Catholic social teachings

In the latest Legatus magazine Andreas Widmer writes:

What makes business leadership Catholic?

…knowing and implementing the Church’s social teaching. Many business leaders are surprised to learn that the Church’s rich social teaching didn’t start with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891); it goes back to Sts. Thomas and Augustine, the Church Fathers and the apostles. It goes back to the radical charity that Jesus himself described in John 13:35: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another.”

As scholars have studied, meditated upon and lived Christ’s social teachings through the centuries, they’ve synthesized them into nine basic classic principles:

  1. Human dignity: Men and women are made in God’s image and destined for eternal life.
  2. Justice: This cardinal moral virtue consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.
  3. Social justice: Groups and individuals must receive what is rightly owed them.
  4. Common good: All the conditions in society must allow individuals and groups to reach their fullest human potential, both in this life and the next.
  5. Solidarity: This is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.
  6. Subsidiarity: Social functions should occur at the lowest possible level so that individuals and groups have a true sense of purpose.
  7. Universal destination of goods: God gave the good things of the earth to the entire human race, not just a select few.
  8. Charity: Charity disposes us to love God above all creatures for Himself, and to love ourselves and our neighbors for the sake of God.
  9. Preferential option for the poor: Charity requires us to place the needs of the poor before our own.

Worth referencing from time to time…

Actively crafting a life

I once heard a priest tell this joke during his homily:

Three men are talking after a long night of drinking (“philosophizing”) about how they want to be remembered when they die. The first man said, “As a good father and husband.” The second man, a teacher, said, “I hope my students remember me as a good teacher.” The third man said, “I hope when my friends and family surround me in my casket they say, “Look, he’s moving!” Cue laughter.

None of us want to die, yet we do. Living meaningful lives is our daily challenge.

A friend recently shared Michael Novak’s 1996 article commemorating the death of his brother, James. I found this description of his life so fascinating:

As an independent writer and international consultant, [he] cultivated an intellectual life and a life of adventure in the nineteenth-century British style. Indeed, among his papers is a brace of short stories on daily life in Asia, conceived as the observations of an American, Somerset Maugham.

In 1995, Jim accepted a dangerous assignment as consultant to the Koh-i-Noor Foundation for Afghanistan, which required extended travel in the regions controlled by feuding Afghan guerrilla armies. One of Afghanistan’s provincial governors appointed him an “honorary colonel” in the Afghan resistance army, guaranteeing his safe passage.

Michael Novak died last week. I’ll be at his funeral in Washington tomorrow. I might share a tribute to him at some point, but I’m not sure. In the meantime, I wanted to share his remembrance of his brother.

Both shared the sense of actively cultivating an intellectual life and life of adventure. Actively crafting a life is a great strategy for living one worth remembering.

Where did fake news come from?

I wrote the following in September 2012, and am sharing it in light of the “fake news” controversies of the moment:

I believe the news and most of television has become poisonous to our culture. Our parents grew up in the fading days when Cronkite was the embodiment of news, and when “straight reporting” was almost never laced with opinion. Functionally, not ever in the public consciousness. There was news, and then there were others on other shows who might comment on the news.

We don’t even pretend what we’re doing today is lacing the “news” with “perspective” — we know it’s all just spin.

Let me explain. I watched Mitt Romney’s convention speech last night. He delivered a fine speech, of the type that for much of it made me proud to be an American because he spoke to some of the best qualities of what we try to be as a people. I expect Obama will make me similarly proud for much of his own convention speech. They’re speeches. They’re trying to explain themselves to us in a way that makes sense. It makes sense that we should feel proud about our country and our electoral process when we hear them.

And within seconds of the speech ending, whatever network we’re seeing them on springs into action. What surprised you in this speech tonight? Where did he succeed in connecting with undecideds? Where did he fail? How much will this move the needle? And on, and on, and on. And on.

We might watch a quarter hour of either soaring or grounded rhetoric. We might be feeling like we’re right to think brightly about ourselves, and our future. And within maybe two minutes we’re being brought low. We’re dragged along through the cliquishness of contemporary news; the clucking-hen culture that wants to talk about what the talk will be about, and wants to think about what the thought will be about. It’s all become so meta as to become unreal.

I remember reading in one of Peggy Noonan’s books years ago (I think it was in What I Saw at the Revolution) where she spoke about a marked change she witnessed in America between the 1980 and 1984 elections. The questions reporters asked were the same: What do you think of the candidate? Will you vote for him? What don’t you like? etc. In 1980 many of the answers were straightforward: I like him; my family’s always been Democrat; I wish he was stronger on X policy. By 1984 the answers had become echoes. Americans were now answering by saying things like, “Well I saw CNN said X about him, and the New York Times said Y,” or “He’s five points behind in the polls so people don’t think he can win here.”

Americans went from citizens with opinions to third-rate news commentators, sharing what they had come to understand as the prevailing opinion of the moment over any particular opinion of their own. More “this is how I’ve heard things are playing out” than “this is what I think.”

And who did this to these people? Noonan doesn’t say, but I think that the news media created these conditions. It’s alright to feel good about things without having them so analyzed as to have the effect that we watch a speech we liked and that elevated us and yet end up leaving the room more cynical and sour than we entered it thanks to the “news” commentary that ran before, after, and sometimes during its delivery.

Everyone will have an opinion. The one thing that once set journalists apart is they were people who wouldn’t have opinions. I said in the beginning that I think news has become a poisonous force because I believe it’s not so often simply informing viewers as damaging our ability to think, because we now have to think about what we’re thinking about.

The cocktail parties are where journalists once had opinions, not the primetime slot. In elevating themselves they’ve abused the public trust. They’ve corroded their profession.

Americans will be asking themselves some form of “What are we all doing here?,” more than ever.

Fake news

The world gets neither better nor worse… just different. I’ve heard some formulation of this over and over and over applied to all variety of subjects in conversation with people who would rather recite a trite saying than engage even a thought experiment. The Christian is obligated to concede the world was better before the fall; that things have genuinely “gotten worse.”

This short snippet of a conversation with Bill O’Reilly in 2012 hopefully can serve as an example of things “getting worse” in America:

I’ll go so far as to suggest that listening to this conversation is like hearing a grown man talk with a boy. There’s the paternalistic desire to impart perspective and come to agreement, and the boy’s desire to be heard while ignoring the voice of authority. And hell, if anyone in journalism deserves authority it’s someone like Ted Koppel or his predecessors:

“I think that ideological coverage of the news, be it of the right or be it of the left, has created a political reality in this country which is bad for America. I think it’s made it difficult if not impossible for decent men and women in congress, on capitol hill, to reach across the aisle and find compromise. And if we can’t do that, Bill, we’re going to be in, and we have been, I think for the past few years, in a terrible situation in this country… It [cable news media] is a business and it’s operating as a business, and once upon a time you and I actually thought journalism was a calling.”

To understand how journalism could be a “calling” rather than simply a career requires an understanding of vocation. The traditional conception of vocation is understood through the Latin as a calling or summons. What Ted Koppel raises is this: Are we elevating, simply maintaining, or degenerating in the quality of our news? Who are the sort of people called to the profession of “journalist” today? How are they serving their neighbors?

Practical v. practicable

An important distinction from G.K. Chesterton in his book St. Francis of Assisi:

If we mean by what is practical what is most immediately practicable, we mean merely what is easiest. In that sense St. Francis was very impractical, and his ultimate aims were very unworldly. But if we mean by practicality a preference for prompt effort and energy over doubt or delay, he was very practical indeed.

Even a basic reading of the life of St. Francis makes you appreciate his desire to act; for prompt effort and energy. I think in this way he could be called a patron of our era, even if we’re often unsure what we’re acting to achieve.

Meanwhile, Chesterton’s core point stands even a century later: to be practical shouldn’t mean to be pragmatic. Our organizing principles (whether personal, familial, national, whatever) have to be clear before we can talk about what’s “practical,” because practicality is simply our response to what’s necessary. Often the necessary things are the least practicable, yet seeking to bring about a necessary thing is a damned practical thing to do.

And don’t you love that about Chesterton? He’s so pithy and we’re so longwinded in stating the same things.

Why are you silent?

Why are people silent? The two clearest reasons: you either are trying to listen rather than speak, or you’ve got nothing to say.

I grimace when hearing the most common broadsides leveled against social media and communications. “What could I say in 140 characters?” “Who wants to know what I had for lunch?” Et cetera.

Can you imagine if people had had such lack of imagination 150 years ago? We would have let the telegraph rot. We have the means today to draw ourselves closer and share more intimately than ever before in history, and suddenly many of us seem to be struck mute.

Witness. Speak. Share. If you refuse to speak using the media of our time, it’ll be assumed in the future that it was because you didn’t have anything to say. That you didn’t have much to witness to. That maybe there just wasn’t much going on there—much soulfulness, much vitality, much life. (That won’t be a fair perspective, but the future often marginalizes the past and so it’s worth thinking about how to defeat its stereotypes while we still have time.)

I think about everything that my grandparents left behind in heirlooms and artifacts and especially in writing, and how my heart aches for the same sort of things but from every generation of my family over the past 200+ years in this country. How I wish I could read even the slimmest diary entries from my frontier ancestors and what their lives were like. I know some things from newspaper records, church records, etc. These aren’t particularly intimate things, but they’re something.

We have the means to speak and to be heard more simply than ever before.

Figure out what’s worth saying, and say it.

 

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THON, Mountain, Arboretum

Visited Penn State this weekend with brother Nick, his first trip there with just me. It was great to spend this time together in Happy Valley with him, introducing him to some of the most special aspects of life there. We visited THON at the Bryce Jordan Center:

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We visited the Penn State Arboretum, which was my fist time there too. It was incredible to me to be able to experience and catch a scene like this—a feeling of being lost someplace in the middle of nowhere—right on Penn State’s increasingly urban-feeling campus:

And we hiked Mount Nittany at dawn, where I captured the sunrise photo above. It was incredible to hike with him for the first time, and we met up with my cousin (who’s in her junior year) and her boyfriend who graduated a year or so ago. It was their first time on the Mountain, too.