Cor Jesu, rex et centrum omnium cordium, miserere nobis
Heart of Jesus, king and centre of all hearts, have mercy on us
Happy feast of the Sacred Heart, and God bless you!
I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.
I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.
I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.
This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.
What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.
I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.
Thank you for reading, and God bless you!
P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.
P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.
God bless you!
[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]
As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…
Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,
Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.
This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.
Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.
My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.
Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.
Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.
The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.
At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.
If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.
Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.
‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.
Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!
‘It must be that you don’y know me at all well, if you are afraid that a detailed account of your faults could lessen the tenderness I feel for your soul! O my brother, believe me that I shall not need to “put my hand over the mouth of Jesus.” He has forgotten your infidelities long ago. Only your desires for perfection remain to make His heart rejoice. I implore you, don’t drag yourself to His feet ever again. Follow that “first impulse which draws you into His arms.” That is where you belong and I have decided, now more so than from your other letters, that you are forbidden to go to heaven by any other road than the one your poor little sister travels.
‘I completely agree with you that “the heart of God is saddened more by the thousand little indelicacies of His friends than it is by the faults, even the grave ones, which people of the world commit.” But my dear little brother, it seems to me that it is only when his friends, ignoring their continual indelicacies, make a habit out of them and don’t ask forgiveness for them, that Jesus can utter those touching words which the Church puts on his lips in Holy Week: “These wounds you see in the palms of my hands are the ones I received in the house of those who loved me.” For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy. He says to His angels what the father of the prodigal son said to his servants: “Put his best robe on him and put a ring on his finger, and let us rejoice.” Ah! My brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known! It is true that to enjoy these riches we must be humbled and recognise our nothingness, and that is what so many are not will to do. But my little brother, that is not the way you behave, so the way of simple love and confidence is just made to order for you.`
-From a letter from St. Therese of Lisieux to Maurice Belliere, a young seminarian [Taken from Maurice & Therese: The Story of a Love]
God bless you!
‘Justice renders to each one what is his, and claims not another’s property; it disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity.’
St. Ambrose of Milan, (339–397), Doctor of the Church
‘If love ruled on Earth, there would be no need for laws.’
‘Love is delight in what is good; the proper object of love is the good. To love is to wish good to someone.’
St. Thomas Aquinas
‘Remember that every government service, every offer of government-financed security, is paid for in the loss of personal freedom. Whenever a voice is raised telling you to let the government do it, analyze very carefully to see whether the suggested service is worth the personal freedom which you must forgo in return for such service.’
‘The weak are always anxious for justice and equality. The strong pay no heed to either.’
‘Forsake all and you shall find all. Renounce desire and you will find peace.’
Thomas À Kempis
‘Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in anything less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.’
St. John of the Cross
‘It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that he should not exist.’
Peace is not the absence of violence, but the process of justice.
Aram I, (b. 1947) Catolicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 2001
‘I repeat: to know how to say the Our Father, and to know how to put it into practice, this is the perfection of the Christian life.’
Pope John XXIII
‘What does it take to become a saint? Will it.’
St Thomas Aquinas
[these have been added to the quotes pages]
God bless you!
The Resurrection should be understood as a challenge to the world. Death has been overcome, and now, the children of God have nothing left to fear.
There’s a lot to leave us feeling hopeless in the world today. There’s war, poverty, loneliness, abortion, hatred, murder, human trafficking, racism, addiction, euthanasia, exploitation, ignorance, terrorism, sexual abuse, genocides, corruption, divorce, torture, and the list just goes on and on. We live, undeniably, in a culture of death and indifference.
And of course, a culture of death requires and creates for itself a culture of indifference. When we’re surrounded by so much death, the easiest way to deal with it is simply to die inside, closing our eyes and hearts. We package away the suffering in little boxes, which we’ll return to occasionally, to cry a little, give some money, and so relieve what’s left of our consciences a little bit. If we let our hearts open to all the misery and death around us, we’d be unable to let it go on. We would be compelled to stand against the forces of death that surround us.
But what use is it? Who can fight against the empire of death and win? Especially when death reigns even in our own hearts?
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELUIA!
You cannot kill a Christian! We cannot die! God is on our side! God has justified the crucified! Nothing can ever overcome the children of God. Nothing can stop the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, we must live in a new manner. The dying things of the world no longer matter. Nothing matters, except the true life we have been given, the life of absolute love, the life of the children of God, the life of heaven.
Jesus is vindicated, and His way is proven right. And so we can accept Him, His love, His truth, in all His weakness. His death is only half the story.
And so we can and must walk in His ways, taking up our crosses, the pains and injustices around us, and entering them, transforming them, with a fearless love. Nothing, not even death, can stop the children of God, and that is what we are.
This is the freedom we must live out in the face of all the death surrounding us on every side. We must live in the victory already won.
God bless you! Christ is risen!
‘Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own. If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things that are mortal?’
-from the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)
Have a holy lent, and God bless you!
‘Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life.
‘Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery.
‘The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world. Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not necessarily correspond to their real worth. This frequently leads to an overproduction of some commodities, with unnecessary impact on the environment and with negative results on regional economies. The financial bubble also tends to be a productive bubble. The problem of the real economy is not confronted with vigour, yet it is the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment.’
–Laudato Si n.183 (Paragraph breaks mine)
“The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a NEW ECONOMY”. That’s what he said!
What’s the problem? Our whole world is run on the grounds of something which doesn’t really exist: an absolute concept of ownership separated from reality. We have a global system that can cause widespread starvation and loss of other basic rights, without any real famine or lack of necessary resources at all. Even in richer countries, with all our wealth and modern technology, people are made to struggle for their livelihoods as if we were still living with the scarcity of past centuries. It used to be widely assumed that by the 21st Century, no one would have to work more than 4 hours each day, since production would be so incredibly high. And production is higher than ever before in history, however this primarily benefits an extremely privileged few.
The means of production are not directed towards production, but private profit. Sometimes the capitalists suddenly become afraid they will lose money, and so they shut down production and stop lending (making others shut down and stop lending also, creating a recession). Workers would happily go on producing for no more than the fruit of their own labour, but this is illegal (it’s trespassing at the least). Instead, workers pay the price to recover from these imaginary future losses by their unemployment, lower wages, higher interest on consumer debts, reduced social security and degradation of their living conditions.
At other times, capitalists will buy up a productive resource, such as land, and keep it entirely unused, merely as a speculative investment–that is, they buy up land and do nothing with it, thereby raising the price of land and reducing the amount of available land (for people who actually need land for various projects), for the sole reason of making money off of it– or another way of looking at it: they purchase the land, just so that they can make money off of people who would actually use it, by keeping the land out of their reach until they are desperate enough to pay extortionate prices for it. This is a particular problem with land today, but it is also a problem with many other resources. This financial speculation distorts the working of the price mechanism for efficiently allocating resources.
Allowing money to make money, with little to no real work involved, is an obvious recipe for increasing inequality. And inequality means that, for example, more money is invested into cures for baldness than malaria. The things produced, are produced for the rich. And as much as we might hope for some magical “trickle-down” from this, this labour is being exploited just as much. It is not just the incomes of the rich that increase, but their wealth, and therefore what they can charge usury on (making money merely by being wealthy, in the form of unjust rents, interest, and profits/wages). The rich become richer, and the poor become poorer. And with speculation distorting markets, and maddening inequality, we are all poorer as a society.
These problems are mitigated or exacerbated by government policies, but these are at best a patch for the more fundamental issue of our warped concept of private property. Property must not be considered absolute, but must be made subject to just principles, for the good of all affected. Ownership, production and consumption have become separate, if related, concepts, when in reality they should be three sides of a single coin (including the edge). This encourages disharmonies and imbalances in the economy, resulting in poorer product quality, worse allocation of resources, and more unstable production and markets across the entire economy.
We need to create an economy centred on humans, where resources are allocated and production decisions made for the sake of actual use and actual people, rather than speculative profit. To this end, I suggest we make sure that every business recognise the human capital its workers provide, either by granting them some degree of ownership, or by recognising (formally) that the company owes a very real debt to each of its workers, regardless of their market value. When workers are integrated into production decisions, they will not be considered disposable, and the whole economy will be more stable as well as more just.
To stop speculation, we need to banish the idea that my property is simply mine, to do with however I see fit. We need to recall the universal destination of goods: that all things exist to serve all people, and private property is only valid in this service. The first thing for this purpose is to cultivate a spirituality that views all things as gifts, blessings from Our Father for His children. The second thing is to create laws considering various goods as part of the commonwealth of all humanity. An example of such a law would be a land tax, considering land as being the inheritance of the whole nation, which each business venture merely borrows for a time; this would help prevent the speculative and unproductive buying up of land.
‘You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.’
‘Wherever there is great property there is great inequality.’
God bless you!