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With particular reference to the encyclical Lumen fidei, explicitly social aspects are present in the fourth chapter, entitled “God has prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16), especially paragraphs 50-57, where the Pontiff addresses the themes of “Faith and the common good”, “Faith and the family”, “A light for life in society” and “Consolation and strength in suffering.”
The first topic is extremely important, since it touches on a fundamental principle of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the subject of great debates and a topic that is always prey to opposing interpretations, sometimes utilitarian and economistic, at other times paternalistic and rhetorical, yet always inadequate with respect to the anthropological perspective on which the message of the Social Doctrine of the Church rests: the person as imago Dei, free and, therefore, called upon to be responsible. The common good is irreducible to a single solution, therefore, it is equally irreducible to a single institution, whether it be local or global.
Pope Francis tells us that the strength of faith also has to do with the “city that God is preparing for men,” to the extent that the quality of relationships between acting persons is able to reveal its presence in the world. Faith reveals the quality of the social bond, a bond that, if unable to enhance the freedom of each and every one, is far from the Christian ideal. In this way, faith illuminates the relationships between humans, it offers the truly human element of such relations, characterizing them as a source of freedom and qualifying, as a result, also the institutions made possible by such bonds.
In this context, in the light of Conciliar declaration Dignitatis Humanae, Pope Francis shows how the light of faith does not found the city of God on earth, but rather qualifies in a Christian manner the institutions that men will be able to build for themselves and for other men.
With reference to the theme “Faith and the family,” the Pope tells us that the first area in which the faith illuminates the city of man is precisely the family. The family, from the Christian point of view, implies the recognition of a life project that goes far beyond its own, both in terms of relationships and in terms of time. Only when one discovers a larger project thanone’s own and realizes that it is attainable on account of the relationship with the loved one, does one promised eternal love and gives oneself totally to the other. So, faith enlightens us on the most intimate and personal and, at the same time, civil and public meaning of the family, to the point that it expresses the fundamental reason by virtue of which we can make plural the notion of the “common good” and consider the family the institution that best expresses the polyarchical character of civil society.
The light of faith sheds its rays also on the relationship between man and nature. This issue has always been under the attention of the popes and a fundamental chapter of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Pope’s reflection encourages Catholics around the world to consider these issues in the light of the overall context, a context irreducible to the action of the government (so that it is an expression of the nation-state traditionally understood, or of a mythical, fanciful, dangerous and unnecessary “Global Government”) and strongly projected towards a “subsidiary and polyarchical governance”, which, from bottom to top, undertakes the so-called “institutional path of charity”, to use a beautiful and convincing expression from Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate.
Another aspect that influences the social sphere is the theme of suffering. In short, the Pope reminds us that the Christian knows that suffering cannot be eliminated, however, it is in the mystery of the Cross-scandal that it takes on a sense, to the extent that it becomes “an act of love and trust in the hands of God who does not abandon us”. In this way suffering becomes a stage of growth in faith and love.
In particular, personal suffering helps us to not lose sight of suffering in the world, to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, to be people aware of our dependency on God, of the fact of being creatures, imperfect persons and in need of the aid of the Father. The light of faith, then, becomes an antidote to the idolatry of man, the “fatal conceit” dictated by the alleged omnipotence of those who imagine forming, shaping and building institutions around a deliberate design, an idea of society that they believe must be realized in history.
As a conclusion, we can say that the election to the papacy of Pope Francis seems to have awakened interest in the relationship between religion and economic and political institutions. Difficult and conflictual relations, historically marked by distortions and injustices caused by men who have made the “lust for power” and the pursuit of success “at any cost” their standards of living. Institutions cannot perform moral acts; therefore, they are neither good or bad per se, they reflect the actions and ways of thinking of the people who work there.
It is the identification of money and power as an idol that is to be condemned; idol to bow down to and in whose name to sacrifice our choices. This idol presents itself with the ordinary garments of everyday professional success, of “Mors tua vita mea” (“Your death is my life”), of the professional who wants to collect without having sown and one who sows death to his own advantage. It’s a captivating idol which is generally tolerated because it represents us all a little, and with respect to which one is usually more indulgent and self-exculpatory. In short, it is an attitude, a predisposition, a behavior that becomes habitual–the very air we breathe–which then goes so far as to intoxicate our consciences and corrupt the institutions of democracy and the market. It’s the insane pretext to be absolved even when we put our immediate interests, even “at any cost” and “at any price”, before that of those around us, even someone who has not yet been born or who lives on the other side of the world.
Flavio Felice is an Adjunct Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and President of Tocqueville-Acton Centre Studies
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