The need for love is necessary
By Jerry Eaton, LMSW
Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, was chosen to give a theological reflection on the encyclical he titled “The Church the Love of God made Visible.” It is an interesting reflection and one part caught my attention just as it did within the encyclical itself. Cardinal George reflected on the division between justice and love. “This is found in the Pope’s Encyclical, where he attributes it primarily to Marxist thought…..The Marxist critique, of course, of works of philanthropy for the poor is based upon their being seen as excusing the rich from helping to create a society based on justice. And the objection is, of course, that you may have a society where rich people help poor people, but, in fact, injustice continues until the society itself and its structures are reformed. What I think is seen in the Encyclical is that, even if justice were truly established, love would always be necessary in an economic and political system which would be equal to the dignity of the human person.”
As I have thought about this again with this reflection by Cardinal George, this division between justice and love is something directors of Catholic Charities throughout the world deal with on a daily basis and it forces me to confront the central problem of the role of government and politics as opposed to the role of the Church. Part of our mission is to advocate for those most in need as well as respond to that need. The injustices we see daily in our work can spur a strong reaction for the need for reform and justice in society and that means taking an active part in politics.
Still, there is a great discomfort that comes with an active part in politics for many of us whose mission is love. Politics divides and often polarizes people into opposing groups where the goals are winning and power not justice and love, though many in either political party would say that their way is the way of justice.
The reality of the problem with politics is often pushed aside with the comment “the ends justify the means.” In other words, “Yes, we turn our opponents into enemies, yes, we demean them, yes, we vilify them, and yes, we aren’t being “fair” or “just”; but in order to win so our way of thinking can prevail we have to do this. If we didn’t the other side would win because they are going to do it even if we don’t.” Over a period of time these tactics take hold on a society and we end up with a polarized society as well as a polarized political process.
The role of the Church as stated in the Pope’s Encyclical, “…recognizes it is not the Church’s responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest.” “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible.” “ Love –caritas- will always prove necessary, even in the most just society…. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as well. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensible.”
As a director of Catholic Charities the injustice, the disdain, and the ugly willingness to polarize our society into enemy camps can be overwhelming. Slowly, through experiencing the shattering of faith in the political parties, both promising justice but both more concerned with power than justice that slowly the importance and reality of the role of love and the development of our humanity clarifies our thoughts. The role of love and the development of our humanity through the development of our consciences play an essential part everything that takes place. There is no true justice without love. There is no protection of the dignity and value of human life without love. Without the development of our humanity and our consciences how can we even know what true justice is?
A politics that demeans, that vilifies, that turns other human beings into enemies can’t by its very nature achieve justice for the dignity and value of all human beings, born and unborn. The Church and the Church’s role in developing the love in the human spirit, the love placed in our hearts by God, guides the development of our consciences and this helps us sort through the polarizing angry political rhetoric to focus on the core of the humanity needed to bring about a way of life we can be proud of and that meets the standard of the common good. When we use the Church’s guidance this way we will still have political division, but the division among those of us who have developed our consciences won’t be as bitter and divisive and we can together focus on the common good.
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