Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Charity, Teens and the Principle of Subsidiarity

We finished discussing Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est last night. I blogged on this segment last year when I first read the encyclical, but *I* definitely got more out of it discussing it with the group and reading it a second time.

This second half is about the Church's charitable activity, and the nature of charitable action and charitable needs.

We spent a lot of time talking about the principle of subsidiarity and the role of faith in keeping even the best-intentioned people working in politics and charity from "the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests."

Part of this involved simply the nature of government - in fact we spent much of our time discussing the difference between having decisions made regarding disaster-relief and the needs of the poor on a national level vs. a local level. It makes sense that some things are better done by local government or charitable organizations who are able to provide personal interaction according to the needs of individuals. It's not just a matter of coordination and plenty of resources; as one of the girls put it - "People aren't bridges!" In our efficiency-based culture we do have a tendency to expect the federal government to handle people the way they handle bridges.

That doesn't mean government has no role in making sure people's basic needs are met. Unfortunately, they often have a track record in many areas of causing new problems (consider the foster care system!) and thwarting the efforts of charitable organizations (such as causing the closure of charitable Catholic hospitals by trying to force them to perform abortions). The encyclical says: "We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces; she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ....In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live "by bread alone" - a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human."

This was interesting too:
Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future - a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programs.
There's a lot more great stuff in this encyclical - it's really a great read. It also seems like providential timing that just this week I discovered a local charitable organization that distributes clothes, toys and other things that would welcome Ria and Gus as volunteers. I'm hoping to make this a weekly activity for them. After all, as the Holy Father put it:
Significantly, our time has also seen the growth and spread of different kinds of volunteer work, which assume responsibility for providing a variety of services. I wish here to offer a special word of gratitude and appreciation to all those who take part in these activities in whatever way. For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves. The anti-culture of death, which finds expression for example in drug use, is thus countered by unselfish love which shows itself to be a culture of life by the very willingness to "lose itself" for others.
There are a number of homeschool gurus who consider regular service work an essential part of a child's education. If memory serves me right, John Taylor Gatto and Raymond and Dorothy Moore both advocate this. Makes a lot of sense to me!

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