Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Are the Catholics favouring the PF?
By Editor
Wed 14 Aug. 2013, 14:00 CAT

IT is interesting that the Catholic Church is today being accused of favouring or being loyal to the ruling Patriotic Front and its leadership.

A few weeks ago, there were some people in the Patriotic Front and its leadership who felt that the Catholic Church was against them. This can only mean one thing: the Catholic Church is independent of any political force.

But insofar as the political arena is concerned, the Church seems to be particularly interested in distinguishing between the specific functions of the laity, religious, and those who minister the unity of the Church - that is, the bishop and his priests.

We must distinguish between two notions: politics and political involvement. First, in the broad sense, politics seeks the common good on both the national and international plane. Its task is to spell out the fundamental values of every community - internal concord and external security - reconciling equality with freedom, public authority with the legitimate autonomy, and participation of individual persons and groups, and national sovereignty with international co-existence and solidarity. It also defines the ethics and means of social relationships. In this broad sense, politics is of interest to the Church, and hence to its pastors, who are ministers of unity. It is a way of paying worship to the one and only God by simultaneously desacralising and consecrating the world to God.

So the Church helps to foster the values that would inspire politics. In every nation, it interprets the aspirations of the people, especially the yearnings of those that society tends to marginalise. It does this with its testimony, its teaching, and its valid forms of pastoral activity.

Second, the concrete performance of this fundamental political task is normally carried out by groups of citizens. They resolve to pursue and exercise political power in order to solve economic, political and social problems in accordance with their own criteria or ideology.

Here, then, we can talk about "party politics". Now even those ideologies elaborated by such groups may be inspired by Christian doctrine, they can come to different conclusions. No matter how deeply inspired in church teaching, no political party can claim the right to represent all the faithful because its concrete programme can never have absolute value for all.

Party politics is properly the realm of laypersons. Their lay status entitles them to establish and organise political parties, using an ideology and strategy that is suited to achieving their legitimate aims.

In the social teaching of the Church, lay people find the proper criteria from driving the Christian view of the human being. For its part, the hierarchy will demonstrate its solidarity by contributing to their adequate formation and their spiritual life, and also by nurturing their creativity so that they can explore options that are increasingly in line with the common good and the needs of the weakest.

Pastors, on the other hand, must be concerned with unity. So they will divest themselves of every partisan political ideology that might condition their criteria and attitudes. They then will be able to evangelise the political sphere as Christ did, relying on the gospel without any infusion of partisanship or ideologisation. Christ's gospel would not have has such an impact on history if he had not proclaimed it as a religious message: "The Gospels show clearly that for Jesus anything that would alter his mission as the servant of Yahweh was a temptation (Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:5). He does not accept the position of those who mixed the things of God with merely political attitudes (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:12; John 18:36)".

Priests, also ministers of unity, must submit to the same sort of personal renunciation. If they are active in party politics, they will run the risk of absolutising and radicalising such activity; for their vocation is to be "men dedicated to the Absolute." In the economic and social order, and especially in the political order, where a variety of concrete choices is offered, the priest, as priest, should not directly concern himself with decisions or leadership nor with the restructuring of solutions. Leadership or active militancy on behalf of any political party is to be excluded by every priest unless, in concrete and exceptional circumstances, this is truly required by the good of the community and if circumstances call for it. Certainly, the present thrust of the Church is not in that direction.

By virtue of the way in which they follow Christ, and in line with the distinctive function that is theirs within the Church's mission because of their specific charism, religious also cooperate in the evangelisation of the political order. Living in a society that is far from fraternal, religious will have to give testimony of inter-human communion, and of an intense relationship with God. They, too, will have to resist the temptation to get involved in party politics, so that they do not create confusion between the values of the gospel and some specific ideology. Pope Paul's words in his address to bishops, priests, and religious provide valuable guidance in this area: "Souls that are living in habitual contact with God and that are operating in the warm light of God's love know how to defend themselves easily against the temptations of partisanship and antithesis that threaten to create painful divisions. They know how to interpret their options for the poorest and for all the victims of human egotism in the proper light of the gospel, without succumbing to forms of socio-political radicalism… such souls know how to draw near to the people and immerse themselves in their midst without calling into question their own religious identity or obscuring the specific originality of their own vocation, which flows from following the poor, chaste, and obedient Christ…"

All this said, far from despising political activity, the Christian faith values it and holds it in high esteem. The political dimension is a constitutive dimension of human beings and a relevant area of human societal life. It has an all-embracing aspect because its aim is the common welfare of society. But of course that does not mean that it exhausts the gamut of social relationships. And speaking in general, and without distinguishing between the roles that may be proper to its various members, the Church has a duty and a right to be present in this area of reality. For Christianity is supposed to evangelise the whole of human life, including the political dimension. The fact is that the need for the Church's presence in the political arena flows from the very core of the Christian faith. That is to say, it flows from the lordship of Christ over the whole of life. Christ sets the seal on the definitive fellowship of humanity, wherein every human being is of equal worth: "All are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
These are some of the reasons why the Church is present in the political arena to enlighten consciences and proclaim a message that is capable of transforming society.

The Church recognises the proper autonomy of the temporal order. The purpose that the lord assigned to his church is a religious one; so when it does intervene in the socio-political arena, it is not prompted by any aim of a political, economic, or social nature. But out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light, an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law. So the Church projects the light of its message on politics as one more form of service to its people and as a sure line of orientation for all those who must assume social responsibilities in one form or another.

From the viewpoint of doctrine, the Church knows that the gospel calls for the first and most radical revolution: conversion, the thoroughgoing transformation from sin to grace, from egotism to love, from haughtiness to humble service. This conversion is not simply interior and spiritual; it involves the whole of man corporeally and socially as well as spiritually and personally. It has a communitarian aspect that is fraught with consequences for society as a whole. It concerns not only our life on earth but also our eternal life in Christ, who is drawing all persons to himself on high. For this reason, the gospel, either openly or covertly, either within the Church or outside it, has always been the most powerful force behind the profound transformations that have taken place in the last twenty centuries.
In its journey through history on earth, however, the Church has almost always been tied up with the political, social, and economic system which, at a given moment, ensured the common good or at least a certain social order. On the other hand, churches have been seen to be so tied up with the system that they seemed to be wedded to it in marriage. But the Church is not wedded to any system, whatever it might be. We need only to look at history to see that the Church has survived the collapse of many powers that once were thought to protect it or to use it.

Insofar as the Church maintains its essential and perduring ties - that is, its fidelity to Christ and communion with him in the gospel - it is never bound up with any given social, political or economic system. When a system ceases to promote the common good and favours special interests, the Church must not only denounce injustice, but also break with the evil system. It must be prepared to work with another system that is more just and more suited to the needs of the day.


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