‘Above all we must reacquire confidence about creation. I mean to say that things — the sacraments “are made” of things — come from God. To Him they are oriented, and by Him they have been assumed, and assumed in a particular way in the Incarnation, so that they can become instruments of salvation, vehicles of the Spirit, channels of grace. In this it is clear how vast is the distance between this vision and either a materialistic or spiritualistic vision. If created things are such a fundamental, essential part of the sacramental action that brings about our salvation, then we must arrange ourselves in their presence with a fresh, non-superficial regard, respectful and grateful. From the very beginning, created things contain the seed of the sanctifying grace of the sacraments.’
‘Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”. God encourages us to develop the talents he gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan, each individual is called to promote his or her own development,and this includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.’
Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti n. 123
I don’t think anyone really told me, growing up, just how good work itself is. I thought that some work is good, like charity work or teaching, some is bad, like selling drugs or spreading lies, and the rest (and the large majority) is morally neutral, and basically selfish. It was mainly working itself that corrected me.
In work, we add something to the world. We take our capabilities and materials, and make the world a better place, for ourselves and for others. There is a very deep moral value in that.
The fact that private businesses organise work in exchange for payment in no way detracts from this. Working for money is just a way of cooperating with another for mutual benefit. It is even a moral good to cooperate in such a way.
But we do need to make sure business is done right. Businesses are too often exploitative, taking advantage of their customers, their employees, or both. As Pope Francis puts it, they ‘should always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities.‘ Whenever we are working with someone else, as a customer or an employee, we should always be looking out for their good as well as our own. If we don’t, we are con artists and robbers, taking advantage of others in their need, and it will also sour what could have been a fruitful relationship.
‘The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.‘ This is a hard teaching. Property rights always imply property responsibilities. We can and should use our resources for our own good and others’, but must never use or withhold resources to the harm of others.
We tend to think of property rights as something absolute, but the truth is they are a human creation, created and governed by society for the good of society. To make them absolute and deny the universal destination of goods is, in the words of the Church Fathers, nothing less than theft. This means there is no right to monopolise resources, to deny others the necessities of life, or to damage the natural environment.
This takes virtue, to insist upon working with and never against others, and for the good of all, but it’s a virtue that will pay off hugely, increasing the happiness and prosperity of everyone involved (and helps us avoid going to hell too).
The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion. Their share of the truth and their values are rejected and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful. Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.
Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti n. 15
Pope Francis is right on the money here. No doubt this issue is worse in some countries than in others, and no doubt it has been bad in the past too, but it does feel like politics is generally degenerating. In the USA there is this current election, and here in the UK there was the Brexit campaign. No doubt, this problem is all over the globe (I don’t believe Pope Francis is that obsessed with the USA, and certainly not the UK).
I haven’t read far enough to know what Pope Francis proposes as a solution. My own modest proposal is we all a) chill out, and b) actually listen to our supposed opponents. We’ll then discover that they’re not the monsters we’ve made them out to be, and usually we can actually learn something.
The point of government and politics is for people to come together for a common cause. When politics works to divide people, it is working against its own true purpose. At that point, it is already corrupt, and seeking power alone.
What’s really ugly is when you see this kind of attitude with regards to the Church. People who don’t discuss things or deal with people respectfully, but just attack and slander every little thing, without taking the time to hear the person out. This is a grave sin. We should give all people a charitable hearing and look for the good in all they say and do as much as possible, but especially our brothers and sisters in the faith, and especially especially priests, Bishops and the Pope.
A kind of “deconstructionism”, whereby human freedom claims to create everything starting from zero, is making headway in today’s culture. The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism. Concern about this led me to offer the young some advice. “If someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he himself holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them”.
‘We need to remember that “contemplation of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our humanity, even when it has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ”. So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.’
-Gaudete et Exsultate n. 151
‘Hope is a gift of God. We must ask for it. It is placed deep within each human heart in order to shed light on this life, so often troubled and clouded by so many situations that bring sadness and pain. We need to nourish the roots of our hope so that they can bear fruit; primarily, the certainty of God’s closeness and compassion, despite whatever evil we have done. There is no corner of our heart that cannot be touched by God’s love. Whenever someone makes a mistake, the Father’s mercy is all the more present, awakening repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.’
[Taken from Happiness In This Life: A Passionate Meditation On Material Existence And The Meaning Of Life]
‘This is a powerful summons to all of us. You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission. Try to do so by listening to God in prayer and recognizing the signs that he gives you. Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received. Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.’
– Pope Francis, Gaudete et exsultate n. 23
Pope Francis’ homilies remind me of the Church Fathers, such as St Basil, St Gregory the Great, and St John Chrysostom. Firstly, I think they all keep the good news as Jesus gave it to us, in its gratuitousness and its total demands. In today’s homily, the Pope called God a “loving and demanding Father”, and I think that captures a great deal. With all of the theological controversies of the past two millenia, sometimes it seems like orthodoxy is a balancing act (a Liberal Democrats sort of religion), when actually it’s more of a wild dance of extremities. And secondly, they are all happy to take creative liberties with interpreting Scripture. The stories in the scriptures are not taken as dead objects, but as part of a conversation with God, and so they continuously open up in new and unexpected ways. They allow God Himself to elaborate. A small example is last week, Francis said the lamps of the ten virgins is faith, and the oil is charity.