
Unless we think it will happen by chance, we need to organise! For prayer, for knowledge, for action and for community. Increasingly, I am convinced that only conversation will convert our hearts and minds. So let’s talk to each other. Let’s even talk to the people we’d rather avoid.
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