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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill


B16: Beware Activism

Colleen Carol Campbell:

So what does the leader of the Catholic Church think about all of this faith-based political activism? Pope Benedict XVI, like Pope John Paul II before him, has publicly criticized the Bush administration’s decision to wage war in Iraq. But both also have condemned abortion, euthanasia, embryonic-stem-cell research, cloning, and same-sex marriage. And both clearly distinguished between acts that are considered intrinsically evil (such as abortion) and those which must be judged according to circumstances (such as individual military conflicts). As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. …While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

A war may meet the Church’s just-war criteria or it may not, but much to the chagrin of Catholic pacifists, the act of taking up arms has never been denounced by the Catholic Church as always and everywhere wrong. The same applies to a politician’s refusal to raise the minimum wage, allow unlimited immigration, or repudiate the death penalty in the case of a dangerous criminal who poses a danger to society. Policies and decisions must be evaluated in light of Christian principles, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not give the same unqualified answers to such questions as it does to questions about abortion or euthanasia. As Pope John Paul explained in his 1988 encyclical, The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Those comments would seem to resolve the question about which issues Pope Benedict and his predecessor considered most foundational to the creation of a culture of life, and thus, of paramount importance in the political process. Of course, Church teaching clearly exhorts Catholics to work to alleviate poverty, promote peace between nations, and work toward a just society, as Benedict reaffirmed last year in his first encyclical, God Is Love. But Benedict warned Catholic activists against adopting a materialist worldview wedded to the welfare state or to utopian visions of social justice, neither of which can substitute for the authentic, person-to-person charity that is the Church’s direct concern and every Christian’s obligation.

Benedict also distinguished between the role of individual lay people working in the world — who have a “direct duty to work for a just ordering of society” — and the role of the Church itself — which “cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. … She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper.”

This spiritual energy that transforms cultures and promotes peace concerns Benedict the most, and he has warned his flock — particularly the Church’s most visible representatives — against becoming so immersed in activism that they fail to fulfill their primary vocation of bringing God to the world. On Holy Thursday of this year, he urged priests to be primarily men of prayer rather than activists. The world has plenty of activists, the Pope said, but “the world needs God.” Benedict echoed this theme again last week, when he delivered an address about the “dangers of excessive activity” to an audience outside his Italian vacation home. Citing the words and example of 12th century monk St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Benedict warned his listeners that constant activism, even in pursuit of a noble cause, can lead to “hardness of heart … suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace.”

It's all a matter of priorities. If we put our cause ahead of God's will, we have left the path of righteousness for the road to self-righteousness.

As the sisters attacking military bases amply demonstrate.


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