Monday, May 16, 2011

Capitalism and Catholic Social Doctrine

There has been a lot in the news recently about the Catholic Church's position on Capitalism, triggered by the reaction by some professors to Speaker Boehner's upcoming speech at CUA. Here is my own survey of "capitalism" in the Catholic social tradition.

The critique of socialism and communism is fairly well-known one who is at least partially familiar with Catholic social doctrine, especially given its attacks on socialism within the earliest documents in the tradition. Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum was written in large part as a response to the socialist movement in Europe in the late nineteenth century, and his work was developed by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, where Pius concluded, “No one can at the same time be a sincere Catholic and a true socialist.” (120) John Paul II‘s magisterium is significant for its critique of communism and other collectivist expressions of socialism. One might argue that there is not within the tradition of Catholic social doctrine, however, a parallel and consistent critique of capitalism. Thus, some have argued that the Church supports capitalism, or at least that there is an unresolved tension within the tradition. Tom Woods, an otherwise very traditional Catholic, argues that because the magisterium does not understand the functioning of economic laws, especially when it comes to the just wage, it is not infallible when it comes to such secular disciples.i The moral injunctions that comprise Catholic social teaching are based, at root, on economic misconceptions and factual error. Polemical assertion is not proof, and it should be obvious that no binding moral obligation can derive from unproven and indeed manifestly faulty premises. ii Leaving aside the question of the binding nature of Catholic social doctrine, it will be the task of this paper to suggest that perhaps some of the tension in discussions about the Church‘s position vis-à-vis capitalism stems from different notions of “capitalism” in the documents themselves. iii How is capitalism defined by Catholic social doctrine? How does it function? What is accepted, and what is rejected? After tracing a chronological trajectory of the theme, I will summarize with several evident trends related to the magisterium‘s discussion of capitalism.

The Early Tradition

The term ―capitalism does not appear in Leo XIII‘s Rerum Novarum, the main focus of which is to denounce the rising tide of socialist revolutions throughout Europe, which seek the abolition of private property as one of their basic goals. For this reason, Leo XIII defends the ―right to private property (2) as a right based on natural law, and which is necessary for the preservation of the inviolability of the family, (12) and other intermediary institutions within a society. The right to property, while strongly defended, is recognized as limited and relative to the universal destination of all goods. (19) Contrary to the evils which socialists propose, such as the elimination of private property which leads to the eventual subordination of the family and the individual to the state, Leo sees the Church as a “teacher of morality” and “right living” (23), which not only safeguards the individual, but also places at the forefront of her mission the care of the poor. In fact, Christians are called to ―give out of their excess‖ to assist those who are in need (19), and the poor are to be given special consideration in all decisions (24, 29). The poor tend to generally be identified as workers, and they are to be paid a just wage, which is not established through laissez-faire market forces or contract negotiations, but which is that amount truly needed to live and support a family, as well as be able to enable the possession of private property. (34) To achieve this goal, the Church supports the establishment of worker‘s associations (38), and recognizes that while the state has a role to play in the regulation of economic life, such decisions should properly be left to intermediary bodies at a local level (thus following the principle of subsidiarity, 41).

While Leo does not employ the word “capitalism,” it becomes clear that in his struggle against socialism, he is also struggling against a particular form of capitalism. Socialism is repudiated, but so are its causes: the destruction of worker‘s guilds in the eighteenth century, the separation of religion from public life, the callousness of employers and the greed of unconstrained consumption, widespread usury, and a spirit of avarice. (2) Implicit in the critique of socialism is therefore a critique of those factors brought about by nineteenth century liberal capitalism. Presumably, “capitalism” as such is not rejected, as is socialism, but what is needed is the proper “capitalism” that would allow spheres of influence other than blind market forces, rather than seeing workers as cogs in a machine that reduces them to the “mass of the poor” in the hands of the “small number of the rich.(2)

Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno makes explicit Leo‘s implicit critique of capitalism. He notices that since the time of Leo the “capitalist economic regime…has penetrated everywhere” (103) as a result of the growth of industry, and that its prevalence brings new challenges. First, he explicitly rejects the “Manchester school” of economics that gives free reign to “market forces” based on the principle of laissez faire (54), which is an exaltation of the individual, deprived of any relation to a moral law. Free competition is nonetheless encouraged, and is “justified and quite useful within certain limits,” which must always be derived from, and subordinate to, the “effective guiding principles” of social justice and social charity (88). These principles, however, ought not to be imposed in a heavy-handed manner from above, for this would risk the danger of the state substituting itself in the place of private initiative (95). In a response a corporate model (such as Mussolini‘s), he recognizes that while this state of affairs might seem to allow room for worker‘s rights, peaceful collaboration between classes, and the repression of socialism, such state-sponsored economic policies develop an excessive bureaucratic character that serves particular political aims, and not the common good (95).

Pius XI therefore critiques not only a form of state-sponsored capitalism such as Mussolini‘s, but also notices that capitalism can go seriously awry at an international level. “Unbridled ambition for economic domination has succeeded the desire for gain; the whole economic life has become hard, cruel, and relentless in a ghastly measure.” (109) Leo‘s critique of avarice and greed is therefore applied here directly to a capitalist system; an individualistic spirit, a supposed necessity of free competition, has “committed suicide; economic dictatorship has replaced a free market.” (109) The critique of such capitalism, expressed in the consolidation of a large amount of wealth in few capital-owning entrepreneurs, at the expense of laborers, however, does not lead Pius to dismiss the system altogether. The “system as such is not to be condemned,” but must rather take into account the social character of economic life, social justice, and the common good in order to function properly. (101) The unbridled free market capitalism needs to be ordered, curbed, and directed towards these three factors through a legitimate public authority (110). Furthermore, capitalism cannot be based on the “rationalism that had taken hold of large numbers” at the time when the new social order was beginning (133). In order to function correctly, therefore, capitalism needs to be based on an entirely different metaphysics, “inspired by Christian principles.” (136) Economic goods would be seen only as instruments to the supreme end (God), and would only be used insofar as they help to the attainment of that end. (136)

Shifting Emphases

During the pontificate of Pius XII, we see both an inherited critique of capitalism from Leo XIII and Pius XI, as well as new themes in relation to the Church‘s understanding of the system. First, we see in very explicit terms a re-statement of the rejection of economics as a value-neutral science, governed by supposed “natural laws” that exist independently of moral norms.

…if the physiocrats and the representatives of classic economics believed they had built a solid framework by treating economic facts as if they were physical or chemical phenomena amenable to the determination of natural laws, the falsity of such a conception was revealed in the crying contradiction between the theoretic harmony of their conclusions and the terrible social misery which they allowed to exist in reality.iv

While such a critique of economics might apply as equally to socialism as it does to capitalism, which both claim to follow laws inscribed into the order of things, Pius suggests that he is critiquing capitalism:

they ignored the essential human element, the relations which unite the individual to society and impose upon him not only natural but also moral criteria for using material goods. Diverted from their communal purposes, these elements become means of exploitation of the weak by the strong, under the law of sheer merciless competition.

Modern, industrialized capitalism can bring with it much misery and plight for the worker. Thus, while it has always “condemned the various forms of Marxist socialism… the Church cannot ignore or overlook the fact that the worker in his efforts to better his lot, is opposed by a machinery which is not in accordance with nature, but is at variance with God‘s plan and with the purpose he had for creating the goods of the earth.”v

In answer to the social misery, Pius proceeds to argue that the recent contemporary situation (World War II) demonstrates that “almost nobody is incapable” of making selfless, altruistic feelings predominate, at least in critical times. The flourishing of each person and a just society is not therefore something that can only be known to the Christian, but seems to be accessible to all, whose increasing interdependence in light of the horrible preceding era reveals that problems, including economic ones, must be solved through “understanding and sincere mutual love.” In no way can social order “be sought from the theory of the “laws of the market’ “a purely positivistic by-product of neo-Kantian criticism—nor in the mere formula, every bit as artificial, of ‘full employment,’”vi but must rather be sought in “the conservation, development, and perfection of the human person, helping him to realize accurately the demands and values of religion and culture.”vii One notices therefore an increasing link between capitalism and the authentic flourishing of the human person.

To my knowledge, “capitalism” does not appear again until the social doctrine of Paul VI, but it is important to notice that John XXIII’s thought continues the general trajectory. In Mater et Magistra, he summarizes Rerum Novarum as a critique of economics which divests itself from the moral law (11), the recognition of which would entail a desire for social justice, charity, and a juridical order (38-41). He upholds individual initiative, and argues that where it is lacking, “tyranny prevails.” (87) One notices therefore the discussion of economic matters in keeping with Pius XI (emphasis on social justice and charity), a strong juridical order (Pius XII), and the role of private initiative (Leo XIII and Pius XI). We will see these themes continued and developed within Paul VI and John Paul II.

Increasing Critique

Continuing Pius XII’S “personalist turn,” Paul VI frames his economic discussion in Populorum Progressio within the framework of a “new humanism that will enable modern man to find himself anew by embracing higher values of love and friendship…which will permit the fullness of authentic development.” (20) Within this framework, he condemns a kind of capitalism (which he identifies as a fruit of liberalism) that considers profit as the key motive, competition as the supreme law, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, which has led to excessive suffering, injustices, and fratricidal conflicts. (26) Nevertheless, work within a capitalistic system can still be done in common, bring joy, and unite hearts, minds and wills. (27) In Octagesima Adveniens, however, he is concerned with a “renewal of a liberal ideology” that brings with it economic efficiency, to which even Christians can succumb, but which has at its basis an erroneous affirmation of individual autonomy, personal motivation, and liberty. (35) This ideology is exposed in the system of “technocratic capitalism” which is egotistical, (37) and ultimately grounded on a false anthropological notion. Technocratic capitalism is set alongside “bureaucratic socialism and authoritarian democracy” as equal systemic threats that derive from false ideologies.

We therefore see in Paul VI‘s writings a shift from the prior discussion, in which “capitalism” was strongly associated with liberalism, and juxtaposed against socialism/collectivism. Paul suggests that both a certain kind of capitalism and a certain kind of socialism (previously antitheses) both ultimately deny the transcendence of the human person, whose freedom calls her to ―go beyond‖ every ideology and bring to every historical process truly human values. Any capitalistic system that does not take into account nor make possible the integral development of the human person (spiritual, corporeal, moral, material, psychological, etc.) is not acceptable. John Paul continues this “Pauline” trajectory, while specifying what the magisterium means by “capitalism.”

In Laborem Exercens, he provides an account of the subjective meaning of work, through which and by which the person determines and fulfills himself in relation to others, and whose labor, as an expression of and constitutive part of his humanity, must always take precedence over capital. (6) It was early capitalism that denied the priority of the person and her labor over capital, and this reversal, expressed both in collectivism and capitalism, presupposed a way of looking at economics marked by the “premises of materialistic economism,” (7) which can be a “theoretical” ground for either capitalism or collectivism. John Paul recognizes that “capitalism” has a definite “historical meaning as a system” that is opposed to communism or socialism, but he argues that the error of early capitalism can be repeated anytime that “man is treated on the same level as the whole complex of the material means of production.” (7) Thus, any system that adopts the reversal of order between man as the effective subject of work and its creator and man as a mere instrument of production can be called capitalism. (7) John Paul II therefore argues that the problem of Pope Leo‘s time was that the whole liberal socio-political system was based on “economistic premises,” which reversed this order. History interprets the “class struggle” as one of an ideological conflict of liberalism as expressed in capitalism, and Marxism as expressed in socialism, but both ideologies share the failure to recognize the priority of labor over capital.

In the modern world today, he warns of the dangers of “neo-capitalism or collectivism” which can, based on the experience of the past, effectively safeguard workers‘ conditions, provide proper social legislation, and allow associations, but which can easily fall prey to “ideological or power systems” which allow “flagrant injustices” to persist. (8) The same error of early capitalism can be expected if economic thinking starts from the improper theoretical (materialistic philosophy) or practical (economistic way of thinking) starting points. (13) It is evident that John Paul II, following Paul VI, does not simply speak of capitalism as a set of conditions or characteristics, but argues with it from a more explicitly philosophical point of view.

He continues this philosophical trajectory in Solicitudo Rei Socialis, where he provides more specific insights about the kind of system that might be acceptable. The right to economic initiative is upheld (15), since its denial ultimately disregards human subjectivity and creates dependence, and its suppression is likened to the “dependence” of the worker-proletariat in “capitalism.” (15) It is interesting to note the use of the word “proletariat” with regard to capitalism, and the accompanying discussion of the “liberal capitalist West” and the “Marxist collectivist East,” both towards which the Church “adopts a critical attitude.” (21) Both systems need updates and change, in order to promote the integral development of peoples and society. Once again, “economism” is rejected, since development cannot occur simply through the new accumulation of goods (28), and there is a sharp critique of “superabundance” in the capitalistic west, which manifests itself in a culture of consumerism, gratification, consumption, and waste. (28) Having critiqued both liberal capitalism and communism, John Paul II points out that Catholic social doctrine does not offer a “third way” between the two, but that it offers tools with which one can transcend both systems in a truly international outlook. (41)

The increasingly strong critique of modern liberal capitalism is repeated in Centesimus Annus, which begins by drawing parallels between the “unbridled capitalism” of Leo XIII‘s time and the modern condition, both characterized by abuses of women, children, working conditions, hygiene in the workplace, and fair pay. (8) He points out that especially in the Third World, which is often at the mercy of the developed nations, there exist the “human inadequacies of capitalism,” (33) which also manifest themselves in the developed countries. The struggle against such inadequacies [notice that the struggle is now one against inadequacies of capitalism!] does not propose a socialist alternative [which turns out to be state capitalism (35)], but what John Paul II calls a “market economy,” or a society of “free enterprise,” marked by participation, free work, business, a role for the market, and private property. (42) In this “new capitalism” the state and all of society has the goal of pursuing and defending “those collective goods, which among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual.” (40) Capitalism is to be rejected if by this is understood an “economic sector which is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality.” (42) There is a danger of a “radical capitalistic ideology.” (43)

From this brief survey, at least three trends associated with the discussion of “capitalism” by the Catholic social tradition become evident. First, capitalism, as an economic system, is not a value-neutral system, which operates on the basis of self-evident and self-sufficient economic laws. Rather, if there are “laws” that govern capitalism, these can never be separated from morality, and in fact, are always already based on a prior philosophical or moral conception—such as rationalism, economism, individualism, materialism, practical atheism, liberalism, etc. These philosophical and moral systems in turn regulate and govern the practical decisions about the regulation of and structure of capitalism. Second, the tradition strongly emphasizes the need to order capitalism (and any economic system) in a manner that respects and is grounded in a higher order. This relation of the economy to a higher order is expressed in different ways by the popes. The creation account of Genesis functions centrally for John Paul II in LE; natural law functions in a central manner in RN and QA; the “divine law of harmony” grounds social order for Pius XII; the paschal mystery grounds Christian humanism in PP and OA; and the later works of John Paul II (SRS and CA) focus on the nature of the human person. Common to all these ways of referring economic teachings to a higher order is an optimism that, in spite of the misery of a particular situation, it is truly possible to bring about a just system.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week, Absence, and Anticipation

It's been a very long time since I've posted. Perhaps the world of doctoral studies can have that effect on a person. The long, deep, hidden immersion into a life that, by all external appearances, can be misunderstood and questioned about its validity or "productivity," or application to real life. But then again, didn't the Lord Jesus live this hidden life for thirty years? Not that I'm comparing the life of a doctoral student to the hidden life of Christ--manual labor is not intellectual labor; the intellectual life poses temptations to pride perhaps unparalleled by any other way of life--but I've always liked to think that perhaps the more fruitful reflections on the life of Christ might be found by taking a starting point from the fact that 90% of his life is unknown to us.

Holy Thursday--the hiddenness; the isolation; the suffering; the pain; the frustration; the overwhelming anxiety; the anticipation of death: the "great desire" to eat this Last supper with us; so the Triduum is here. So Lent comes to an end. So death is imminent. And Life again triumphs; life again transforms; life again conquers. And so does hope and joy.

Random musings in the midst of a paper...

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Ukraine

Latin-Rite Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in Lviv, Ukraine (Former Lwow, Poland)

George Weigel, in his recent column, and others, have noted the new fears that are rising in Ukraine. For example, Rev. Borys Gudziak, the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, has reported harrassment and possible surveillance on the part of the Ukrainian state police. What it his "suspicious activity?" Presumably, he is being watched because he is the head of the university from which many students participated in the Orange Revolution--the peaceful revolution that promised sweeping democratic reforms five years ago.

I had an opportunity to visit Lviv in 2006, just after the Orange Revolution, and was impressed byt he new found freedom--especially the increasing ability of the Greek Catholic Church (in the Ukraine) to express itself freely and without fear. For over fifty years, the five million members of this Church found themselves as members of the largest illegal religious body int he world--and faced great persecution from the Soveit regime.

Unfortunately, under the new government of the Ukraine, many of the changes brought about by the Orange Revolution are slowly disappearing, with a new state crackdown on religious liberty.

Let's all pray for the triumph of freedom and civil rights in the Ukraine. I think of my friends whom I met there, who struggle with the hardships of daily life in this former Soviet republic, now coupled with the struggles of trying to live out their faith freely and without fear or intimidation. Yuriy, if you are reading this, know that you are in my prayers.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Unfair Journalism

Here's what I have to say to the Park Record article from last Wednesday:

As a native Parkite, and one who hopes to return one day to our beautiful mountain town, I continue to follow news, articles, and events in Park City when the time allows. I was dismayed recently to find the article entitled, “Park City Priest Slams Catholic Church.” The editorial choice for the title of the article was very poor. Fr. Bussen’s comments do not “slam” the Catholic Church, and the title is an insincere attempt to perpetuate the false images of the Roman Catholic Church as some international institution of organized sexual immorality and crime (as Christopher Hitchens has recently suggested).

Admittedly, the Catholic Church has faced many difficulties in recent times. Most shameful of these are the recurring revelations of sexual abuse of both boys and girls by a minority of Catholic clergymen along with their accomplice and enabling bishops, who for too many years had turned a blind eye to the crimes, rather than dismissing pedophile priests from their ministry and convicting them to prison. What the US Catholic Church went through in 2002 beginning with the revelations of sexual abuse in Boston has now occurred in European countries, and has provided much fodder for the international press, such as the New York Times, which is often all too eager to portray that Catholic Church as an outdated, unprogressive, morally hypocritical and power-driven organization.

Facts, however, cannot be changed. The sexual abuse of minors is not a “Catholic” phenomenon, and especially not a result of the priestly requirement of celibacy for Latin-rite Catholic priests. It is a global scourge affecting all sectors of society, socio-economic classes, religious denominations and races. It is estimated that as many as thirty nine million Americans are victims of childhood sexual abuse, and that upwards of sixty percent of perpetrators are relatives. Only about two percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are identified as Catholic priests, and most of these cases occurred between thirty and fifty years ago, a time of poor seminary training and massive changes within the Church. According to the 2009 United States Catholic bishops’ audit, there were six cases of priestly abuse within the nearly 65,000,000 member U.S. Catholic Church. The scourge of sexual abuse is a societal phenomenon, the causes of which can be attributed to a complex variety of factors ranging from the prevalence of pornography and sexually promiscuous materials in the media, to the breakdown of the nuclear family. In reality, the Catholic Church today is one of the safest environments for a child today.

The scandal of sexual abuse among Catholic clergy is rightly just that—a scandal. People expect holy and virtuous behavior on the part of the leaders of a Church. While a minority of priests and bishops have committed sins that cry out to heaven by perpetrating crimes and covering them up, the vast majority of leaders of the Catholic Church, beginning with Pope Benedict XVI, have exhibited the prudence and justice needed to purge the Church of pedophile priests. Pope Benedict, since the 1980’s, has shown a resolved commitment in the Church to root out pedophile priests—through the expansion of the process of applying canonical penalties, to priestly dismissals and harsh words, such as those to the Irish bishops in a March 20th letter: “You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.”

Blaming the pope for covering up abuse without checking the facts, and setting up a “pope” versus “local church” dichotomy that has been enhanced through the recent Park Record article, does not help an honest reader come to a reasonably informed decision, but seeks to manipulate her into accepting a pre-conceived and false opinion. Such journalism is repugnant, dishonest, and simply unfair.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Jason Evert Coming

For anybody who is in the Fort Wayne or South Bend areas, please consider the following, with which I will pretty much be busy with during the next week:

sexYOUality: Valuing the Gift
an evening for teens and young adults
May 5th, 7:00 p.m., Holy Cross College (Pfeil Center), South Bend
May 6th, 7:00 p.m., University of Saint Francis (North Campus Auditorium), Fort Wayne

Jason is a staff apologist with Catholic Answers, a non-profit organization
dedicated to promoting the Catholic faith through all forms of media.
He speaks to over 100,000 teens and young adults around the world each
year, presenting the truth and power of the gift of human sexuality in an
honest and direct way, challenging teens to live authentic chastity.

High school teens and parents won’t want to miss this.

Co-Sponsored by the Offices of Family Life & Youth MInistry 260.422.4611

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

+ Lech Kaczynski + and Pope Benedict XVI

This morning began with a sad phone call from my mother, informing me that the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and the top officials of the Polish government were tragically killed in a plan crash near Smolensk, Russia. They were on their way to pay their respects to the 20,000+ Polish officers, clergymen, and intelligentsia who were killed by the Soviet army in 1940 near Katyn.

Among those who died in Katyn in 1940 were two of my great uncles, as well as my great grandfather, who was killed earlier by the Bolsheviks near the same area. Now, Poland has suffered another tragedy, and Katyn will forever be associated with dark times in the history of the Polish nation. president Kaczynski has paid the ultimate tribute, having given his very life, in memory of those who died in honor of their country and who died as patriots to defend Poland against the tyranny of Soviet domination. [A fact usually unknown and completely ignored by the West]

Kaczynski was a noble man, a just man, and a true patriotic president, who lived out his Roman Catholic faith through the political commitments he made. A staunch supporter of a free and democratic, modern Poland, he was nevertheless opposed to achieving this goal if it meant bowing down to the secularism of the European Union or the expansionist aims of the mob politics of Putin's Russia. He recognized that Poland finds itself in a very fragile situation, on the borderlands (as it has always been) between Russia and the West, and therefore needs to maintain a strong democratic presence of its own in it region.

Kaczynski often made public pilgrimages to major shrines, such as to the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, and was not ashamed of being seen praying in public, and asking for the guidance of Our Lady, who is the Queen of Poland. He has the occasion to meet multiple times with Pope Benedict, who encouraged him to keep the faith in the public square, as Poland seeks to navigate a delicate path, being a member of the EU, while seeking to be faithful to its own cultural heritage (which the rest of Europe has long forsaken).

For these reasons, his death is a great loss to the future of Poland--the Civic Platform party, a pro-Russian, pro-EU party to which the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk belongs, will probably only gain ground, as it has now lost one of its fiercest and most vocal critics. We can only pray that Kaczynski's death might inspire a new wave of patriotism in Poland, and encourage young Poles, especially politicians, to follow the example of Kaczynski, knowing that it is, indeed, possible to be a good Catholic and a good politician, and that sometimes this requires taking the hits, sacrificing, and yes...even paying with your life.

We can take consolation, knowing that it is the Feast of Divine Mercy, and on the eve of this feast, we can beg Our Lord to accept the soul of President Kaczynski, his wife, and the 94 other passengers of the airplane (including two bishops and four priests) into their eternal rewards.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Ora Pro Nobis

Today marks the five year anniversary of the passing of our beloved Holy Father, John Paul the Great. How fitting it is that this anniversary also falls on Good Friday!

I will never forget John Paul's last celebration of Good Friday--too sick and unable to move to be able to personally celebrate the via crucis. So he sat in his chapel, clinging to the crucifix, and participating via live feed--but more importantly, he participated by uniting his own burden, his own way of the cross, to the salvific and redemptive act of Christ on the cross. It was in these final moments of his life that we saw the man unvelied--a man whose busy, active life was always sustained by and given to the service of the glorious cross of Christ Jesus.

May we always have the courage to cling to this cross, and follow the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order that runs my alma mater--ave crux, spes unica.

May this Good Friday and Paschal Triduum lead us through the cross to the resurrection, and help us to daily live this mystery in our own lives.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

JPII Tiara?

So I was talking to Fr. Erik today, who informed me that apparently John Paul II was given a tiara! I have done some research, and it looks like Fr. Z posted on this about two years ago, so I will only include the picture. It was given to him by the Hungarian church in 1981, an obvious sign of devotion to the Roman pontiff on the part of that (at that time) greatly persecuted Church. What many people are not aware of, is that JPII, as Bishop of Krakow,, regularly clandestinely ordained priests for Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the time of communist repression. Perhaps this gift was one expression of thanksgiving to him not only for his witness as pope, but also for his secret aid that he had offered for decades through covert ordinations and border smuggles.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The big news this weekend was, of course, the declaration by Pope Benedict XVI of a number of (famous) new venerables--two who are Polish: our beloved John Paul II, as well as the martyr, Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, who was murdered gruesomely by the SB (Polish equivalent of the KGB) in 1984. For Poles, these two men are national heroes, who stand as witnesses to the truth about human freedom.

Both John Paul II and Fr. Popieluszko, in the particular way in which God was calling them, stood for the inherent dignity and truth about man that, no matter what external force can take away, human freedom cannot be suppressed, and is a basic and intrinsic right given by God. Whenever reflecting on the (typically modern) suppression of human freedom by external forces, I recall the words of Chesterton:

Freedom is doomed to destruction at every turn, unless there is a recognized right to freedom. And if there are rights, there is an authority to which we appeal for them." (G.K.'s Weekly, April 28, 1928)

While communism sought to offer freedom to the proletariat by seeking to address the alienation of man from his labor and capital, Wojtyla and Popieluszko (the latter through his chaplaincy of Solidarnosc) proclaimed the truth that true freedom cannot be had apart from the truth about the human being. Who is man? Why is he free? Why does his freedom surpass that passing and illusory freedom promised by the authroities? Both proclaimed that true freedom comes from God, is an inalienable part of being created inHis image and likeness, and that if we fail to protect the inherent dignity of each human being, and his right to freedom, everything else that was meant to liberate man will ultimately lead to his enslavement. And so these two Polish priests suffered as a result of their bold challenges to the system and proclamation of the Gospel. Both were stalked by the secret police, both were followed and placed under surveillance, yet both also persevered in their peaceful witness to the truth.

"Oppose evil with good." This was Fr. Popieluszko's motto, and this desire to always do the good was what drove the communist authorities crazy in their dealings with Wojtyla. Two different men, two different cities, and two different generations--yet both men were incorruptible and ultimately paid the price, while conquering the evil which they opposed. Wojtyla was systematically opposed, yet caused fear in the authorities. The authorities feared Popieluszko, and could only resort to kidnapping him, beating him multiple times, and throwing him into a river to squelch his message of freedom, joy, and peace to the people of Poland.

Needless to say, I think we have much to learn from the example of these two (soon to be) saints--although we enjoy the "freedoms" of our country, we do struggle against secular humanism which ultimately fails to address the truth about man in the same way that commusim did. For the truth about man transcends all political systems, all material values, and all economic markets--we are made for eternity, and our freedom to choose goodd derives from the ability to participate in the work of God, and in doing so, to become more of who we are meant to be.

This becoming who we are meant to be is, of course, one work of the liturgy upon us--which leads me to today's update. We are now in Utah for Christmas, and were able to visit our favorite church (where we were united in Matrimony), the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I was very pleasantly surprised to see the new Benedictine setup on the altar--an arrangement that Pope Benedict has praised in his book, Spirit of the Liturgy. The altar crucifix helps the people call to mind that sacrifice that is being re-presented, and reminds the priest of the saving work in which he is participating--without the distractions of the congregation. All are united around the crucifix of Our Lord, the true Light of the world, to whom we all pray ad orientem.

In addition to this new setup, I was blown away by the cathedral's new vestments. I don't know who made them (yet), but they certainly look a bit like St. Bede's studio in Australia. Fine, nobly simple vestments are faithful to the Church's tradition of honoring Christ, present in the priest and the Eucharist, and give God his due--hey, you wouldn't show up to a wedding wearing a t-shirt. When the priest wears vestments that are beautiful, rich, lavish, yet nobly simple, we are reminded of the great mystery that is taking place--a fitting reminder for the Advent season--Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind, comes to us to offer Himself to us in an intimate communion of love. We receive the grace of God and truly become (more of a) new creation in Christ. The beauty of the liturgy--the sights, sounds, smells, and noises sanctifies our senses and increases in us the ability to perceive the world throguh divine eyes--leading to an increase of what JPII called the "peace of the interior gaze," a way of seeing the world that leads to true intimace with God and others. Videri sequitur esse, as JPII has said in the theology of the body.

Indeed, John Paul II provides a hermeneutic of proper vision that can help one understand the right disposition needed towards God and other human beings. In taking human embodiment very seriously, John Paul points to the central role that vision plays in manifesting a proper stance toward God and the world. “The look expresses what is in the heart. The look, I would say, expresses man as a whole.” Commenting on the axiom operari sequitur esse (operation follows being), John Paul II notices Christ seeking to show that “man ‘looks’ in conformity with what he is: intueri sequitur esse (looking follows being).” Thus, the inner state of the human being, his stance toward God, is made manifest through the way the person looks at the world and people around him. The reality of sin, concupiscence, “has the effect that in the interior, in the ‘heart,’ in man and woman’s interior horizon, the meaning of the body proper to the person itself is obscured.” One can choose to see the other in conformity with the spousal meaning of the body, in which each human being is seen with a fullness of vision within the full dimension of his or her subjectivity.

In order, therefore, to live in right relation with others, one must recapture the ability to see in a way that is in conformity with the deepest truths about the human person. It is necessary to acquire a vision of the world and of other human beings, in their relation to God, through an “inner dimension of a share in the vision of the Creator Himself.” Saint Paul wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Thus, one must acquire a way of looking at the world, which expresses the purity of the interior of the person. Such purity leads to the “peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons.” Thus, human intimacy, right relationships between persons, is established on the basis of a proper way of looking.

Kudos to liturgies that help to elevate our senses and enable us to grow in our ability to perceive the world with the divine gaze. By gazing upon the newborn Christ, the baby in the manger, may we all grow in our ability to see the world the way it ought to be seen.