Summary: Charity in truth demands that we consider two moral criteria: justice and the common good. But truth must inform both.
Monday of 19th Week in Course
August 10, 2009
Caritas in Veritate
“Die to yourself” is a phrase that is no more popular today than in the first century. Jesus showed the way to this manifestation of charity in truth, by living for others during his earthly existence, and by dying on the cross so that we could live through the continuation of His sacrifice, this Eucharist. Our dying to self is expressed, of course, in what we give–through our tithes and charitable donations, through our time given to others to improve their spiritual, physical, moral or intellectual lives.
The Holy Father shares with us the two criteria that govern moral action that flow from our understanding of truth-borne-charity. The first is the criterion of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice. Justice, the giving to others what is due them, is the primary way of charity, “the minimum measure” of it. Charity demands recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples, building up the earthly city according to law and justice, and then transcending that law and justice through giving and forgiving. Charity goes beyond justice by building relationships of mutual giving.
The other criterion is the common good, the good that is linked to living in society. It is the good of “all of us,” individuals, families and intermediate groups forming society. It is a requirement of justice and society to take a stand for the common good and strive toward it. Each of us, according to our vocation and degree of influence we yield in the polis, is called to practice this–let’s call it “political charity.” The Holy Father tells us, moreover, that when animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have. Like all commitment to justice, it has a place within the testimony of divine charity that paves the way for eternity through temporal action. We cannot build the temporal city without respect to the eternal city.
Let’s talk, for instance, about the health care debate, since it is at the front of everyone’s mind. We must admit that all humans have a right to at least a minimal level of health care. If someone has a gunshot wound, the law requires that he be taken to an emergency room and stabilized, and somehow brought back to health. That has, of course, led to massively crowded emergency rooms where the poor come for headaches and chest colds as well as heart attacks and influenza. So we, as a people, rightly ask the state for a way to provide this basic care. Charity and justice demand it.
But over the past forty years, we have lost the truth that underlies this demand. We no longer agree on what constitutes the common good. Some political parties demand that, for the “common good” expressed in the diabolical phrase “every child a planned and wanted child,” we pay for murdering preborn infants. That, we must agree or we are not followers of Christ, is the substitution of good for evil. Some in office believe that food and hydration constitute extraordinary care. That is a lie straight from hell.
Let’s be clear. We need to strive mightily to protect the rights and duties of every human. But if we reach justice without it being underlain by truth, we have gone backwards, not forwards. This health care debate is about lives, not money. But it is about all human life, and if we cannot protect the most vulnerable as we strive for a just provision of health care, we are creating a monstrosity.