Monthly Archives: December 2010

Doesn’t “Common Good” include souls?

One of the three basic principles of Catholic social teaching (along with Natural Law and subsidiarity) is the Common Good (solidarity), often contrasted in political discourse with “American individualism” or “Protestant individualism.” In practice, these three general principles tend to come in conflict, and even the Popes suggest they are difficult to reconcile, when, really, they’re not.

I once argued with a Franciscan University of Steubenville ethicist, for example, who argued that common good trumps individual conscience, and that’s why in his view vaccinations from aborted fetal tissue should be mandatory.

However, ever since that discussion, and the more refined my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching has become, I’m left with one big problem with “Common Good” as a standard of its own.

Natural Law is pretty straightforward.

Subsidiarity is pretty straightforward *except* that progressive Catholics (TM) tend to argue that they are supporting subsidiarity by their totalitarian positions because they think it is impossible to do most things at the local level, and federal or global control is the only way to effectively do them.

However, Common Good is very open ended. For progressive Catholics (TM), common good is a purely material function and might as well be Common Greed. Again, in the view of my aforementioned neoconservative interlocutor, a collaborator of Greg Popcak, physical health is more important than spiritual health.

Yet, as Francis Cardinal George, OMI, said, “Abortion destroys the common good.” There is no common good without basic morality. If basic morality and the family, which the principles of Natural Law and subsidiarity safeguard, are damaged, then so is common good. Of course, there is a great deal of truth to how economic evils lead to moral evils, and I’m not disputing that here.

What I am disputing is how any Catholic can really talk about Common Good and not acknowledge that the Common Good is meaningless without mass conversion. The primary good for any soul is salvation. Isn’t there an inherent conflict, then, between the Church’s emphasis on “Common Good” and the post-Vatican II emphasis on Freedom of Religion over the old model of the Catholic state?

Can we honestly talk about Common Good without talking about the necessity of converting people to Catholicism?
Can we honestly talk about Common Good without acknowleding that the state should play a role in at least preventing moral evil if not encouraging virtue and the practice of religion?
(That is *not* to say that the state should legally force people to be Catholic or punish people for adopting other religions, but a model like Malta or the Philippines, where Catholicism is legally favored, and Natural Law is upheld by civil law).

Alfie and The Christmas Wish

It’s a long one, but today’s Hour of Mercy Meditation is from the original and for some reason unavailable-on-DVD _John Denver and the Muppets :A Christmas Together_ special that spun off one of the best selling Christmas albums of all time.
The “Alfie the Christmas Tree/It’s in Every One of Us” Medley, followed by a couple minutes of Kermit/John Denver dialogue and then “The Christmas Wish” at 5:40.

When the River Meets the Sea

From Jim Henson’s Funeral:

I don’t know their names, but I can tell from the voices these are the original performers from _Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas_.

Casting Crowns – While You Were Sleeping

Advent Hour of Mercy: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus


Heroic Virtue Versus Virtue Versus Justification

Too often, people treat their Catholicism as a lowest common denominator thing. Catholic moral theology is far more complex than most people give it credit for being, and that complexity is too difficult for most people to handle, so they like to oversimplify it.

For example, there is the concept of “justice.” In Catholic thought, as in Platonism, Justice means trying to negate an evil in society to create balance. Put another way, justice almost always means a legal sanction to do something that is normally wrong. Catholics who identify with either of our political parties tend to focus on certain kinds of justice at the expense of others.
Normally, it is intrinsically evil and mortally sinful to bind, imprison, enslave, maim or kill another person. However, in some cases, it is morally justifiable for the state to bind, imprison, enslave, maim or kill certain people out of justice. (I would submit that the Church is kind of ambiguous about whether it’s morally permissible to torture or mutilate someone who has already been convicted by due process). Yet, even when it is *justified* to do that to a person, that does not mean it’s morally obligatory. It means it wouldn’t be wrong to do that. However, if the state wants to show clemency to a repentant criminal, that would be not just justice but virtue.

Normally, it is mortally sinful to take property from another person. However, in civil and economic justice, it is morally justifiable for the government to take property from people for purposes of settling an economic or legal debt, for taxation, or for alleviating the economic hardship of the unemployed or underpaid (*HOWEVER AGAIN*, it would be best to take the money from those who, according to Church teaching, are not getting their money justly to begin with).

Normally, it is mortally sinful for individuals to “take the law into their own hands”, but it is sometimes justifiable to do things that are otherwise wrong out of extreme necessity.

However, too often, Catholics take that “justifiable” and equate it with “virtuous” or “necessary.” Again, war or the death penalty may be morally justifiable, but they’re never obligatory or necessary options. There is always a higher alternative.

St. Gianna Baretta Molla chose to avoid legitimate, morally justifiable, medical procedures that risked the life of her unborn baby. By doing so, she was practicing heroic virtue. That’s why she’s a Saint. She would have been morally justified in getting the medical treatment–it wasn’t a procured abortion–but she chose not to.

Heroic virtue means, when faced with two alternatives that the Church allows, you choose the one that is *more* virtuous yet *more* challenging and risky. Capital “S” Saints are people who exemplify heroic virtue par excellence, but all Catholics are called to practice heroic virtue in our lives.

And that is what bothers me, especially when talking with my fellow Catholics about political or economic issues–the fact that the merely *justifiable* is so often favored over the heroically virtuous. The heroically virtuous option is often derided as impractical, or imprudent, or even *against* Church teaching since the Church “allows” the justifiable option.

What part of “Nothing Positive” don’t you understand?

I don’t remember seeing this article before, although I may have used it in my series of reflections on Iraq last year. However, His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Pope of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God, etc., unequivocally condemned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in April 2007.

He said that nothing good has come from the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. He condemned those who use God’s name to promote war, and he said that Christians are to be a people of peace.

I don’t understand how anyone who has faith in God can say the kinds of things that the Warhawks say. Prayer and fasting are the greatest weapons we could have. If all of America turned to the Eucharist, the Rosary, and the Bible. If all of America fell on our knees in penance and confessed our sins the way Jesus wants them confessed, imagine the ramifications that would have for the whole world.

The main weapon that atheists and Muslims have is not their lawyers or their bombs. It’s the hypocrisy of Christians.

Comments, Necons?