May 6, 2012

May 6, 2012 Column Father De Celles

Cuccinelli. The Thursday before last (after the deadline for last week’s column) St. Raymond’s was honored to host Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who spoke on living the Catholic life in the public square. He also gave us an insightful analysis of the liberty we enjoy as Americans, and how defending that liberty is consistent with our Catholic faith. The large crowd of about 250 responded enthusiastically. Thanks to all who came and all who made it possible.

Mother’s Day. Next Sunday is Mothers’ Day. I hope you all have great plans for your mothers. The parish will honor the Blessed Mother of all Christians, at the conclusion of the 12:15 Mass with the May Crowning. It’s a delightful little ceremony, and I encourage all to attend.

Also, as we do every year on Mothers’ Day, the second collection with be for “special parish needs.” Once again this year’s collection will go toward paying down the parish debt, which now stands at just below $2.9 million. People, especially new parishioners, are always telling me how beautiful our church is. This is an opportunity to show your appreciation to the Lord for giving you such a beautiful place to praise him. Please be generous.

Fast and Pray for Religious Liberty. During Lent I invited parishioners to abstain from meat and pray the Rosary every Wednesday, for the protection of religious liberty and for our bishops. Many of you joined in, and felt it was a helpful and important way to defend the Church and to keep the issue in the forefront. But why stop with Easter? I would like to reinstitute this Wednesday day of penance going forward for the rest of the year until Christmas. Please join me.

Social Justice and Subsidiarity. In my homily last Sunday I briefly touched on the topic of “subsidiarity.” Many of you were unfamiliar with this doctrinal principle and asked for more information. What follows is borrowed largely from an article I wrote on the subject for Catholic World Report three years ago during the health care debate. Although I leave health care as my example for simplicity’s sake, the same principles apply to things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc..

Although often overlooked, subsidiarity has been one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching since Pope Leo XIII wrote the foundational social doctrine encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891. As Pope Pius XI wrote in 1931, it is a “most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, [and] remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy” [Quadragesimo Anno 79].

Pope John Paul II defined the “principle of subsidiarity” as: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the [lower] of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society…” [Centisimus Annus 48]. Pope Pius XI [QA79] and Pope John XXIII [Mater et Magister 53] called such interference “a grave evil.”

For example, the family is the most basic unit of society, “a community of a lower order.” Government as “a “community of a higher order” may never interfere in the internal life of a family except in cases of real need. Similarly, a neighborhood, a locality, or state government must be left to do the things they can handle on their own without the interference of the federal government. And this applies to any organization in society, including businesses and unions.

This principle of subsidiarity is based on the fundamental dignity of the individual human person, who is created to live in personal relationship with others. This is the foundation of society, at all its graduated levels of family, neighborhood, city, etc., up to the national and even global level. The more we get away from real interpersonal relationships, the more easy it is to lose sight of the person and compromise his dignity and personal freedom.

Now some functions are clearly and naturally the province of national governments, because individuals, families, and localities couldn’t possibly perform them, e.g., defense of the nation.

Some things, however are more naturally suited for “lower orders” of the community. Think about it: Who is best suited, on a simply natural level, to give aid and care to a sick person? Those closest to that person: his family, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and the local doctor or nurse. Health care (or feeding the hungry, or sheltering the homeless) is fundamentally about persons tending to the real immediate needs of other persons. Government, especially a remote federal government, just isn’t very well suited to that task [Cf. CA 48].

Most significantly when the government, especially the federal government (“higher order”), takes over what more properly belongs to a “lower order” of the community, including businesses operating in a free market, we see an increase in impersonal and inefficient bureaucracy and decrease in personal attention, responsibility, choice, and freedom. While big businesses may include some of the same problems, these are mitigated by the “free market”: e.g., you can choose to change insurance companies, but can’t so easily choose to change to another government, especially federally.

As Pope John Paul II wrote: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads 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….” [CA 48].

Pope Benedict XVI echoes this in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Subsidiarity …fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others….” [CV 57].

This does not mean that governments should never assist. But if government does step in, local and state governments should be the first to do so. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “in exceptional circumstances the state can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems …are not equal to the task at hand” [CA 48].

One thinks of natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, where local and state governments were absolutely overwhelmed and the federal government had to step in. Yet even in these circumstances Pope John Paul II offers a caution: “Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons … must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom” [CA 48].

As Pope Benedict XVI writes that “subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. …”[CV 57].

Still, some might say “solidarity” with the poor trumps subsidiarity. But solidarity and subsidiarity are not opposed. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI tells us, separating them leads “to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need,” [CV 58].

I hope this is helpful.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles