Summary: A just social system must come from the conversion of many minds and hearts.
Thursday of 32nd week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
What is the kingdom of God? Is it imposed from outside ourselves? Jesus is very clear on this point. The various sects and political parties in Palestine during the first century thought that the reign of God would be imposed, especially by divine intervention, or revolution, driving out the oppressive Roman rulers. That meant the Messiah they wanted would be a revolutionary ruler, a man who would shed the blood of the enemy. But Jesus knew that such revolutions had already happened all over the world–a charismatic leader in whatever country gathered a following, got together money or political influence and caused the blood to flow. Alexander the Great was supposed to be the man who would unite the world to be like the cultured Greeks. But what he did could not last, because the human heart was still mired in the effects of original sin. Without an internal change, without the kingdom of God being in us so that we live for others in justice and charity, any external change is just cosmetic.
The Holy Father understands this, as he speaks for our responsibilities to the poor. He encourages us to know that we are stewards of the world’s goods and resources: ‘Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.
‘Sometimes it is a matter of hearing the cry of entire peoples, the poorest peoples of the earth, since “peace is founded not only on respect for human rights, but also on respect for the rights of peoples.” Sadly, even human rights can be used as a justification for an inordinate defense of individual rights or the rights of the richer peoples. With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others”. To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” since “every person is called to self-fulfilment”.‘
The Pope has an exalted dream, one that he cannot hope to live to see totally fulfilled: ‘We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity” This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.’
Let’s look at what has happened lately in certain cities, to see the reality that you cannot impose from outside what doesn’t stem from internal change: the city council or board of supervisors sees the plight of the poor and imposes a $15 minimum wage–or whatever they set as a fair hourly rate. Businesses then have to accommodate that rule without eating up all the profit that is their means of staying in business. So they jack up their prices and some customers start bringing their lunch to work. They reduce labor costs by reducing their hiring and the unemployment rate increases. The system suffers and sixteen-year-old Maria can’t find an entry-level job because her services are not economically worth $15 an hour. The poor find themselves no better off.
If, on the other hand, minds and hearts are changed, and everyone-- customers and proprietors and workers realize that solidarity demands a solution to the problem, both prices and wages will gradually change so that everyone makes a living without fracturing the community even further. If we start valuing everyone else’s human dignity, then our decision-making will more often reflect that reality, and conflicts will reduce.