Thursday, December 22, 2016

A bit of "ecclesiology" (for mission)

Mission and roles of all in the Church

1. For the Vatican II council the Church is the community of the Baptized RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MISSION OF CHRIST. It is the mission OF ALL OF US to continue this mission (see Lumen Gentium # 2; see also the document of AD GENTES). Through Baptism we are all "priests". Not all of us are ordained priests but we are priests by baptism. We belong to the COMMON PRIESTHOOD OF THE FAITHFUL  (see Lumen Gentium # 10).
2. All of us, members of the Church, have our competences and gifts and talents. For Vatican II we are all called to MANIFEST our concern for the Church and help in the mission of the Church  (see Lumen Gentium # 37). This involves our common responsibility to PROMOTE the Kingdom of God in the world FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF JESUS. This means that EACH OF US HAS A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY. Each of us is not zero in mission. Nobody in the Church is zero and has no worth or value. Each one is so valuable, so important. Lay people, consecrated life people, priests...all have roles. The best area of participation is IN AND THROUGH THE DIOCESE--or "local Church".
3. Christian duty is to participate in the mission of the Church. We all have THE SAME DIGNITY AND RESPONSIBILITY shared in the Church.
4. We are IN THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD...and at the same time, we are IN THE WORLD IN THE CHURCH. The Church is in the world; she is in our different societies. She has her place and role in society. But inside the Church is also the world. The Church is also marked by the culture and politics and economics of her members. Hence we should know how to manage this all.
5. Pope Benedict XVI noted that there are three main work of the Church: ANNOUNCE THE WORLD OF GOD, CELEBRATE THE SACRAMENTS AND SERVICE WITH CHARITY  (see Deus caritas est # 25).

Church as Dialogical

1. Let us talk of Revelation. It is the communication of God to us all--through the Scriptures, through our moral conscience and through Church Tradition. God communicated himself and invited us--and continues to invite us--to have a share in his life.  (See Dei Verbum # 6). REVELATION IS DIALOGICAL. Dialogue is about partners in reciprocity. Revelation was--and is--NEVER ONE WAY (unilateral). It is not just God doing all the communication and us absorbing it all. Revelation is not a constraint. It is dialogical AND RELATIVE TO HOW WE RESPOND. This is why Revelation is not just a transmission of content. To put this in simple terms, we just do not think about what the CCC says or what the Bishops declare. We also have to ask WHAT IS OUR RESPONSE TO WHAT IS TRANSMITTED TO US. How real and true (and joyful) is the message of God for us? What do we do in response? Full revelation thus includes the response of our faith.
2. Yes, we have doctrines in the Church, ok. But this is deepened and accompanied by how we implicate ourselves--how we involve ourselves. How do we deepen our lives and our relationships with others? It might be strange to our ears when we hear, "God needs us too". But this is true. The Incarnation of Christ made it clear that as God valued our humanity he also respected our freedom to participate in his mission and life. Even in the incarnaion of Jesus Christ God took a risk. We can continually crucify his Son--through injustice, violence, cheating, etc. God continually needs us especally in our sharing in his mission.
3. This is why Revelation is really a PROCESS that is ALWAYS ONGOING. We as Church articipate in this process. Our mission extends and shares the Kingdom to others. We continu the Revealing of God to the world. Yes, we confess that Christ is the summit of God's Revelation, but this Reveltion is NOT PADLOCKED. It is dynamic and shared. It is Revelation ON MISSION.
4. We should not turn our backs on situations of crisis and heavy criticism against the Church. A point of struggle, misunderstanding and even crisis PUSHES US to think well about our mission BASED ON THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. We might need to discern where the Spirit is moving and the Spirit may be moving in new places, new socia links. There was a time, for example, when the Church was only about the roles of the ädults". Today we see the importance of the youth. There was a time when the Church was concentrated on the hierarchy ad structures. Today we have a "communion Church"where even the laity have a voice. There was a time when the Church was ëxclusivist"in front of other religions. Now she is faced with the challenge of religious pluralism. Changes can happen in the Church.
5. We need to emphasize that the Church, as she is based on Revelation, is continually dialogical with the world. Dialogue is so necessary--even if it is about VERY DIFFICULT THEMES. The emphasis on concentration only among ourselves is finished. The doors are open.
6. If we want the Gosple to be attractive and to be heard in the world we might need to move slowly away from being so heaviy structured and cencentrated on our hierarchical status with the priests on top and the laity at the bottom. Today society is fluid and filled with networkd--webs. There can be underlying life in the Church that needs exploration. Take the example of certain Christians who, while staying in the Church, are so involved in the concrete practices of people of OTHER RELIGIONS. e might need to hear those voices.  Their dialogue with other religions can be share within the Church.  

Formation of the Laity

1. If mission is the work of everyone, then it may be necessary to have a FORMATION FOR ALL. Formation is not to be concentrated on priests and consecrated life people. Form the laity too. The hierarchy and the religious congregations ar not designed to promote themselves. The promote their vocation AND SERVICE TO THE KINGDOM. Hence they need to give space and time for the formation of the laity. (Can we imagine a MAPAC for the laity too?)    The laity have a very important "hands on" work in the temporal affairs of society. They must be given the chance to really participate. The mission of the Church is not in the monopoly of priests and consecrated people.  Lay people also have their roles to play for the promotion of the Kingdom.The laity can go on mission too, especially in AD GENTES mission. They need formation for this.
2. There are many forms of vocation--including the vocation for family life and vocation for single life. We might still be promoting this gap between priests-religious and laity AS IF THE MARRIED AND SINGLE PEOPLE ARE MARGINALIZED. Remember that even if the laity are not ordained priests, they are still PRIESTS BY BAPTISM. So their dignity is not different from the dignity of priests-religious. Are priests-religious shepherding the laity?  

Women in particular  

Everyone is responsible for the mission of the Church.  WOMEN need to be given more place too. WOMEN COLLABORATE TOO. WOMEN CAN TAKE LEADERSHIP ROLES TOO.  


How do we. as Church, show our place in the world and in the promotion of the Kingdom? By working humbly, honestly and IN COMMUNION AND DIALOGUE WITHIN THE CHURCH AND WITH THE WORLD.  We need to re-root ourselves in Christ and his Gospel, see how we as Church responds to his call.    

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Where is Christianity Going?

1. Where is Christianity going today in a world that is more and more going pluralist? In the Bible we read about the Tower of Babel. There we see that God demolished the tower and scattered the people. "The Lord CONFUSED the speech of all the world" (Gen 11/9). As we know the first eleven chapters of Genesis are about "origins": the origin of the world, the rigin of the human, the origin of sin, etc. With the "confusion"of languages the story of Babel may be about the origin of human differences. In other words, it is about plurality of people.

2. Pluralism has always existed. Today is has taken a new color. Today pluralism is closely linked with relativism. In relativism each one has his/her own truth. Relativism and pluralism today is a reaction against the usual understanding of truth. Relativism does not like to have a common truth. Truth should be RELATIVE TO each one of us. What is true for me need not be true for you. It is ok, let us not work for conversion. So today we see the choice for, say, abortion. A mother can decide on abortion as a mother's choice. It is true for the mother. Truth is relative to the mother. If she says it is true to abort a child, then accept it. It is her choice. The problem is, what about the child to be aborted?

3. Pluralism today can be very attractive. The Christian faith tends to be more and more accepted as a persona choice. Before we would say that, "I am a Christian because my family is Christian". Today with all the information and choices we have, Christianity becomes one among other choices. Religions are plural, so select one. For the Christian this becomes a challenge. The Christian faith cannot anymore be just a choice among other choices like commodities in a supermarket. Nor can the faith be simply an imposition of culture and family. The Christian who wants to be authentic with his/her faith needs to make a PERSONAL STAND: "I believe".

4. There is also a challenge for us who have to bring the Gosple to the "ends of the world". There is a challenge for mission in today's pluralism. How can we tell others about Christ and about the Gospel? CAN WE STILL BE ATTRACTIVE to the world?

5. We can look back at the early Christian experiences; the experiences of the Apostles, the gospel writers, the early Christian communities gradually spreading in the world. Something was common to all of them: JESUS HAD AN IMPACT ON THEM. This is a challenge for us today. Can Jesus still make an impact? And for us who go on mission--be it ad gentes or re-evangelization or pastoral or even just in the family--HAVE WE ALSO BEEN IMPACTED BY JESUS? This IMPACT of Jesus was the main "push" of the early Christians. It is evident in the Gospe texts. The early Christians have "seen the glory" of Christ. They were just so happy to share that.

6. Remember that early Christian expansion was not done with imposition and proselitizing. It was done by simple witnessing and simple preaching. It was simple BUT IT WORKED. The Christian faith extended way up China and India, for example, already in the early centuries.

7. Can we make the Gospel SPEAK INSIDE OTHERS? Can it introduce A NEW WAY OF LIVING? CanChrist be REAL to others too? Let us put this in a musical way. The music of the early Christians, can we play it today and make people listen and appreciate and adhere to Christ? How do we play that ancient music in a way that can be appreciated today?

8. Can we show how the Gosple can answer deep questions of people today, like questions of justice, human dignity, sexuality, women's rights, povery, the common good, neo-liberalism, etc?

9. Indeed, some Christians really do not like to go on mission. They do not like "proclaiming". If we accept that we can stop all proclamation, then what future do we have? Christ commanded proclamation: "Go", he said. He must have also had the future in mind. IF WE DO NOT GO, then what happens?

10. There are certain difficulties faced by mission today.

Mission is sometimes understood to be a "Western/European" activity. It is true that, historically, the big chunk of mission history was done by Europeans. This is why Christianity has been so linked with Europe. But today there is a need for new air current blowing. The Gospel is for all humanity. it is not "European". The Gospel responds to ALL HUMAN QUESTIONING. It is not just a Western/European response to Western/European questions. As a Church we need a CONSTANT conversion TO THE GOSPEL. We need to focus on the central core message of the Gospel.
Church image still looks conservative and "not modern" enough. Christianity looks like a religion with rituals and social cohesion, with hierarchy and other "conservative" stuff. Christianity looks just like any other traditional religion with social cohesion and "substantive" function. Some are irritated by the Church. Let us accept that Church history has really given this image. But the core of Christianity and the Gospel message is quite different.
If we look closely modernity itself owes a lot from Christianity. Modernity emphasizes the freedom and autonomy of each person to decide on how to live. Christianity emphasizes this too THROUGH THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST. The incarnation of Christ has honored each human person. The incarnation shows that God entered into the human condition to say that the human being is really of value. The choices and decisions of each person should be dealt with dignity. So the incarnation has emphasized human dignity. Human dignity of reason and choice is honored. Modernity owes this way of thinking from Christianity. Jesus shifted the usual religiosity of his time away from the "functional" and "substantive" features of religion. Jesus moved away from rituals and offerings and sacrifices and group-ethnic identity. He focused on the value of each person.
Christianity is not alien to humanity. Because of the Incarnation Christianity values humanity. Christianity may be a religion but it steps out of the usual functional and substantive religion because the importance is given to the human reason and choice. Let us try to explain this more. In the core of the Gospel the human person is respected fully. The Incarnation of Christ affirms the autonomy of the human person to choose and decide on life. Hence the human person is not PUT UNDER social forces. The human person is to discern and act without the pressures of the "functional". More important than cultural and religious and political boxes is the human person. Christ has affirmed this.

What can be the resonsbility of Christianity today?

a. The Church can witness to the value and honor of the human person as Christ did. In front of the many issues we face, that of injustice, inequality, consumerism and hedonism, we can, as Church show that the human is valued more than these.
b. Societies want to install justice and peace and economic equality. It is hard. Something more may have to be added. Christianity can offer this by introducing a cuture of love, compssion, forgiveness. Pope Francis himself said that what the world needs today is an experience of forgiveness.
c. Today we see the degradation of the environment. We have our theology of creation. We have a sense of the Sabbath that invites all to take a distance--a reverential distance--from the created world.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas and the Social Doctrine of the Church

1. Christmas is the Advent Season and the celebration of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh, wrote John, and decided to dwell among us. The fact that the Word became flesh is an honor to our humanity. Jesus Christ "emptied" himself and became human and even slave, as St. Paul wrote. The human is so dear in the eyes of God, this is why he sent his Son to be one of us, to be "in solidarity" with us.

2. Let us see how this can connect with the Social Doctrine of the Church. Let us first focus on the sections #105 to #122 of the Compedium.

3. The Church sees the human as image of God. (See #105). This being image of God IS FULLY EXPLAINED IN CHRIST. Christ is the PERFECT IMAGE of the Father. It is in Christ where we have a full revelation of God. More than this, in Christ WE ARE ALSO FULLY REVEALED TO OURSELVES.

4. This is Traditional thinking taking from the early Church councils. Jesus Christ coming "from above" is able to communicate to us the divine. Jesus Christ who is also "from below" is able to say, in human terms, the path leading to God. This path leading to God INCLUDES OUR "YES" TO OUR HUMANITY. We recognize the value and beauty of our being human as image of God and so we become ready to say "yes" also to God's invitation to a life of communion with him.

5. Our difficulty in our saying "yes" lies in our wounded state. We are wounded with the deep wound which we call as “sin”. Sin is our alienation from God and from one another (see #116). Our communion with God is wounded and our friendship of unity with others is also wounded.

6. The Compendium will add that this is not just a personal sin of each of us. It is also a SOCIAL SIN. (See #117). We have become aggressive against justice, against human rights and dignity, against the common good, against our wonderful human relationships.

7. We long for salvation out of sin. Without any sense of salvation we become pessimists. We cannot see any value in the things we do, in the achievements we make. Christian realism, says the Compendium, sees Jesus Christ destroying sin and death. "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (Jn 16/33). Be cheerful, Jesus has won over the hold of death and sin.

8. A big part of what Christ has done was TO SHED LIGHT ON OUR OWN BEING IMAGE OF GOD. (See #121). Because of our wound, because of “sin”, we find it difficult to see ourselves as beloved of God. We are caught in the web of trouble as if there is no other way but to sin and cause death. But Jesus Christ came--the Word became flesh--to AFFIRM the value of our humanity. Jesus Christ came to AFFIRM the dignity of our being human: image of God.

9. The coming of Jesus Christ is then about manifesting fully in us who we really are. Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes, noted this, "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" (Gaudium et spes #22).  Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God, has also manifested our vocation to live in communion with God.

10. The Compendium then concludes that the reality of Christ is not really something “new”. so to speak.  It is not something added to our history. "It is rather that reality of communion with the Trinitarian God to which men and women have always been oriented in the depths of their being, thanks to their creaturely likeness to God" (Compendium #122). In other words, from the very start of our being created by God, the reality of Christ has already been actual. By nature we, humans, HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ORIENTED TO COMMUNION WITH GOD. This reminds us of one Church Father, Tertullian,  who meditated about the time of our creation. He wrote that when God was creating the human he had Jesus Christ in mind.

11. We may have sinned. We may be wounded. But the dignity of being image of God and with the vocation of being in full communion with God is NEVER DELETED. Jesus Christ came to join us, to be human just like us with his Incarnation, to precisely affirm who we are. This is "salvation".

A note on Salvation taking from a document of a Papal Commission: COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, document of INTERNATIONAL THEOLOGICAL COMMISSION

1. The human is created in the image of God. The vocation is to live the communion of the life of the Trinity. With our wound--called SIN--we refuse to engage in this vocation. Sin is the DISFIGURATION of our being Image of God. We are alienated from God and from one another. In fact, because of sin, we are alienated from our very own selves. Rejecting God's invitation to a communion, we also reject even our fraternal existence in society. Sin does not delete our dignity as image of God. The image is DISFIGURED AND NOT DELETED.

2. What then is "salvation" here? "Salvation entails the restoration of the image of God by Christ who is the perfect image of the Father" (#47). Christ conforms us to himself. In other words, he re-configures the dis-figured image and brings it back to its true and authentic form. The human person is "fully realized". Thanks to the grace of Christ (and the Holy Spirit) we are transformed.

3. Theologically, we say that WE REALLY NEED SALVATION. We have the natural desire to live with God. Sin does not destroy this desire just as it does not remove our dignity. But we, humans, just see how INCAPABLE we are of saving ourselves. We need grace to transform us. Christ gives us this grace.

4. The Paschal experience of Christ has made it possible for us "to participate in the death to sin that leads to life in Christ" (#49). The cross leads to a new life. We die; our egoism dies, our aggression against justice and human dignity dies. Our option for sin dies. The great grace of Christ for us is, precisely, his Paschal mystery, his CONFIDENCE IN THE FATHER, his willingness to face the consequence of love for us which is the cross, and his rising again to a new life. It is a whole passage. It tells us ABOUT OUR OWN TRANSFORMATION. To us is communicated the path "of a new life of freedom, a life 'FREED FROM'AND 'FREED FOR'"(#50). What does this curious expression mean?

5. We are FREED FROM SIN. We are FREED FROM SUFFERING AND DEATH. Salvation, here, means that we are freed from the hold of sin and death. Of course we still suffer and die. But suffering and death now takes a new meaning. We make the effort to live properly AND THIS CAUSES SUFFERING AND DEATH FOR US. But in confidence in God the suffering is not vain. Death is not vain. We do not suffer and die for egoism and injustice and human indignity. We die for truth, justice, peace, we die for the Kingdom. We admit that God loves us. We admit and recognize the very value and dignity of our humanity. Jesus has affirmed this. Jesus has confirmed that we are so beloved in the eyes of God we are not rejected by God. Seeing this we are reconciled with God.

6. So WE DO NOT LIVE UNDER THE RULE OF INDIGNITY. "Salvation is a liberation from sin which reconciles man with God, even in the midst of a continuing struggle against sin conducted in the power of the Holy Spirit"...."Salvation brings a liberation from suffering and death which acquire new meaning as a saving participation through the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son" (#50-51).

7. Note then that salvation is being "freed from" the rule of sin so that we are free to move to God: "FREED FOR" authentic love; "FREED FOR" new life in God" (#51). The conclusion is made: "This 'freedom for' is made possible by Jesus Christ, the perfect icon of the Father, who restores the image of God in man" (#51).

8. Take a look at the story of the so-called "prodigal son" in Lk15/11-32. The young son was still far bu the Father was hoping for his return. Upon the return of the young son the Father started a feast. The son was "lost", he returned and "found again". In Jesus’terms, he was “restored again” TO HIS TRUE IMAGE AS SON.  This was already in the perspective of the Father. Remember that the son had a speech prepared to say that he was returning not anymore as a son but, possibly, as a slave. The son was returning with the identification of the old image, the image of a son who rejected his father. The Father did not listen to this. He continued to be SON. Or in what we say, HIS DIGNITY AS IMAGE OF GOD continued. The Father simply accepted his return AS HIS SON. Jesus is saying something deep in this parable. Where are we as sinners and in despair? Are we also having a "speech"in our heads because we are not sure of how we are to be received by God? 

9. The parable makes the Father a "prodigal" Father. Why? He went "reckless" in spending for a feast for the son who returned. He was prodigal also because, unlike the "usual" way of behaving culturally where a father might punish an erring son, the Father in the parable turned his back on cultural behaviour. He was true to his Paternity. 

10. The son returned. That was all that the Father wanted. The son may have been a sinner; he may have broken the heart of the Father. He returned AS THAT TYPE OF A MAN. But the Father, the prodigal Father who "recklessly" welcomed back his son without conditions, did not demand virtues and conscientiousness from the son. The Father did not ask, "Ok, are you now a better person?" He just wanted CONVERSION. The son returned as the man who broke his Father's heart, ok, but the son was still welcomed and his return awakened the JOY OF THE FATHER. Now the son can ENTER THE JOY OF THE FATHER and stand AS A SON IN FRONT OF HIS FATHER. He can enter the joy of truth and feasting. Of course that will be the choice of the son. 

11. We are like two dancers in the desert, two dancers in a troubled world, we and Jesus Christ. We learn the steps with Christ until, one day, we can dance well with him. If we reflect on what the document is saying we will notice that salvation is not necessarily a “one-shot event”. Salvation is more of a process; it is a movement we make towards become more and more true to ourselves, IMAGE OF GOD. Jesus Christ has given us the grace--and continues to give us the grace--of taking this path through his Paschal Mystery. It is a path in which we are set FREE FROM the obstacles of to going to God and we are set FREE FOR moving to God. We say yes to our humanity, thanks to Jesus. But we do it in time, in history, in steps. The basic nature of our humanity includes time. “The human heart plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps” (Pr 16/9). 

12. We are like two dancers in the desert, two dancers in a troubled world, we and Jesus Christ. We learn the steps with Christ until, one day, we can dance well with him. Ok, we may not even dance well with him. Maybe our steps are awkward. Still what is important and wonderful is that WE DANCE WITH HIM. Jesus is not watching how skillful we are, he is just glad to see us dancing with him. 

13. We say this--that it is wonderful to dance with Christ even if awkwardly--because we have to be careful with one mis-understanding about God. A question can arise: if we do not manage to dance as well as Jesus, do we then go to hell? Remember that, Biblically, God is revealed as a God of life, not of death. God did not have his Son killed. He rose his Son from death, he did not kill him. God considers us as very important and precious--we are his IMAGE. Never is it the desire of God to send us to hell--to being us death. Making someone go to hell is not God's action. 

14. GOING TO HELL IS THE CHOICE OF A PERSON WHO DOES NOT WANT TO LIVE AS IMAGE OF GOD, WHO DOES NOT WANT THE VOCATION OF MOVING TO GOD AND WHO DOES NOT WANT TO DANCE WITH JESUS. The best example of this is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Watch the behaviour of the rich man and how, in fact, he really wants to go, and stay, in hell.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Are the Poor Lazy?

1. Some say that poverty is because of laziness. Poor people have the culture to be lazy and abusive. This is NOT NECESSARILY TRUE. Laziness is not the monopoly of the poor. Even very rich people can be lazy. To say that poverty is due to the culture (of laziness) of some people is TO BLAME THE POOR, it is TO ACCUSE THE POOR.  This blaming the poor sees the poor as PRODUCER OF BAD SITUATIONS. It is to say that poverty is the fault of the poor. The poor put themselves in bad situations--it is "ïn the culture of the poor". 

2. Laziness as associated with poverty is a sign of a bias. Some of those who say it think that they are not poor; that they do not belong to the poor. To say the poor are lazy is a sign that poverty is not well understood. 

3. Some say that poor people have the attitude and behaviour of laziness different from the richer classes. The richer people are not lazy. Poverty then is a cuture of laziness too. Again this is an error. Many poor people who may be lazy are not the only lazy people inthe world. There are also the lazy rich.  Many of the poor work hard. Many of them strive hard.  

4. Most poor people are STEREOTYPED as lazy. But there are SO MANY POOR PEOPLE WHO WORK. The labor force of our countries are FILLED WITH VERY POOR PEOPLE. Work is a basic value for the poor AND MANY POOR PEOPLE LOOK FOR WORK, they are not lazy, THEY ARE LOOKING FOR WORK. Without work how can they feed their families? 

5. Unemployment is primarily due to lack of employment. It is not due to laziness. There are just NOT ENOUGH JOBS TO ACCOMODATE MANY PEOPLE. Lack of employment is a better explanation to poverty than laziness. 

6. To have a job gives the worker an advantage. BUT FOR THE POOR EVEN WORK IS NOT A GUARANTEE THAT HE/SHE HAS THE ADVANTAGE IN LIFE. Their salaries are not enough to feed well their families, bring their children to school and care for them in times of serious illnesses. Poor people who work remain, somehow, in the level of poverty because they do not receive sufficient income to pull out of misery. THEIR POVERTY S NOT DUE TO LAZINESS.

7. This bias that the poor are lazy and abusive leads to the idea that the poor do not stand on their own feet--they can be helped only by "welfare". In our local terms e say "dole out". Hence the relationship of other social members towards the poor is that of "pitying the poor" and giving them "dole outs". But then because the bias that the poor are lazy and are culturally low, even the dole out system is criticized. The criticism states that the dole out only encourages the poor to stay low in culture. The poor are even abusive.  

8. We may not also be aware that poor people who do not work or cannot work are INCAPABLE OF WORKING BECAUSE OF PHYSICAL OR INTELLECTUAL LIMITS. They may have been sick and handicapped by their illness, they could not find a suitable job. They may not have been able to go to school and develop their intellectual skills. Hence many work opportunities are closed to them. How can a handicapped person find a job? How can an illiterate find a job? It is not easy. IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF LAZINESS BUT BECAUSE OF LIMITS. 

9. The poor need help. It is not even a choice to seek for help. It is a NECESSITY. The poor need help TO SURVIVE. But prejudices and biases look at the poor as lazy and so the poor just want dole outs and gifts. These prejudices and biases even discourage giving the poor help. 

10. Yes, there are the lazy and abusive poor people. But there are lazy and abusive rich people too. To call the poor as lazy is a DISPROPORTIONATE GENERALIZATION. It is to label all poor as lazy. It is unfair. 

11. Finally, let us add a Biblical note. Jesus identified himself with the poor--the "least" in society. We see this in Matthew 25. What we do to the least, we do it to Jesus. Jesus joined the ranks of the poor and identified himself with the poor. IT WAS NOT MOTIVATED BY PITY OR BLAME. The poor are those who are really in the conditions that crush them; they are so powerless. They are so voiceless. They are so marginalized. Jesus joined them, he went "in solidarity" with them. 

12. Blessed Charles de Foucauld had an insight here. He asked himself why he should travel by first class in the train when Jesus travels in the third class, among the poor. This is striking. If we put ourselves in the position of blaming the poor, is it possible that we prefer riding in first class and avoid riding with Jesus in the third class?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is Religion

Discussions in this post are not in the official stand of the Church. They are still part of the on-going reflections theologians are doing. So there is no need to accept all that is said here. Some ideas here can raise eyebrows. The theolgians consulted are Jacques Dupuis S.J., Bernard Sesboue S.J. and, to a very large extent, Claude Geffre O.P.

Defining Religion

For the Social Scientists

1. It is not easy to define "religion". Etymology on line will say that "religion" refers to "state of life bound by monastic vows," also "conduct indicating a belief in a divine power." It can mean "piety, devotion; religious community," and "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness". In European languages that have Latin in them, the word "religion" is found. But in many other languages of the world there is no word for "religion". 

2. In the Roman times, during the first century AD, a Roman philosopher named Cicero saw "religion" as RITUALS FOR THE GODS. Of course he was referring to the Roman gods. A little later, a Church Father named Tertullian said that "religion" meant a way of RELYING ON GOD. Both Ciceo and Tertullian were living after the Biblical times. If we look at the Bible, and the New Testament, we will NOT see the word "religion". The early Christians at the time of St. Paul and the Apostles did not see themselves as belonging to a "religion". They were followers of "the Way". The early Christians saw Christianity as following "the Way" and not as a religion. The early Christians simply followed God, they relied on God in Christ. They were more interested in following the footsteps of Jesus.

3. But then somewhere along the way, Christians developed a more sophisticated was of living the faith. So they started having rituals, cult practices, different sacrifices, liturgies, etc. More and more there were EXTERNAL signs and manifestations directed to God. More and more Christianity became marked by many EXTERNAL practices and became thus identified as "religion".

4. Today we can see what "religion" is according to social scientists, notably the sociologists and anthropologists. Two major identifications are made regarding "religion". 

    i. Religion is functional. In the functional view religion is a system of practices, symbols, rituals, norms that relate to what people consider as sacred. People then oppose the sacred from the profane. So we see temples, pagodas, mosques, Churches which are special places set apart from the rest. There are objects specially used for rituals and they cannot just be mixed with ordinary objects. There are priests, shamans, holy persons, ect., who function differently from ordinary work. etc. The major FUNCTION of religion is to GIVE SOCIAL COHESION to members. The different ritual and practices give a sense of "membership" and "belonging".

    ii.Religion is substantive. Here the assumption is that human nature is designed to SEEK FOR THE LINK BETWEEN LIFE HERE AND THE BEYOND. This is why the human is believed to be by nature "religious"--the human is HOMO RELIGIOSUS. The human is always interested in looking for what is beyond; the human looks out to the transcendence and there sees the help and hope for addressing life here.

5. Let us keep both in mind. Religion is functional because it serves unity of members. Religion is substantive because the human is by nature oriented to what is transcendent. In a way we can see Christianity as "religion"in both senses. We have our practices, symbols, rituals, priests, etc. We feel we are together, we identify ourselves as "Christians" and we have a group TO BELONG TO. Then of course we have our sense of Absolute and Transcendence; we have our Trinity who answers for the basic questions we have in life and who orients our life to salvation. 

6. Some sociologists try to refine the meaning of religion. Today it can be said that, in general, all religions are systems with moral-ethical norms; there are rules of behaviour and practices that members SHOULD DO. It can be said also that, in general, all religions have communities; there are adepts and faithful ones who identify themselves together as "belonging" to one another. Finally it can be said that, in general, all religions talk of "paths" that point to realities BEYOND THE HUMAN CONDITION here and now. Again we might want to apply this to Christianity. We have our NORMS, like do not steal, do not kill, go to mass on Sundays, etc. We have our COMMUNITY which we call as "Church". We say we belong to it and we adhere to it. We differentiate ourselves from people of other religions through our belonging to our Church. Finally we say that we have the path--which we call as salvation brought to us by Christ. So the ingredients of being "religion"may be in Christianity too.

7. Yet, we need to go deeper. There is, perhaps, something in Christianity that may still be "outside" the usual features of religion. But to see this we need to go slowly through other matters first.

8. One of the questions we raise today is about the truths of religions. Because of religious PLURALISM we might, sometimes, wonder which is the "true religion". "Which religion has the truth?" There are ways of answering this. There is a kind of pluralism, we can call it as "relativism", that will say that ANY RELIGION IS TRUE. Truth is RELATIVE TO WHERE YOU ARE. So it does not matter where you are. It does not matter what religion you go to. This can be very attractive but we need to think twice about this. The danger of relativism is that "anything goes", or "anything is ok". Why is this a danger? It leads to INTOLERANCE. It says that any truth is ok so you should not try to be true. If you try to be true, then you will violate the others to be true. Others have the right to their own truth, so you should not hold to your truth. So when someone else wants to be true, that person should not. Why, because that person should consider the truths of others. That person should not insist on his/her truth because others can still be true. In the end, nobody is allowed to be true for the sake of others. Let us take an example of relativism.

9. I am Christian and I believe that Jesus Christ is Savior. This is true for me. But relativism will NOT TOLERATE this. It will say that other religions have their truths, so I should not hold on to the truth of my faith. I must respect other religions and the truth they have. But then when a Buddhist says that salvation is through the dhamma, that Buddhist should not also hold to that truth. Relativism will NOT TOLERATE the truth of the Buddhist. The Buddhist should respect the Christian or the Muslim. So where will we all go? In the end nothing is true and nobody among us is in the truth. But the funny thing is this: the relativist will say that relativism is true. So all of us should accept the truth of the relativist. This is BAD PLURALISM. We allow for plurality of truths but we do not tolerate any truth. We go nowhere with this. 

10. We need to be healthy in pluralism. We admit that HUMANITY IS PLURAL in cultures, religions, beliefs, etc. But WE CANNOT ACCEPT NOBODY IS TRUE. Even if humanity is plural, THERE IS STILL SOMETHING TRUE TO ALL OF US HUMANS. With this type of thinking DIALOGUE IS POSSIBLE. Also it is here where we need to situate our own Christianity.

What then is "truth" among religions?

What is "true religion"?

1. The questions raised often today are these: what is "true religion"? Is my religion true or are other religions true? Which is the true one and which is the false one? First of all, we must be careful about our position. Today pluralism is so attractive but we need a "good pluralism", a "healthy pluralism" that is open to the possibility of TRUTH THAT BELONGS TO ALL. Without this, we can not have dialogue. If we accept "bad pluralism" or "relativism" we will not go very far; each will stay locked up in a box. Good pluralism admits that humanity is plural--there are many cultures, religions, practices, beliefs, etc. All of us can move and work together to discern what is true and common to all of us IN OUR PLURALITY. 
2. Today we can note many types of religions. There are the emerging new religions--like the "New Age"--that are characterized by the search for spiritual-physical-psychological well-being. But then of course we also see the "usual" traditions of the world that have been existing for so many centuries, such as Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, etc. Let us not forget the Traditional religions of indigenous communities. 
3. Although the world is becoming more and more pluralist, there is also a growing tendency towards fundamentalism in some sectors. The news report about them now and then. Fundamentalism is an extreme position that hardens the parameters of a religion and refuses any form of dialogue and openness to plurality. Yes, people have the right to be fundamentalist but we cannot accept a fundamentalism that opts for violence.

A bit of historical review

4. Let us review what we know about history. We cannot deny that in history many have engaged in violence and even war for the sake of religious beliefs. Many have fought wars IN THE NAME OF THEIR GODS AND RELIGIONS, thinking that their religions are so true while others are not true and are opposed to them. Our own Church history is not exempted from this fact. In the name of Christ many Christians have done so much bloodshed against people of other religions. We have a wounded history with Muslims and Jews, for example. Still, let us be careful in our interpretation of history.
     a. We cannot say that religions alone have been sources of violence and wars. Other social "non-religious" sectors have been very violent too. Just think of the Nazism of Germany or the Pol Pot regime of Cambodia. They were not in the domain of religion but they were heavily violent. So religion does not monopolize violence.
     b. We should not be very quick in condemning religion, especially Christianity-Judaism-Islam, as basically sources of violence. History will show that most of the time violence emerged because of politics. Religions were then used to sharpen the political positions. Violence did not start because of religious beliefs but because of political differences. Religions became instrumental. If we remember our history of the Indian continent during the time of Gandhi-ji for example we will see that Hinduism, a very peaceful religion, was used by politics and consequently became aggressive against Muslims and Christians. The violence was not originally from the religion.

5. We need to be calm, today, and try to be more lucid about history. What we think is "clash" of religions in the past may have been triggered NOT BY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS BUT BY POLITICS. But of course we never close our eyes to the history of violence too and how intolerant a religious group went against people of other religions. For us, Catholics, we have said sorry. We have had Popes who apologized. We hope and pray that, today and tomorrow, we will NEVER engage in any violence and war for the sake of our Christianity. 

6. It is, however, not enough to say we are sorry for past history. We need to look into ourselves and discern, regularly, our possible propensity for violence, intolerance, rejection. We need to be vigilant with our biases and prejudices against people of other faiths. We need to constantly uproot any weed of violence that sprouts in our hearts.

7. Because of this history of past violence and wars, many of us are hesitant to go into mission. Many of us say that we do not want to repeat the harm we have done to other cultures in the past. Our Christianity, many say, has become so "elite" and arrogant and with a superiority complex (like during the time of Colonizing), that should not be repeated. So mission itself is affected. Proclamation is affected. But really, if we go back to Jesus himself we can say that JESUS NEVER WANTED THAT WE GO FOR VIOLENCE AND ARROGANCE. History has wounded mission and Jesus himself would agree that we should not go do violence and arrogance. But the command of Jesus remains: GO TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. Go PROCLAIM. Mission continues to be our Christian vocation. But we need to do it in a more healthy and human way.

8. Vatican II itself has come out with a document DENOUNCING acts of violence and violation of others. We have no right to force others against their own religions. Let us read two passages.

    From Dignitates humanae #2: "This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits". 

    From Dignitates humanae #10: "It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will". 

9. If the aim of mission is to impose upon others, then IT IS NOT MISSION anymore. Jesus did not command us to go and force others, Jesus did not command us to impose on others. We do not anymore opt for intolerance, fanaticism, proselytizing, etc. We do not anymore take the stand that others have no rights to their beliefs. We do not anymore see them as children of the devil. Times have changed and Vatican II has affirmed the changes. Religious freedom is the right of all so we cannot and should not pull others out of their religions. "The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person" (Dignitati humanae #2). 

10. So then we need to fact the fact today: there is pluralism in religions. There are many religions and they all have to be respected. This poses as a challenge not just for us for for every religion: HOW DO WE DIALOGUE WITH OTHERS WHILE WE CONTINUE TO BELIEVE THAT OUR FAITH-RELIGION IS TRUE? How do we engage in dialogue within a pluralistic world?

Truth in pluralism today

11. We say that our faith is true. We say that our religion is true. BUT THAT DOES NOT FALSIFY OTHER RELIGIONS. The truth of my faith does not make other faiths necessarily false. We do not opt for "exclusivism". We do not say that we are in the truth and others are rejected to be in the error. We have stopped thinking like this already. We might add that, following the tradition of the Church Fathers, other religions contain elements of our religion. We might want to say that the "Seeds of the Word" are already there. Ok, we hold on to this. But we need to admit also that even non-Christian elements can be true. There are aspects in other religions that are really VERY DIFFERENT FROM OUR CHRISTIANITY. And we add that THOSE ELEMENTS CAN BE TRUE TOO.

12. Truth is a manifestation. It is an "unveiling". For us God has revealed--in history, in Christ, in the Trinity. This is true. It has been manifested and unveiled to us. But there is more to what has been revealed to us. God in his own mysterious ways MAY BE REVEALING TOO TO OTHER RELIGIONS. God may be sharing himself with other religions in his own mysterious ways. His revelation to us does not sop him from revealing to others. 

Truth in dialogue

13. Notice then that we do not abandon out faith. We remain TRUE TO OUR FAITH  In front of people of other religions we can still hold on to the Church tradition of "Seeds of the Word" present in other religions. But we can add that God can reveal in them, God can speak in them and communicate with them IN WAYS THAT GO BEYOND OUR OWN KNOWING. We cannot stop God from relating with people of other religions. 

14. God is sharing truths to other people. To us he has shared and revealed, this is the "profile" of his revelation and it is presented to us. God may be showing OTHER PROFILES TO OTHER PEOPLE AND WE RESPECT THAT. This can explain what Pope John Paul II said in his Redemptoris missio: that as we enter into dialogue with people of other religions we go DEEPER ITO OUR OWN RELIGION because we discover more and more the OTHER PROFILES OF GOD'S REVELATION IN OTHER RELIGIONS.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Fundamental Option for the Poor (and State Ruled by Law)

1. The universal destination of goods requires that the poor and marginalized be the focus of concern. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine # 182 tells us that “the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force”. Today we can say that, in general, the whole Church agrees on the importance of opting for the poor. But who are "the poor"?

2. Many texts say that the poor are those who suffer inhuman conditions in terms of

--access to health care
--basic liberties like the freedom to feel secured

3. There are the dimensions of economics, politics, culture. Poverty can mean precarious living. The dictionary will say that to be precarious is to be in a dangerous situation of falling and collapsing. The poor is "precarious" materially or "precarious" in property or "precarious" in health care or "precarious" in inter-human relationship or "precarious" in discrimination, etc. There is a deprivation of resources that are needed for "common good", there is deprivation of respecting human dignity. Pope John Paul II gave a statement on this. "Taking up the Lord's mission as her own, the Church proclaims the Gospel to every man and woman, committing herself to their integral salvation. But with special attention, in a true "preferential option", she turns to those who are in situations of greater weakness, and therefore in greater need. "The poor", in varied states of affliction, are the oppressed, those on the margin of society, the elderly, the sick, the young, any and all who are considered and treated as "the least" (Vita Consecrata #82). 

4. Notice that poverty is not limited to material poverty. The poor are the "least" in society; they are the marginalized. They can include people victimized by discrimination, infants, propertyless, homeless, migrants, refugees, ethnic minorities, etc. Pope John Paul II wrote that the option for the poor "is not limited to material poverty, since it is well known that there are many other forms of poverty, especially in modern society--not only economic but cultural and spiritual poverty as well" (Centesimus annus #57).

5. Opting for the poor is in the center of our faith. The option for the poor "affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ" (Pope John Paul II, Solicitudo rei socialis # 42). Remember that the Lord Jesus identified himself with the least: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least, you did for me" (Mt 25/40). In the poor is the presence of Christ.

6. The inspiration here is Jesus himself. He identified himself with the “least”. The Church's love for the poor is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, by the poverty of Jesus and by his attention to the poor (Compendium of the Social Doctrine #184). What we do to the poor we do the Christ. The poor is sign of Christ's presence (Compendium #182).

7. Jesus came to announce--proclaim--the Good News TO THE POOR (SEE Mt 11/5 ; LK 7/22). The Church therefore follows this line by going to the poor and showing to the poor the Good News. The option for the poor is rooted in faith in God who became poor. It "is never exclusive or discriminatory towards other groups" (Centesimus annus #57) but it emphasizes that the poor have the FIRST PLACE in the preoccupation of the disciples of Christ.

8. The option for the poor IS NOT OPTIONAL. It is not something we can set aside. It is a choice we are all called to accept. Pope John Paul II would call the option as primacy of Christian love it is "an option which I defined as a 'special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity.'" (Centesimus annus #11). This means that we put to work the command of love of Christ.

9. The option for the poor demands work that includes changing economic and political structures--structures that produce poverty. Pope John Paul II wrote (in Centesimus annus # 58) that the option for the poor is not just about giving "extra" resources, or what the Pope calls as "the surplus". Option for the poor involves

--helping people  who are "presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development"
--"a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies"
--orienting social organization "according to an adequate notion of the common good".

10. Today we do not forget the ecological problem. The option for the poor includes the defense of the environment. Remember that the environment is "common home" for Pope Francis. The question is about the future too with the link between ecology and struggle against poverty.

11. In case we think that we can remove all poverty, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine says no. This will happen only “upon Christ's return” (#183). So for now we have the poor with us and we will be judged according to how we treat the poor.

Pope Francis: on the doctrine "option for the poor"

1. Pope Francis spoke to the PARTICIPANTS IN THE WORLD MEETING OF POPULAR MOVEMENTS in 2014. Let us look at some points in that discourse. 
He reminds his audience that the option for the poor is in the center of the Gospel. The poor, he says, suffer injustice and struggle for it. The struggle is a blessing to humanity. The Pope is courageous. Remember that he is talking to "popular movements" of the landless, the unemployed, those who have no decent homes. 
2. To his audience he says: "You have your feet in the mud, you are up to your elbows in flesh-and-blood reality. Your carry the smell of your neighbourhood, your people, your struggle! We want your voices to be heard – voices that are rarely heard". 
The Pope raises certain issues regarding LAND, HOUSING AND WORK.

     a. RELATED TO LAND IS HUNGER. The Pope mentions the global manipulation of the prices of food. Millions of people suffer and die from hunger while at the same time so much food is thrown away. It is a scandal, says the Pope. "Hunger is criminal, food is an inalienable right". The Pope emphasizes AGRARIAN REFORM to address the question of hunger. “Agrarian reform is", says the Pope, "besides a political necessity, a moral obligation.”
     b. RELATED TO HOUSING is the presence of poor settlements of marginalized people. The Pope then asks that this issue be addressed so that families have housing, so that neighbourhoods have adequate sewage, light, gas, asphalted roads etc.. He calls for working for neighborhoods that they may have schools, hospitals (or clinics). The Pope even adds "sports clubs and all those things that create bonds and unite".
     c. RELATED TO WORK is the problem of unemployment. "There is no worse material poverty than the poverty which does not allow people to earn their bread, which deprives them of the dignity of work". The Pope sees the obession for profit as a root cause of unemployment, "the result of an underlying social choice in favour of an economic system that puts profit above man". In economic profit things are thrown away, workers too. It has become a "throw away culture": "those who cannot be integrated, the excluded, are discarded, the 'leftovers'. This is the throw-away culture".

3. The Pope, after denouncing issues, congratulates his audience for being creative: "so many of you who are excluded workers, the discards of this system, have been INVENTING YOUR OWN WORK with materials that seemed to be devoid of further productive value…" Among his audience are garbage collectos, recyclers, peddlers, dressmakers, tailors, artisans, fishermen, farmworkers, builders, miners, workers excluded from labour rights. The Pope encourages unions...that these people join together and form unions. 
4. The Pope also takes the opportunity to mention the ecological problem. There cannot be land, housing, work if eventually we destroy the planet. "Creation is a gift, it is a present, it is a marvellous gift given to us by God so that we might care for it and use it, always gratefully and always respectfully, for the benefit of everyone". 
5. Human dignity must be re-instated. We cannot continue like this, idolizing money and profits all the time. We cannot stay indifferent always; and this  indifference has been globalized: “Why should I care what happens to others as long as I can defend what’s mine?” The Christian has the basic fundamental option for the poor. 
6. The Pope states: "We Christians have something very lovely, a guide to action, a programme we could call revolutionary. I earnestly recommend that you read it: the Beatitudes in Saint Matthew chapter 5 (cf. Mt 5:3) and in Saint Luke chapter 6 ("And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours' Lk 6/20); and the Last Judgment passage in Saint Matthew chapter 25".  

7. The Pope then suggests that we create "NEW FORMS OF PARTICIPATION" like popular movements marked by moral energy "that springs from including the excluded in the building of a common destiny". Here we see the Pope following the doctrine of option for the poor: make the poor part of our destiny. 

Work for Pope Francis

1. On May 1, 2013, Pope Francis had his "general audience". As we know, the first of May celebrates Work. It is worker's day. So on that May 1, Pope Francis mentioned his insights about work. It was a very short text but it gave a condense idea of the social doctrine of the Church. Let us note some parts of the Pope's text. 
2. First, he spoke about the book of Genesis. He said that God created the human to "subdue" the earth. It did not mean that the human was to exploit blindly the earth. Rather it meant nurturing and protecting earth, caring for it through WORK. The Pope then said: "Work is part of God’s loving plan, we are called to cultivate and care for all the goods of creation and in this way share in the work of creation!" 
3. Then the Pope spoke about the DIGNITY OF WORK. He was thinking especially of many people--young and old--who were unemployed because economics was centered too much on making profits. Work, said the Pope, "is fundamental to the dignity of a person". Work "anoints" the human and makes the human "similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts". Thanks to work, the human maintains himself/herself, maintains the family. Work helps contribute to the society. Unfortunately, today, said the Pope, this notion of work is not respected. 
4. If work makes us "similar to God", what do we say about the work conditions of so many laborers in sweat shops and in exploitative conditions? The Pope was seriously worried about “slave labour”. So many are victims of "slave labour". 
5. Pope Francis was optimist, however. He ended his talk by encouraging the youth. He called the youth to be committed to daily duties, to studies, to work. There is no work without effort and engagement of the person. The Pope encouraged the youth to be committed to relationships of friendship, to helping others. To the youth he said: "your future also depends on how you live these precious years of your life. Do not be afraid of commitment, of sacrifice and do not view the future with fear. Keep your hope alive: there is always a light on the horizon".  

What is State Ruled by Law?

1. We read the notion “The ‘State ruled by the Law’” in chapter 8 of the Compendium to the Church Social Doctrine: “In a State ruled by law the power to inflict punishment is correctly entrusted to the Courts” (Com.#402). Notice the importance given to the “courts”—or the judiciary branch of the government. The “state ruled by the law” has something to do with laws of the country. It implies the independence of the judiciary.

2. The document mentions the idea of democracy. The Compendium (#406) cites the encyclical of Pope John Paul II—the Centesimus annus. In the encyclical Pope John II says that the Church values democracy which "ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices". Social members participate by "electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate This discourages". This helps avoid the formation of small groups in society that will rule and take over power FOR THEIR OWN INTERESTS. Thus the interest of the people of the society are not given respect. True democracy rejects this rule of limited narrow groups. "Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person…..’” (#406).

3. Notice that for Pope John Paul II “state ruled by the law” is linked with a “correct conception of the human person”. The “correct conception of the human person” is opposite to the private interests of narrow groups. The “state ruled by law” is opposed to control of power by narrow groups. So “state ruled by law” means taking care of the interests of everyone. This is a safeguard for the fundamental option for the poor. If we have a society that is ruled by a small group that focuses on its own interests, the poor will really have a very precarious life. 

4. Again we see the term “state ruled by law” in another citation. It also mentions Centesimus annus: “The Magisterium recognizes the validity of the principle concerning the division of powers in a State". In the division of powers one power of the government is balanced by other powers. Why? "The law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals” (Com.#408). If there are interests dominating society, other areas can come to correct that and "balance" the legal exercise. The division of powers (executive, legislative and judiciary). It is interesting to note that the document mentions also the “other spheres of responsibility”. In other words, there is not just the presence of the three branches, executive, legislative and judiciary. There is also the presence of many other areas—like opinions of jurists, teachings of moral authorities, voice of academicians, groups of farmers, groups of workers, groups of urban poor etc. The law, says the document, is sovereign. Narrow interests do not--should not--dominate society. Everyone should "toe the line" of the law. Again this assures that the voiceless, the marginalized, the poor are given their due places. 

5. Let us take one more part of the document mentioning “state ruled by law”. The document mentions the right to defend against terrorism. The struggle against terrorists includes "respect for human rights and for the principles of a State ruled by law (#514). Nobody in society is to be submitted to terror. Those in power should not just do what they want, they have to consider legal and moral laws.

6. A central idea is that there is a limit to power. Power does not just act arbitrarily. For example, in punishing criminals or in combating terrorists, consideration must be given to legal principles and human rights. In recognizing religion, there should be no favoritism. Power does not exercise all powers. A limit must be assigned to power. Power does not have in itself all the reasons of its actions. There is limit that must impose: the good of everyone and the right of each member. None in society must be submitted to the TYRANNY OF THE ARBITRARY.

7. Our countries have constitutions with the different branches of government, legal rules on crime and penalties, the independence of courts, the sovereignty of the law, international agreements, human rights, moral principles, etc. Constitutions tell us how powers are to be used. The three powers are defined—executive, legislative and judiciary. The executive decides while respecting the regulations issued by the legislative. The courts are given the independence to make decisions on litigations. None of the three is the absolute source of the law. All of them have to “toe the line” of the law. Certain rights of citizens must be respected by public servants. These rights are protected by the constitutions. Power must be guided and limited. Power is not absolute. This is how we can understand “state ruled by law”. 

Church stand

8. So the Social doctrine of the Church is really in line with the whole idea of “state ruled by law”. Yet, there is something “ecclesial” in the stand of the Church. It is not enough to say that people have rights and that they should be protected from the tyranny of the arbitrary. The Church also looks at “the Word”. This is clear. The Church has a particular stand on the relationship between power and rights of people. Let us see what this is.

9. Ok, so we say that the essence of governance is to place power under limits. There are rules and norms that tell power how far it should go. But the norms and rules are themselves derived from a certain power. Let us say that a group of persons write the constitutions and in the constitutions there are limits given to power. But what about the people who write the constitutions? What norms do they obey?

10. In a society there are powers that limit powers. There are powers that say how far rules will go. But these “higher” powers—from where do they get their own powers? If our constitutions tell us the limits of powers, from where do the constitutions get their power to say this?

11. Do we rely on “international laws”? But this begs the question too: from where will international laws get their power. What is the basis of all powers?

12. There is a deeper problem here. When we look at a law, it obeys a higher law. Laws of the country, for example, must refer themselves to the constitutions. If the city council says “put Mr. X to jail”, the constitutions will still have to say whether the decision is correct or not—and whether the rights of the accused are respected. The constitutions are higher than the other laws of the land. A rule justifies itself through a higher law. (If this looks abstract, just think of the computer. The software has “commands” inside. But the commands come from the authors of the software. So the commands of who made the programs for the software are “higher” than the commands in the software.)

13. In our countries, normally the courts are given the work of checking if the laws we make are “constitutional”. If the lawmakers, for example, prohibit certain cyber posting, the courts have the work of checking if the prohibition is constitutional or not. The constitutions are “higher”. If a country makes rules regarding trade and commerce in export-import, international laws have to be considered too. A country does not just make its own regulations on trade without verifying if the regulations conform to international agreements.

14. So what is the “highest” power to say that the laws we make are just or unjust? What is the highest power that can define the limits of all powers? Surely constitutions have to obey something higher. Surely international laws have to obey something higher.

15. Now, let us look at the word “vows”. People in consecrated life do “vows”. The religious brother or sister makes an “oath” witnessed by God. Well, even in secular life, we see people making “vows”. In court a witness is asked to make an oath. In fact, we do see our leaders—in all branches of the government—make oaths. It is through the “vows” and “oaths” that persons agree to respect the laws—especially the higher laws. When a person makes a vow or an oath, the person is obliged to be true to his/her word. The respect given to the vow or oath is crucial—respect for the constitutions, for example, depend on the respect in the oaths. This is important: being true to one’s word. Within each and every member of society is the “requirement” to respect the word. And this is not something that is derived from another law. There is not law telling us to be honest and faithful with our word.

16. In us—humans—is a norm or a rule or a law that serves as foundation for social order. This may not even be written and formulated officially. But it is here, present. The heart of the “state ruled by law” is actually here—it is in the CONSCIENCE of everyone.

17. Well, we can say this easily. But can we agree? In philosophy there are people called “positivists”. “Positivists” say that power is simply “formal”. So a “state ruled by law” is just a formal statement. Positivists would simply accept that a law or rule makes sense only in reference to a hierarchy of laws. Positivists prefer to say that laws simply have a hierarchy. For the positivist, there should be no “morality” or “ethics” that say what is ultimate power. In a state, laws just have to adjust in hierarchy—one law links to another law. This is enough. There is no need to look for the “highest”. So the positivist will say to stop worrying about “the highest”, just follow the existing laws of the country.

18. So, if we accept the positivist's stand, it is enough that a country has constitutions. Ok, but what if there are conflicts with other countries—one set of constitutions do not agree with another set. So the positivist will say: look at international law. In the summit is a kind of international agreement among all countries.

19. Yet, can we really be satisfied with this? Do we just seek for what is effectively global. There are philosophers—let us call them the “naturalists”—who say that the human has a RATIONAL nature which is ultimate. Power takes its ultimate right to exercise itself from the human capacity to reason. There is this idea of the “subject”. The human is a “subject”, source of thinking and deciding and acting. So each and every human is not “better” than others. Each one is “subject” and can think and decide for oneself. So a “state ruled by law” is a state that makes sure that everyone is respected as “subject” and that nobody is discriminated. This looks ok. The Church is more inclined to follow this. But the Church still has something more to say.

20. When power recognizes the equal liberty of each member of society, the Church agrees. Power is not meant to stay as power. Power is for the sake of people. Power should recognize that it has its limits—that it will have to stop somewhere. Power applied must always give in to power in law. In other words, if power is to be applied to people, it must always consider people as “subjects” (and not “objects”). The law demands respect of dignity. So applying power must stop if it is against the respect of people as “subjects”. So the philosophy of "naturalists" look ok. The Church is happy about it. 

21. But do not forget the “vow” or “oath”. There is always the risk of the tyranny of the arbitrary. At any given moment, leaders can go arbitrary and snap into doing what they want in any way they want. They will justify themselves and their regimes. They can always frame laws IN FAVOR OF A NARROW GROUP INTEREST. Also, if they rely on Reason and Rationality, the human is not absolute and cannot see all. Reason, no matter how lucid it tries, cannot be master. There is always the need for “vows” or “oaths”.

22. The Church is not satisfied with simply saying that the human is “subject” and can think and decide for oneself rationally. There is still the fact that the human is IMAGE OF GOD. A state can make its decisions and apply its laws—but never in contradiction with the human as image of God. If the leaders of a country reject this fact, the Church will have to denounce the injustice. In other words, the state has no right. It is not a “state ruled by laws” as envisioned by the Church. The State, if it is to be authentic in its call, must take the "vow" of working for the promotion of the human as sacred and as IMAGE OF GOD. The laws can make mistakes but they are submitted to the vows. Hence whenever the mistakes are recognized they need re-formulation to adjust to the fact of IMAGE OF GOD. 

23. Consider an example. Public politics rest on the famous "trickle down" which means that resources come from above and slowly trickle down--flow--into the bottom. First those on those below. Those on top get the priority of resources. They have better access to resources. The "least" are often ignored in employment, and access to basic needs for the "common good". A small number of persons, however, those on the top, have better chances for work and access to basic needs. This can be legal. So there is an urgent need to move in a different direction. This is what "option for the poor" invites us to do. But to move towards the option for the poor requires a "vow": that we really opt for the poor. It is not a legal vow. It is not a vow for the constitution. It is "higher". 

From Pope Francis

24. Look at what Pope Francis says. He says that the option for the poor is primarily a theological category. It is not just a legal, philosophical or political-economic category. The option for the poor is a DIVINE PREFERENCE. The option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity". God became poor to enrich us. (Evangelii gaudium #198). 

25. We can then agree that the state must be rulled by the law. But this rule must "take a vow": that all laws and rules and norms should promote human dignity and the fundamental option for the poor of the society. All laws must be guided by this vow. ""Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care" (Evangelii gaudium #200). We care for the poor. 

26. Let us end with a citation from Pope Francis:

"....none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”. I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect. That being said, I trust in the openness and readiness of all Christians, and I ask you to seek, as a community, creative ways of accepting this renewed call" (Evangelii gaudium #201).

What is "neoliberalism"? An overly simple presentation...but hopefully helpful

1. Neoliberalism is an economic theory that emphasizes that the market is in-charge of all our problems. The market can take care of us. To put it in ways we can understand, neoliberalism says that "business" is what can take care of all our needs and can answer all our problems. Businesses can do this IF NOBODY GETS IN THE WAY, businesses have to be free. Free from what? FREE FROM ANY STATE--OR GOVERNMENT--INTERVENTION. So there should be NO PUBLIC SECTOR, everything should be in the hands of the private sector. It is said that neoliberalism has stimulated what we now call as "globalisation".

2. Neoliberals do not like government intervention. Let businesses free to do what they want to do. Well, a minimum of government help can come is, like the police. Neoliberals want FREE EXCHANGE in businesses on an international level. Rich and poor countries alike can interact with each other freely.

3. Neoliberals do not want labor unions because, they say, labor unions only complicate situations. Businesses are not free if workers make demands. Neoloiberals do not like social protections--like the security social system, or hospital assurance, or calamity welfare. The government is giving these things and the government can serve the public BY TAXATION. Helping the public is too costly and the government should avoid it. Neoliberals want to be free from the burden of taxes. Businesses need to be free from this imposition. The less tax possible...the better. Taxes only put a brake on development. Let the business take care of development. If businesses are doing alright then there is real development.

4. Remember that business have to compete. This competition makes the situation look like a "war". Businesses strive very hard to "conquer" the market and hold a solid position in the market. The government becomes a system IN THE SERVICE OF THE WAR. 

5. The government need not be interested in the service of the public. its work should be to create favorable conditions for the competition of the businesses. Notice how many of our governments are so interested in giant businesses. Of course our governments say that by favoring giants the economy will grow and somewhere along the way the resources from the giants will "trickle down". But this means that our governments allow for businesses that contractualize labor and damage the ecology. Also we see, slowly, the disappearance of public services. In many countries the services that the governments do are taken over by the private businesses. So the poor can only have services if they pay.   

6. Business is focused on one objective alone: maximize profit. Let all businesses maximize their profits and society will benefit. Well, this is the idea. For neoliberals what is most important is to make profit...profit...profit. Maximize profit. Of course, there are "costs" in business. Salaries must be paid, for example. Education can be a cost because it will mean preparing minds AND SPENDING MONEY in preparation for the business world. So as much as possible COSTS MUST BE MINIMIZED. This explains what we see today as "contractualization". Workers are costs, they have to be paid. So neoliberals have thought of a system of reducing the burden of this cost by limiting labor to contracts. In contractualization, a business is liberated from the burden of caring further for workers. Use workers for, say, six months, and dispose of them afterwards. If they get sick or if mothers get pregnant, it is not the worry of the business, six months are finished, goodbye.  

7. Just think about it. First, there will be no more help to the public sector. Government services must be privitized. Impose little taxes. What happens? The private businesses make a lot of money--profits--and people who can pay enjy the services of the businesses. Meanwhile those who are poor have nowhere to go. They have no more government supporting them--all is privatized.

8. Second, businesses require efficiency. It is a competitive world. So all those involved with businesses must be performing efficiently. There is no room for "taking it easy", no room for inefficiency. The poor never have much opportunity to be trained and formed. They cannot even go to higher stages of education. So only the efficient people can participate in business. The poor are marginalized. 

9. Here is another aspect of neoliberalism. Up until the 1970's, much of economies were industrial. If someone wanted to invest money, the money would go to very identifiable enterprises: factories, machineries, and other very concrete services. Profits were re-invested in the same industries. But slowly the world changed and economics took a new turn.

10. Today many business transactions are done BEYOND JUST INVESTMENTS IN INDUSTRIES. Today, as neoliberalism wants it, EVERYTHING MUST BE PUT TO BUSINESS. Now, in this "everything" are things included like: water, food, health, even intellectual properties. So we do not just do business by starting a car making factory, we also do business by MAKING MONEY OUT OF WATER AND FOOD AND HEALTH, ETC. To put it in terms of the Social Doctrine of the Church, today WE CAN DO BUSINESS BY MAKING MONEY OUT OF THE COMMON GOOD. The things that allow people to "bloom" become sources of profit.

11.Remember what we say in the Social Doctrine. Water and food form our common good, they are basic for our "common home". The principle of the "universal destination of goods" tells us that water and food SHOULD BE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL BECAUSE THEY ARE GOD-GIVEN TO ALL. Well, imagine making business out of these! 

12. Neoliberals want that EVERYTHING SHOULD BE SOURCE OF PROFIT. Everything should be "privatized"...they are not "common". So businesses must have ACCESS TO THINGS THAT WILL BE PRIVATIZED, PROFITABLE AND CONSEQUENTLY SOLD AND BOUGHT. Access to water and food will now have to pass through businesses. 

13. We might ask: what about the future? Should we not worry about it? Neoloiberalism focuses on IMMEDIATE PROFIT. So the idea of future is not attractive for neoliberals. Make as much money now. This is why we also see consumerism very strong in our societies today. Maximize profit now, maximize production now, maximize the promotion of the product now, stimulate the consumption of people. 

14. Remember the problem we saw regading the link between economics and ecology. Ecology requies future thinking. Neoliberalism has no time for that. The economic system stands on continuous consumption, buy buy buy OUR PRODUCTS as we produce produce and produce. The planet is limited. Resources are limited. But this is not a concern of neoliberalism. 

15. We read from Pope Francis the invitation to go ecological in economics. This means solid planning. Our future will be the present of the coming generations. But this will mean knowing how to manage well the use of resources, imposing rules in their use...requiring government intervention. But remember neoliberalism does not want this. Neoliberalism states that ONLY THE INDIVIDUAL EXISTS. The social is to be avoided. The social is an obstacle to the development of the individual. (Of course this means "the individual business").

16. Now, businesses can really make a lot of money. To have lots of money is appetizing. Those who hold a lot of money would certainly like to let their fortunes grow and grow IN A CONTINUOUS AND REPEATED WAY. So it is important to look for ways that will make money grow. Here we see the emergence of the "financial system". This is a system in which money is made to grow INDEPENDENTLY OF CONCRETE BUSINESSES. In other words, WE CAN MAKE MONEY OUT OF MONEY. If we before we can make money out of making cars, now we can make money not just out of buying and selling the common good but also BUYING AND SELLING MONEY. Maybe today you have heard of "mutual funds" and "stock investments". Money then is not used for servicing people. Even government central banks enjoy the game of the "money market". What could really be used for public spending becomes an investment to make more money. 

17. What is the human being in neoliberalism? The human being is a "cost". The human being is an obstacle to making profit. Why? The human being asks for salaries. The human being asks for raising the family. The human being asks for health care. The less humans the better the profit. The less we take care of humans the better profits move. This is why neoliberalism wants to remove as much as possible all government services to people. The human must be TRANSFORMED from the living human to the CONSUMERIST. If we can consume, buy, if we make demands BUT WE PAY, then we can be "humans" in terms of "consumerists".