In our current election cycle, perhaps more than any other in the last forty years, we have two candidates for President with stark, contrasting views about the role of government in the working of society. The differences, one would think, would leave a very clear choice to make in going to the polls. Yet, many of us have experienced division among our friends and new media acquaintances. My Facebook feed has had some contested back-and-forth arguing among Catholics on the issues of the economy, healthcare, social security and medicare, women’s health, and services to the poor.
Under one of my posts, a fellow Catholic supporting the current administration wrote, “… there are many sick and broken people in America: the marginalized, the underclass, those who are thrown from their homes (because of) banking policies, and those who simply cannot afford the health care system.” Many compassionate friends fear that undoing the newly implemented healthcare law will leave those without a voice in the dust. Others have voiced the importance of personal responsibility and economic stability in order to ensure on-going help to those in dire need.
So what to do? How to reconcile the needs on the minds and hearts of the modern Catholic facing an election that is so polarized?
Another friend of mine, reading a article about subsidiarity that I posted on Facebook was quick to remind me, “Subsidiarity without solidarity, is as unbalanced as solidarity without subsidiarity.”
This is, I believe, part of our problem in trying to reconcile our social beliefs with our civic duty. Many of my compassionate friends who live in close solidarity with the poor, advocating for their needs, have not considered the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity within the broader framework of the Magisterial teaching on the Human Community. On the other hand, many who are concerned with the economy and limited government have not integrated the Church’s teachings on solidarity and the common good.
I’d like to explore these two principles – on solidarity and subsidiarity – together; the way they were meant to be; like to ends to an accordion that work together for the good of society. These principles are discussed in Part Three of the Catechism: Life in Christ, in the second chapter on The Human Community, in three articles:
|ART 1: CCC 1878-1896
||ART 2: CCC 1897-1927
||ART 3: CCC 1928-1948
|The Person and Society
||Participation in Social Life
||Authority – Common GoodResponsibility and Participation
Since we are made in the image of God and called through baptism to reflect the Son, Jesus Christ, our lives and relationships should also reflect the relationship of the Most Holy Trinity. By understanding human relationship in this way, the image of the Holy Trinity can be reflected upon in both an individual’s relationships, but also in the relationship of government bodies over the care of their people. “The human person…is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.” (Gaudium et Spes, 25).
With this in mind, organizations – both voluntary and governmental – find their reason for existence, for the purpose of developing “the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps to guarantee individual rights.” But there are limitations that government has if the human person is to be free to act as intended by God.
While recognizing the importance of organizational structures in society, the Magisterium warns of the danger that organizations and government can have on society, that “excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.” This is where the principle of subsidiarity becomes important.
The Catechism explains the principle: “according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the later of its functions, but rather should support it…’” (CCC1883). In this way, government becomes a mirror of God’s governance: “God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of his own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life” (CCC 1884).
In his article on subsidiarity, Benjamin Wiker uses an example where government, in providing for a man’s family takes away the man’s role as husband and father to care for his children and wife, and thus strips him of the capacity for moral perfection in his vocational role as a father and husband. Too much intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative:
“The state, like a benevolent dictator, could provide food, clothing, and shelter for my wife and children, but in doing so, it would violate my “moral space,” the space in which I have the opportunity and responsibility of using my freedom to become morally good.”
The danger then, becomes one that, a government that does too much doesn’t allow her people to do for themselves what they can, and thus weakens the whole society, and threatens the moral fabric of that society.
Then, what about those who are poor, who legitimately need assistance of one kind or another? This leads us to consider the proper place of the principle of solidarity.
Human beings are made differently. Saint Paul describes the body of Christ comprised of many people with different gifts that go to build up the whole body (Romans 12:3-8). The differences between persons lead to an interdependence in society. We are different, but as the Church defends, “these differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures.” And this is all part of God’s plan (CCC 1937). The principle of solidarity is characterized as “friendship” or “social charity” that we are called to show toward our brothers and sisters.
Our society sometimes confuses the idea of solidarity with ‘leveling the playing field’ where everyone is the same. The Church doesn’t teach that. On the contrary, she acknowledges that “talents are not distributed equally” (CCC 1936), but also that there are ‘sinful inequalities’ that exist, where unhealthy work conditions are imposed; where human dignity is downplayed (CCC 1938). These would be appropriate areas that government can intervene, to protect and uphold the human dignity of the person, and to ensure that justice – the giving one what is due to him – is assured.
Solidarity, then, the building of friendship and charitable respect between rich and poor, workers and employers, government and its peoples become the foundation by which socio-economic problems can be resolved (CCC 1941). It promotes an individual to act in the best interest and fairness toward his neighbor, and to practice charity freely out of love.
In conclusion, it is good to remind ourselves that the purpose (the end) of human existence rests in God himself. The pattern of inter-relationship found in the unity of the three Divine Persons is a model for the human family and government as well. The love that resides in the Blessed Trinity is the call of all peoples, making the love of neighbor inseparable from the love of God.
It is as though all humanity is called to communicate divine love. Each individual is called to reflect God’s love to his neighbor. Similarly, the greater society, is called to be a mirror of God in the way it must govern her people. In doing so, it “bears witness to such great regard for human freedom” (CCC1884) and by providing security and order, becomes an instrument of true peace.
Crossposted at Ignitum Today