“When Christian institutions attempt to mitigate or compromise this understanding of their mission–often as the result of the political pressure–they morph into shadowy versions of their former selves,” writes Rev. Robert A. Sirico. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 24), Rev. Sirico explains that by losing the Christological dimension, Christian charitable work becomes essentially secular. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
Thanks to Fr. John A. Peck at the Preacher’s Institute for sharing this article with the PowerBlog.
On Consecrating the Entire Economic Order
By Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
St. Luke’s account of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree (19:1-10) is a story rich in spiritual reflection; preachers and Bible-readers, coming from a variety of backgrounds, have explored the narrative unto great profit for the education of the soul.
A certain liturgical use of the text is particularly instructive; namely, the story of Zacchaeus has long been read in the dedicatory service of a new church building. This liturgical custom—warranted by Jesus’ assertion,
Today, I must stay at your house
indicates a symbolism: The home of Zacchaeus represents the consecrated places where Christians gather to meet, worship, and commune with Jesus.There is an irony here: Even as we insist that Jesus preached the Gospel to the poor, he sometimes did so in the homes of wealthy. The reason was very simple: the wealthy had larger homes; a greater number of people could actually assemble there. (Some folks, doubtless, will be offended by this consideration, but let me mention that the first complaint on the point was made at the time-Luke 19:7).
This consideration of wealth is pertinent to the custom of reading the story of Zacchaeus when a church building is consecrated. It is a tacit admission that the construction of a church building absolutely requires a significant accumulation of wealth. (more…)
Ahead of tonight’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Hunter Baker (a Baptist political scholar) and I (a Reformed moral theologian), offer up some thoughts as “Protestants in Praise of Catholic Social Teaching” in a special edition of Acton Commentary.
Commentators are already busy parsing the partisan divide between the co-religionists Biden and Ryan, but having Roman Catholics represented in such prominent positions in this campaign and particularly in tonight’s debate is also likely to catapult another player into the national political consciousness: Catholic Social Teaching (CST).
For people of faith, and even for people of no particular faith whatsoever, CST represents a praiseworthy model for responsible civil engagement in a diverse and plural culture.
We go on to point in particular to the objective moral order recognized by CST, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and the tradition’s commitment to religious liberty.
For an example of those “parsing the partisan divide” ahead of the debate, see this piece over at Religion Dispatches. There’s sure to be much more like this in the days and weeks to come.
Read our whole piece, though, for more on how CST provides some hope that we might elevate the level of our political discourse.
JQ Tomanek: Back in the day, holiness was misinterpreted as a cleric or religious life thing. How can a lay Catholic practice their faith? What are some ways to sanctify our work as lay Catholics? Is “ora et labora” just a monk thing?
Reverend Sirico: Yes, religious people are often tempted to become so “heavenly minded they are no earthly good” – as someone once said.
Ora et labora—prayer and work—should be a motto for all Christians, and the monks intended that to be the case. We need to respect the concrete reality of the world in which people spend most of their time: the “mundane” existence whereby people earn sufficient resources to support their families and fulfill their vocation to steward the earth. It is important that as Catholics we clearly communicate that work has great dignity and eternal significance. The Incarnation of the Lord was not so much Christ coming to earth as though he were an alien of some kind, but that he came through human agency (of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and worked in a carpenter’s shop.
It is important to remember that for Kuyper, reflection upon these disciples is not for the sake of their own merit, but instead, in an attempt to bring a coherent understanding of how, as the foreword states, ‘the gospel, and thereby the practice of the Christian faith, relates to every single area of society.’
Many who profess an interest in Kuyper have often become Kuyperians by reading about Kuyper instead of reading him. For many, Kuyper’s influence is mediated through second-hand sources. Wisdom & Wonder is an important step in bringing Kuyper’s cultural theology to bear on new audiences.
Wisdom & Wonder consists of the last ten chapters of Volume 3 in the larger Common Grace set by Abraham Kuyper. Common Grace Volume 1 will be released in early 2013. Click here for more information on the Kuyper Translation project. Read Walker’s entire review here, and connect with the Common Grace project on Facebook here.
Forbes recently ran a profile of Christian billionaire and Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. According to Forbes, Green is “the largest evangelical benefactor in the world,” giving “at upwards of $500 million” over the course of his life, primarily to Christian ministries.
Yet, for Green, his strong Christian beliefs don’t just apply to how he spends his wealth; they’re integral to how it’s createdin the first place:
Hobby Lobby remains a Christian company in every sense. It runs ads on Christmas and Easter in the local paper of each town where there’s a store, often asserting the religious foundation of America. Stores are closed on Sundays, forgoing revenue to give employees time to worship. The company keeps four chaplains on the payroll and offers a free health clinic for staff at the headquarters–although not for everything; it’s suing the federal government to stop the mandate to cover emergency contraception through health insurance. Green has raised the minimum wage for full-time employees a dollar each year since 2009–bringing it up to $13 an hour–and doesn’t expect to slow down. From his perspective, it’s only natural: “God tells us to go forth into the world and teach the Gospel to every creature. He doesn’t say skim from your employees to do that.”
Economists have increasingly recognized the ways in which healthy stewardship and property rights are linked—how increased ownership leads individuals to weigh costs and benefits more thoughtfully and effectively. Green’s comments add a slight twist to this approach, calling Christians in particular to reconsider who the “owner” actually is and how we might weigh particular costs/benefits and subsequent action accordingly:
In his Acton Commentary today, Jordan Ballor writes,
All work has a spiritual dimension because the human person who works in whatever capacity does so as an image-bearer of God. “While the classic Greek mind tended to scorn work with the hands,” write Berghoef and DeKoster, “the Bible suggests that something about it structures the soul.” If we derogate work with the hands, manual and skilled labor, in this way, we separate what God has put together and create a culture that disdains the hard and often dirty work of cultivating the world in service of others. The challenge that faces the church and society more broadly then is to appreciate the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work, to celebrate it, and to exhort us to persevere in our labors amidst the unavoidable troubles that plague work in this fallen world.
This point—the need for a renewed appreciation of “the spiritual meaningfulness of all kinds of work” and “manual and skilled labor” in particular—reminds me of the following story that I recently reflected on elsewhere from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
Abba Agatho was asked: “Which is more difficult, bodily discipline, or the guard over the inner man?” The Abba said: “Man is like a tree. His bodily discipline is like the leaves of the tree, his guard over the inner man is like the fruit. Scripture says that ‘every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’ So we ought to take every precaution about guarding the mind, because that is our fruit. Yet we need to be covered with beautiful leaves, the bodily discipline.”
Abba Agatho was wise in understanding, earnest in discipline, armed at all points, careful about keeping up his manual work, sparing in food and clothing. (more…)