Our Moral Witness

2/27/2012

Only a morality rooted in love can adequately address the world’s economic and political challenges

by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson

This year will mark the fourth year of a global financial crisis. Government officials and financial leaders continue to propose technical and legal “fixes” with varying degrees of success, but public confidence remains low, and there remains widespread lack of trust in both government and business.

Obviously, technical and legal action is necessary. But people intuitively sense that a more fundamental change is necessary to achieve long-term economic sustainability. Americans believe that the nation’s moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction but can still turn in a way consistent with their deeply held moral values. What has been missing from the public discourse of the economic crisis these past few years has been a candid discussion of the importance of these values. It is here that Catholics have a very important role to play under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict set forth the fundamental Christian vision of how we are to act. If we say, “God is love,” we are saying something much more than God sometimes acts in a loving way or acts “out of love.” If he himself is love, then every expression, every manifestation, every revelation of himself is an expression, a manifestation, a revelation of love.

Thus, if the Christian life is a call to conform one’s life to God, then love becomes the context of not just some, but of every human action. We see this in the commandment to “love one’s neighbor as one’s self” and in the scriptural admonition that states, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

In his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict writes, “The development of peoples depends, above all, upon a recognition that the human race is a single family” (53). The pope reminds us that the fundamental Christian attitude toward our neighbor is “brotherhood” and “family.” The family is the place where we are first called to love one another, where we learn to make a sincere gift of our selves rather than cheat one another and “look out for number one.” In the family, we experience “deep personal sharing” and learn that “I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self” (Deus Caritas Est, 34).

Yet, this attitude of “fraternal” charity cannot be limited to family life. It is, Pope Benedict insists, fundamental to economic development and civil society. Some might dismiss this as unrealistic idealism or sentimentality. But in our efforts to achieve economic justice, we might remember the lessons we learned in the struggle for racial justice. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.” When he said this, King was not being sentimental — he was preparing to go to jail.

King knew, and Pope Benedict continues to remind us, that love is intrinsic to justice. If we love someone, we insist that he or she be treated fairly — not only within our family, but also within society. Love is the necessary condition of justice. This realization is at the very heart of our moral witness as Catholics.

In January, Pope Benedict said, “It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” This radical secularism can erect government barriers to the Church’s public moral witness, but it also seeks other ways to exclude this witness from the nation’s public discourse.

In the face of these challenges, the 1.8 million Catholic men of the Knights of Columbus — men known for their determined public moral witness — have an important role to play: We must continue to be in the forefront, demonstrating in word and in deed that truly “God is love.” This can make all the difference.

Vivat Jesus!