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Summary: Not only commutative, but distributive and social justice must be part of development for the Christian

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December 21, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

There’s a great deal of jumping around in this week’s Scriptures, excitement not unlike that of children who are out of school for the week before Christmas. In fact, there are two different OT readings we can use today, and they both are full of ADHD action. In the Song of Songs, we are invited to see Christ as a young stag, leaping over the hill, or a lover, coming to His Bride, the Church. Zephaniah sees the Lord as a lover who will rejoice over the beloved in song. And Luke’s account of the Visitation sums it all up in Elizabeth’s praise of the Virgin Mother–“blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” We need to latch onto that sense of spiritual joy, because of the special blessings that accrue to us at Christmas.

Christmas is in a particular sense the festival of the poor, because it was an event experienced by and with those who were poor in material wealth. It is, then, appropriate that we turn to the Pope’s words that critique the modern experience of so-called “free markets.” He writes: In a climate of mutual trust, the market is the economic institution that permits encounter between persons, inasmuch as they are economic subjects who make use of contracts to regulate their relations as they exchange goods and services of equivalent value between them, in order to satisfy their needs and desires. The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative [or contractual] justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss.” (Par 35) He says truly that the first to gain from the development of poor countries are the rich ones. “The poor are not to be considered a “burden”[91], but a resource, even from the purely economic point of view. It is nevertheless erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best.” That’s the so-called “win-lose” theory that is so in vogue among socialists. The Holy Father goes on: “It is in the interests of the market to promote emancipation, but in order to do so effectively, it cannot rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them.” That is, of course, where Christians can be of great assistance as the U.S. promotes development. We have to hold our leaders’ feet to the moral fire, so they don’t adopt expedient actions like exporting contraception to developing countries in a desire to reduce their demand so that our prices stay low.


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