By Fr. Roy Cimagala
IN ONE of the books he wrote before becoming Pope, Benedict XVI warned us about what he called as “political moralism.” It’s not something that is altogether wrong. There are a lot of good things in it. But it misses one essential element.
These are his words:
“A new moralism exists today. Its key words are justice, peace, and the conservation of creation, and these are words that recall essential moral values, of which we genuinely stand in need.”
We cannot deny that these big words glut most slogans, catchwords and battle cries these days. If you’re supposed to be socially concerned, it’s de rigueur and politically correct to shout these words. But here’s the catch:
“But this moralism,” the Pope continued, “remains vague and almost inevitably remains confined to the sphere of party politics, where it is primarily a claim addressed to others, rather than a personal duty in our own daily life.”
In other words, these beautiful concepts tend to be uprooted from God, their source and origin, and pirated by self-appointed prophets and ideologues who cleverly mask their ideas as God’s will, and hardly apply the implications of these words on themselves first before applying them on others.
Benedict’s observation reflects a spreading and disturbing phenomenon of people who are good in the art of rhetoric and persuasion but miserably fail in consistency and integrity.
Two danger signals can be noted here. One, the good intention is hardly rooted on God’s will. It’s more on one’s or a group’s designs, projected as God’s designs. And two, the requirements and changes involved are to be expected more from the others than from oneself.
Again the words of the Holy Father:
“The political moralism we have experienced, and still witness today, is far from opening the path to a real regeneration. Instead, it blocks the way.
“Consequently, the same is true of a Christianity and a theology that reduce the core of the message of Jesus, that is, the ‘kingdom of God’, to the ‘values of the kingdom’, identifying these values with the great slogans of political moralism while at the same time proclaiming that these slogans are the synthesis of the religions.
“In this way, they forget God, although it is precisely he who is both the subject and cause of the kingdom. All that remains in the place of God are the big words and values that are open to any kind of abuse.”
The combination leads to an anomalous situation that, in spite of one’s or a group’s best efforts, can only produce more tension, division and conflict. Relevant to this, the Pope has this point to say:
“Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live. The negative testimony of Christians who spoke of God but lived in a manner contrary to him has obscured the image of God and has opened the doors to disbelief.”
Of course, the way to correct this anomaly is really to focus our attention on Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation, who is both historical and contemporary to us, since as God, he goes beyond the limitations of space and time.
And to understand Christ, and ultimately to know God’s will, we need to meditate on Christ’s sacred humanity, for that is what will take us his divinity, the goal to which we are called.
The Church’s social teaching is derived from such careful and inspired meditation of Christ’s sacred humanity, so that our socio-political concerns can really be infused by the proper Christian spirit.
We have to remember that the Church’s social doctrine is developed in an organic way from Christ’s life and redemptive work, which remain the perennial pattern for our life, words and deeds, no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in.
It is important that we understand deeply and appreciate the role of Christ’s sacred humanity in developing our own life and actuations. We need to learn how to meditate Christ’s sacred humanity in a way that would give us practical impulses and guidelines everyday.
For this, we have to go beyond just doing theology. While that is always necessary, it should be imbued by a faith-driven personal meditation of every detail of Christ’s life as recorded in the Gospel, Tradition and taught by the Magisterium.