The Church teaches that… “society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.” (Catechism: 1928, p 468)
It is important to clarify a few pertinent facts regarding society and what it must do to guarantee what is known as social justice. First there ought to be an understanding of what exactly “society” is. Apart from the many colorations the word society takes on, generally, for the purposes of social justice, society is “a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security and national identity for its members.” i.e. American Society or Mexican Society, etc.
On a larger scale, the word community may mean a community of neighboring states, like the “European Community.” In effect, the world itself is a community, but it would be preposterous at this point in history to imagine a world-order that would or could provide protection, continuity, security, or some sort of identity for all of humanity without getting into spiritual and religious connotations no less than geographic or political ones.
The Roman Catholic Church has always seen herself, spiritually speaking, with a “one world” view as the mother of humankind. Still, all through her history, she has been deeply involved and at times a primary player in the sociopolitical intrigues and manifestations of individual states. She has been and now is a state in her own right. She leads a double life, as it were, as the mother of humanity in the “Body of Christ,” the Holy See, and the City State of the Vatican with particular political status whose walled enclave is protected by the Italian government and Rome’s police force. In other words the Vatican is the sovereign territory of the Holy See, with holdings both practical and applicable worldwide. Though the Catholic Bishops have a great deal of autonomy on their own, all final say is vested in the Pope with the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the church, particularly in matters of faith and morals for over a billion two hundred million Catholics.
Regarding social justice, “Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his or her dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy,” according to Catholic teaching. (ibid 1930, p 469)
The American colonists, in 1776, outlined their grievances against George III of Great Britain with the Declaration of Independence and included in the document the “inalienable” rights beyond societal control, including among others, the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness endowed by the Creator, i.e. God, and secured by a Government instituted by Men which derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Not the first democracy on earth, but certainly a unique one as it turned out, peopled by immigrants from many nations, but marred for many years by the institution of slavery. The United States paid a terrible price with a Civil War fought for four years primarily over this issue; what was right prevailed. It was Abraham Lincoln to whom God gave the vision to see the right, and for which he was murdered. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
(John 15. 13)
The Church stipulates that it is a “duty to make oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes urgent when they are disadvantaged. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is not compatible with hatred, even of ones enemies as persons, but not with the hatred of the evil that he or she does” or permits. (Catechism 1933 p 469). The position on Social Justice goes beyond the sovereignty of states and rests on the ultimate sovereignty of God as the Creator of all things. “In God We Trust” is not just an idle boast, but a statement of faith.
“In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the ‘common good’ which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person… ‘Common good is to be understood as the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’ The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from every person, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority.” (ibid 1905/1906 p 464-5)
The common good presupposes respect for the person and his or her fundamental and inalienable rights. It also requires social well-being and the development of the community itself in peace, harmony, and security. It is also the basis for legitimate personal and collective defense. (ibid 1907-08-09 p 465)
“In the political community, the common good has its most complete realization. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society.” (ibid 1910 p 465)
The right to private property acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth by God to the whole of mankind, even if the common good requires respect for the right of private property and its exercise. (ibid 2403 p 577)
The only equality existing on earth is the equal value each individual has in relation to another as a creature of God. Further than that, we are, in fact, all different in terms of our physical and intellectual abilities and with whatever talents we may have inherited or acquired. Each persons genetic profile is different from any other and our socially acquired skills and proficiencies are what makes our reliance on one another a practical necessity.
Those who have acquired wealth are required to share it with those less fortunate. Those who are poor are required to strive for betterment, and not become a permanent drain on the charity of others or of the goods of the state. A preferential option must be made available to those who, through extenuating circumstances, have become desperate as a result of the lack of the basics for life: food, clothing, and shelter, etc. A great sin is committed by those, who privately or as office holders, withhold, divert, or misuse funds intended for the desperately poor, or the common good. Funds or material help given to those in this condition is given for the express purpose of rehabilitating them, if possible, so that they may become, again, contributors to the common good with dignity.
Without the contributions of the well-off with taxation and charitable giving, the state cannot function, since it produces only organization and order, establishing fair and proper conditions for peace and harmony among its citizenry. Heads of state and governing bodies should live frugally and not ostentatiously on behalf of the people who hold them responsible. Squandering funds on unimportant and frivolous projects to satisfy the few, essentially is a waste of funds that should be used for more necessary endeavors.
Man has been given the aptitude to survive and prosper with the diverse distribution of natural resources on earth.
Man’s ingenuity itself has become a natural resource as technology extends to all parts of the globe. Ideas and planning are not unique to geographic locations. The condition that holds people back from thriving is the greed and selfishness of the many power-brokers, with their coterie, who stymie the fair distribution of the wealth of nations meant to be shared by all of its people. This is especially so when they are in control of the government, which is all too common in this era of drug cartels, ideological political absolutism, and elitism. In these cases, and others, the honest person may need to exit their country. What better route would there be except to an affluent neighboring state, or to revolt en masse against the center of destructive state control by force, and a reestablishment of a fair and equitable distribution of goods by way of a free market? The problem with the latter, historically, has been the spilling of much innocent blood, and always the chance of the enterprise going awry because of unintended consequences.
The goods and services of a neighboring state should never be considered free by emigres, except, of course, if they are in dire straights to keep themselves and their families alive and at liberty to help themselves survive. The fault lies, generally, with the country of origin which has not, for previously stated reasons, provided for its citizens.
The usurping of property against the reasonable will of the owner is theft. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the “universal destination of goods.” (ibid 2408 p 578) Most states are open to proper means of entry and a sharing of their goods by legal means. Though every case is different, no one has the intrinsic right to become part of another’s community by deception or stealth, except, of course, for urgent necessity, when it is proper to put at ones disposal the property of others.
The church has rejected totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with “communism” and “socialism”. She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism”, individualism and the absolute primacy of the law over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “There are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good is not only to be commended but fostered. (ibid 2425 p 582). To these ends, the Holy See relies only on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Feast of the Transfiguration, 2010