So, where is the program for a new society? Where is the blueprint for God's kingdom on earth?
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has devoted 255 pages to outlining the principles of Catholic social teaching and how they generally apply to issues, ranging from the family to the environment to global poverty.
Surely the conclusion should include a list of specific things that can be done to make the world a better place - something akin to the election platform of a political party.
Get these policies enacted and the world will be closer to paradise. Something of God's kingdom will have been brought to realization and the Church will have made a concrete contribution to improving humanity.
But of course the Compendium offers nothing like that. Instead, in its last words, it returns to generalities.
It says that to make society more human, love must be given renewed value. Well, that's fine, but . . . what do we do? What are the 10 ways I can make a better world?
Here, the Compendium quotes Pope John Paul II warning against "the nave expectation that faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person" (n. 577).
The formula is Jesus Christ and the living tradition of the Church.
Our age is characterized by a deepening search for meaning. Humanity has lost its faith that material progress will create heaven on earth. Even when our pockets are full – especially when our pockets are full – we are dissatisfied with what material goods have to offer.
Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, has turned his attention to improving the lives of the desperately poor billions in the underdeveloped world. His methods are not always in accord with Catholic teaching. But his turn in direction, his conversion of sorts, says that happiness is not to be found in material things but in going outside oneself.
"God alone . . . can satisfy the deepest cravings of the human heart," said the Second Vatican Council. God is totally other. God is love and God calls us out of ourselves to love himself and other people. This way of love is the way to a more human world.
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The paradox is that a true devotion to the God beyond all seeing and all knowing is the way to a more human society in this world. "Selfishness is the most insidious enemy of an ordered society," says the Compendium (n. 587). When people are focused on looking out for number one, the war of all against all is launched.
But when we say, "I am third" – with God first and our neighbour second – society can flourish. That's why the Compendium is correct in saying, "Christian hope lends great energy to commitment in the social field because it generates confidence in the possibility of building a better world even if there will never exist a paradise of earth" (n. 579).
Through its pages, the Compendium has challenged individualistic notions of the human person, human rights, personal and economic freedom. It makes the family, not the individual, the fundamental cell of society. It makes solidarity the key virtue.
It says economic free markets are good, but not everything. There are values such as the environment, peace and human rights that cannot be met by the marketplace.
One ultimate principle is the universal destination of all goods. God has created the world so that all should be able to share somewhat equitably in his bounty. Free markets cannot guarantee that principle. Only solidarity and love can respect it and realize it.
In the late 1960s, the New Left talked about true and false consciousness. Well, there are such things, even if not in the way the New Left proposed. A true consciousness is one that recognizes morality is founded on truth, not opinion. True consciousness recognizes the poverty of a situation where a few individuals pile up economic wealth when billions live on $2 a day or less.
True consciousness recognizes that not only must economic structures be transformed, but so must human hearts. Justice is necessary for a good society; only mercy and charity are capable of lifting man and woman up to their full human dignity.
But here is a program that will lead us - as individuals and as a society – to peace and solidarity. It can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 222-227):
Live by these principles and you will help the world to be a better place. Encourage others to live by them and you will be a true advocate for justice and love.
(This is the last in a series of articles on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.)