Catholics not only have a right to try to transform society, we have a divine mandate. We are constantly told, sometimes by clerics, that we should keep our opinions to ourselves – that we should erect a wall between our faith and our politics. But Jesus did not die quietly or behind closed doors. The Church did not spread his message through private coffee mornings. And the Christian commandment to love our fellow man does not stop at being charitable.
Telling people the truth is an act of love. Failing to do it is a sin of omission. So the question isn’t “Should we try to change our communities?” but “How should we go about it?” The answer is with fearless honesty.
Christianity is tough and uncompromising. The modern notion of the Jesus who loves without asking for anything in return, the Jesus who tolerates, the Jesus of the therapeutic encounter, runs totally contrary to the Jesus of the Gospels. In Matthew, he says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword … Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Catholics can conclude two things from this passage. First, that we are called to be outspoken social critics. Second, that our witness will personally cost us dear. In fact, I suspect that the true measure of how accurate our criticisms of society are will be how painfully we are punished for making them.
So, what should we be criticising? Let’s start with the material problems facing society, just as Jesus condemned the worship of money.
No one should want to bury capitalism. No economic system in history has done more to create wealth and eliminate poverty. But while markets can undeniably serve people, sometimes the needs of people are sacrificed to serve a volatile free-market system that seeks to maximise profit. Pope Francis, for example, has spoken movingly about the impact of environmental decay upon developing countries: a kind of new colonial oppression, an extraction of resources and wealth that leaves deserts and trash heaps behind it.
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