The image is a rendering of the classic scene from the Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. The NYT caption reads thus: “Jesus comes down hard on the bankers of his day.” Perhaps that’s a bit of ideological balance for the phrasing of the debate question itself, which supposes that at least at one time that “capitalism” and Christianity were compatible, even if they are no longer.
With the November 26 publication of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, we have the first teaching document that is truly his own. And it very much shows, both in style and content, compared to the encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was mostly written by Pope Benedict XVI. Evangelii Gaudium is full of the home-spun expressions of faith that have made Francis the most popular public figure on the planet, and the exhortation is certain to succeed in challenging all of us to live in more sincere, compassionate, and self-giving ways. It has also provided some much-needed clarification of the Pope’s previous statements on abortion and marriage that had a few wondering, with only slight exaggeration, whether the Pope was actually Catholic.
By now it is obvious that, in his words and deeds, Pope Francis has a remarkable ability to speak to the heart of the common man, someone who may not know much about or regularly practice his faith but wants to be on good terms with God and other people. It is equally obvious that Francis has made the “new evangelization,” i.e. bringing back fallen-away or secularized Catholics, central to his pontificate. By making the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus his number one priority, the Holy Father is fulfilling his God-given mandate to feed Christ’s sheep. Like nearly everyone else who has been closely watching him in action, I have been moved and inspired to live my faith more intensely, all the while recognizing the inadequacy of my efforts if it weren’t for God’s grace and untiring mercy.
How can we account for Francis’s popularity? Some in the media sense possible changes in Church teaching on all kinds of (mostly sexual) matters, but I think there’s more to it. Pope Benedict’s intellectual approach to explaining Christianity has been followed by Pope Francis’s commonsensical one. Each undoubtedly has its strengths and weaknesses and will carry greater appeal to different sorts of people. It may not be certain how the Holy Spirit selects and inspires any particular pontiff, but one can hazard a guess and say Francis’s style and tone may be exactly what the Church needs at this moment in history.
There are instances, however, when a more considered understanding of technical matters would be preferable; the exhortation’s tirades against the market economy are one. (more…)
On January 31, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility issued a press release, announcing the organization’s “2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide.” A quick read of the release and ancillary materials, however, reveals that these resolutions have very little to do with issues of religious faith and everything to do with the progressive political agenda.
The ICCR guide “features 180 resolutions filed at 127 companies” that call on shareholders to “promote corporate responsibility by voting their proxies in support of investor proposals that advance social, economic and environmental justice.”
The ICCR boasts that “nearly one third” of this year’s resolutions (52) focus on lobbying and political spending, with the remainder aimed at “health care, financial and environmental reform.” The release ominously asserts: “Shareholders have a right to know whether company resources are being used to impact elections and public policy, including regulatory legislation.”
Whatsoever the ICCR resolutions have to do with the respective tenets of their member denominations is left to the readers’ imagination. (more…)
In the Autumn 2012 issue of Response, Jeff Van Duzer, wrote an article entitled, “Does Business Matter To God,” on the issue of faith and work. He is a well-respected professor of business law and ethics at Seattle Pacific University who gives a unique look into the role faith plays in business. This entire issue of Response is dedicated to the topics of faith and work. I will write about a few other noteworthy articles over the coming weeks.
Van Duzer starts the article by recounting a conversation he had with his father on the purpose of business. In the middle of his attempt to explain his view on the matter, his dad interrupted him and said:
Jeff, everyone knows what the purpose of business is. The purpose of business is to make money.
A robust economy is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral and cultural imperative.A robust economy makes honorable work possible for all who wish to be responsible for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. And work, according to Blessed John Paul II in the 1983 encyclical Laborem Exercens, is an expression of our participation in God’s sustaining “creation” of the world.
A robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.
A robust economy is essential in supporting one telling sign of America’s enduring generosity and idealism: the remarkable philanthropy of the American people. Americans, these days, give some $300 billion a year to charitable organizations, including religious institutions that fund vast networks of education, health care, and social service serving people in real need. There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the Western world; if you doubt that, go to Europe or Canada, where the tradition of the benign, caretaker state (the contemporary version of the benign, caretaker monarch) has severely eroded charitable instincts—meaning giving.
[T]he great lie at the heart of the all-encompassing welfare state, with its empty promises of eternal security and freedom from want. The welfare state and its advocates would have us believe that they have a political solution for a world where scarcity and human brokenness still hold sway.
This false hope is what Pope John Paul II was getting at in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. He took the “social assistance state” to task for contributing to “a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” He had it exactly right 20 years before the inevitable fiscal crisis swept through Paris, Rome, Athens, Madrid and Bonn and paralyzed the once smug architects of the EU as “lifestyle superpower.” They never missed a chance to deride the heartless values of “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” (a phrase always wielded as a pejorative). But their “lifestyle” turned out to be a trap.
I cannot permit the death of His Imperial and Royal Highness Otto von Habsburg at age 98 on July 4th to pass unnoticed. To look into his face was to gaze into the map of the 20th Century, and to hear him recount his ideas, insights and encounters was worth more than an entire course in European history in most universities.
Only slightly acquainted with the man (his father Emperor Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004), I was struck not merely by his exhaustive knowledge of history, economics, culture, and languages (with whom else does one begin the conversation by being asked, “And in what language shall we converse?”); what is now most memorable about the man was his modesty and clear Christian faith, so apparent to anyone who views the video clip here.
The occasion for the speech was a Rome conference sponsored by Acton Institute and Istituto Acton on the topic of “Centesimus Annus and Deus Caritas Est” held at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Joining the Archduke and myself on the panel were papal biographer George Weigel and the French economist Jean Yves Naudet.
Otto von Habsburg’s lively presentation represents the best of Catholic “liberal’ thinking, integrating a sound economic sensibility with a clear moral commitment.
When von Habsburg’s mother Zita died in 1989 her body was brought in state to the Imperial crypt of the Habsburg dynasty at the Capuchin Church in Vienna. The scene was striking: As the bier waited at the entrance to the church, an attendant with staff in hand knocked at the door. From inside a friar, holding a large candle, asked who was seeking entrance. The attendant replied that it was Her Imperial Highness Zita Maria. The simple friar replied, “We do not know her.” The attendant knocked once again, and was again asked who seeks entrance. This time he replied, “Zita, a poor sinner,” at which reply the friar welcomed her into the church.
For all that Otto von Habsburg saw in his long and fruitful life the one and only thing that he, and we, can bring with us into eternity, is the plea for mercy at the feet of a merciful God.
Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.