In his remarks at the welcoming ceremony to Brazil a few weeks ago our Holy Father said something that on the surface sounded like everyone could agree with; but in its core was a radical challenge for governments around the world, especially the so-called first world countries – and not only the governments, it is a radical challenge for the citizens as well! He stated: “Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space.” This means creating “… the material and spiritual conditions for their full development.” (L’osservatore Romano -English edition #30 7/24/2013 pg. 1)
How do we, society – the individuals, organizations and governing bodies create these conditions? How do individuals create an environment that nurtures full development? At the core there is a not too veiled difference of opinion between government and the Catholic faith.
It is a common perception that liberal ideology is contra to faith – especially when they both come into contact with each other in society. Which means there is always a conflict because as disciples we are called to go out a spread the gospel by ministering to Christ’s children – and governments view this as their mandate, their sphere of influence. But truth be told this conflict is really inherent in the whole of government, parties not-with-standing. The nature of government is to grow and control, it doesn’t matter which political affiliation you have – if you are in the ‘business of government’ you are of that nature.
Christianity in general, and especially the Catholic Church, has always stood for social justice and charity – we might not be perfect but we try. We have always tried to take to heart Christ’s words: ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-46) and go out and feed His sheep (John 21:17). We have espoused the social/governmental principal of subsidiarity (what needs to be done should be done at the level closest to the need) if family can help then let the family help, then social groups, then local government, and on up the line.
This is a mindset contrary to governmental thinking. We see it every day, at every level of government. The HHS Mandate is a current example; but another striking example is something that happened in North Carolina last year. Last year an award was given to an employee in the federal government SNAP program (food stamps) who ‘broke through the hindering cultural ideology’ of the mountain region in North Carolina. This region, which is really all of Appalachia (not just North Carolina), is an area of strong willed, independent people, who for centuries have relied on themselves and each other to live. If they don’t have something, they do without. If someone is in need they rally and help them. Government is there to protect them, to help them with those things that they can’t get, and that is not a lot. These are, contrary to the prevailing SNAP mindset, a generally happy people.
But the government saw it differently, they saw a region where the demographics were below what they thought was impoverished; but try as they might they couldn’t convince these people to take food stamps. The people didn’t want them – they took care of themselves. So what did this employee get her reward for? Changing the program to include seed, so the farmers could get their crop seed free. But even more, the rationale was that once this succeeded they could then convince the people to use these food stamps for more ‘traditional’ goods. Now, don’t get me wrong, SNAP is a valuable resource for those who need it and ask for it. This example shows that the federal government program saw an area they were not influential with and targeted it to bring them their brand of ‘good news’. Which, and time will tell, will probably erode the proud heritage of these people and create another government-dependent group. The idea of subsidiarity, in this and most cases, was not acceptable. It seems that the old adage ‘ give a man a fish and he can eat for day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for ever’ has been appended with ‘but don’t worry we will give you a fish every day so you don’t have to worry, or work, or have the feeling of self-worth.’ Government, again regardless of political or ideological affiliation, doesn’t like to see an area they have no influence over, even if it has historical and cultural roots and value. How does this give the space that our Holy Father talked about? This is just an example from our country!
But, to be honest about it, it isn’t totally the Federal Government’s fault. This is where the Pope’s comments are a radical challenge to the citizens, especially those who follow Christ. I ask each of you, if the principal of subsidiarity is so central to the Catholic faith, what are we doing about it? Do we take it and run with it by going out and helping? Do we find a need among our family, our friends, our parish, town or state and witness to Christ by helping, by doing ‘to the least of these’? Or do we sit back and wait for the government to help them? Do we take the final words of today’s gospel, which are directed at each of us, as a challenge we accept for the love of God, or do we cringe when we hear them? ‘Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.’
We have been given much, we have been given the knowledge of God’s love for us, we have been given the light of faith and with it hope. We understand, hopefully, that we shouldn’t put stock in the material goods of this life, but the spiritual goods of eternity. We have been given much, and so much is asked; we need to radiate this good-news by words but as important, if not more, by actions of love. Actions of love, another definition of Subsidiarity, is what we spread the good news with. And it doesn’t need a stamp to deliver it!