Christian Freedom and Liberation
CHAPTER IV The Liberating Mission of the Church The Church and the anxieties of mankind 61. The Church is firmly determined to respond to the anxiety of contemporary man as he endures oppression and yearns for freedom. The political and economic running of society is not a direct part of her mission. But the Lord Jesus has entrusted to her the word of truth which is capable of enlightening consciences. Divine love, which is her life, impels her to a true solidarity with everyone who suffers. If her members remain faithful to this mission, the Holy Spirit, the source of freedom, will dwell in them, and they will bring forth fruits of justice and peace in their families and in the places where they work and live. I. For the Integral Salvation of the World The beatitudes and the power of the Gospel 62. The Gospel is the power of eternal life, given even now to those who receive it. But by begetting people who are renewed, this power penetrates the human community and its history, thus purifying and giving life to its activities. In this way it is a root of culture. The beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus express the perfection of evangelical love, and they have never ceased to be lived throughout the history of the Church by countless baptized individuals, and in an eminent manner by the saints. The beatitudes--beginning with the first, the one concerning the poor--form a whole which itself must not be separated from the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus, who is the new Moses,gives a commentary on the Decalogue, the Law of the Covenant, thus giving it its definitive and fullest meaning. Read and interpreted in their full context, the beatitudes express the spirit of the kingdom of God which is to come. But, in the light of the definitive destiny of human history thus manifested, there simultaneously appear with a more vivid clarity the foundations of justice in the temporal order. For the beatitudes--by teaching trust which relies on God, hope of eternal life, love of justice, and mercy which goes as far as pardon and reconciliation--enables us to situate the temporal order in relation to a transcendent order which gives the temporal order its true measure but without taking away its own nature. In the light of these things, the commitment necessary in temporal tasks of service to neighbor and the human community is both urgently demanded and kept in its right perspective. The beatitudes prevent us from worshipping earthly goods and from committing the injustices which their unbridled pursuit involves. They also divert us from an unrealistic and ruinous search for a perfect world, for the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31). The proclamation of salvation 63. The Church's essential mission, following that of Christ, is a mission of evangelization and salvation. She draws her zeal from the divine love. Evangelization is the proclamation of salvation, which is a gift of God. Through the Word of God and the sacraments, man is freed in the first place from the power of sin and the power of the Evil One which oppresses him; and he is brought into a communion of love with God. Following her Lord who came into the world to save sinners (1 Tm. 1:15),the Church desires the salvation of all peoples. In this mission, the Church teaches the way which man must follow in this world in order to enter the kingdom of God. Her teaching therefore extends to the whole moral order, and notably to the justice which must regulate human relations. This is part of the preaching of the Gospel. But the love which impels the Church to communicate to all people a sharing in the grace of divine life also causes her, through the effective action of her members, to pursue people's true temporal good, help them in their needs, provide for their education and promote an integral liberation from everything that hinders the development of individuals. The Church desires the good of man in all his dimensions, first of all as a member of the city of God, and then as a member of the earthly city. Evangelization and the promotion of justice 64. Therefore, when the Church speaks about the promotion of justice in human societies, or when she urges the faithful laity to work in this sphere according to their own vocation, she is not going beyond her mission. She is however concerned that this mission should not be absorbed by preoccupations concerning the temporal order, or reduced to such preoccupations. Hence she takes great care to maintain clearly and firmly both the unity and the distinction between evangelization and human promotion: unity because she seeks the good of the whole person; distinction, because these two tasks enter, in different ways, into her mission. The Gospel and earthly realities 65. It is thus by pursuing her own finality that the Church sheds the light of the Gospel on earthly realities in order that human beings may be healed of their miseries and raised in dignity. The cohesion of society in accordance with justice and peace is thereby promoted and strengthened. Thus the Church is being faithful to her mission when she condemns the forms of deviation, slavery and oppression of which people are victims. She is being faithful to her mission when she opposes attempts to set up a form of social life from which God is absent, whether by deliberate opposition or by culpable negligence.She is likewise being faithful to her mission when she exercises her judgment regarding political movements which seek to fight poverty and oppression according to theories or methods of action which are contrary to the Gospel and opposed to man himself. It is of course true that, with the energy of grace, evangelical morality brings man new perspectives and new duties. But its purpose is to perfect and elevate a moral dimension which already belongs to human nature and with which the Church concerns herself in the knowledge that this is a heritage belonging to all people by their very nature. II. A Love of Preference for the Poor Jesus and poverty 66. Christ Jesus, although He was rich, became poor in order to make us rich by means of His poverty. St. Paul is speaking here of the mystery of the Incarnation of the eternal Son, who came to take on mortal human nature in order to save man from the misery into which sin had plunged him. Furthermore, in the human condition Christ chose a state of poverty and deprivation in order to show in what consists the true wealth which ought to be sought, that of communion of life with God. He taught detachment from earthly riches so that we might desire the riches of heaven. The Apostles whom He chose also had to leave all things and share His deprivation. Christ was foretold by the prophets as the Messiah of the poor; and it was among the latter, the humble, the poor of Yahweh, who were thirsting for the justice of the kingdom, that He found hearts ready to receive Him. But He also wished to be near to those who, though rich in the goods of this world, were excluded from the community as publicans and sinners,for He had come to call them to conversion. It is this sort of poverty, made up of detachment, trust in God, sobriety and a readiness to share, that Jesus declared blessed. Jesus and the poor 67. But Jesus not only brought the grace and peace of God; He also healed innumerable sick people; He had compassion on the crowd who had nothing to eat and He fed them; with the disciples who followed Him He practiced alms giving. Therefore the beatitude of poverty which He proclaimed can never signify that Christians are permitted to ignore the poor who lack what is necessary for human life in this world. This poverty is the result and consequence of people's sin and natural frailty, and it is an evil from which human beings must be freed as completely as possible. Love of preference for the poor 68. In its various forms--material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illnesses, and finally death--human misery is the obvious sign of the natural condition of weakness in which man finds himself since original sin and the sign of his need for salvation. Hence it drew the compassion of Christ the Savior to take it upon Himself and to be identical with the least of His brethren (cf. Mt. 25:40, 45). Hence also those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a love of preference on the part of the Church, which since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members has not ceased to work for their relief, defense and liberation. She has done this through numberless works of charity which remain always and everywhere indispensable. In addition, through her social doctrine which she strives to apply, she has sought to promote structural changes in society so as to secure conditions of life worthy of the human person. By detachment from riches, which makes possible sharing and opens the gate of the kingdom, the disciples of Jesus bear witness through love for the poor and unfortunate to the love of the Father Himself manifested in the Savior. This love comes from God and goes to God. The disciples of Christ have always recognized in the gifts placed on the altar a gift offered to God Himself. In loving the poor, the Church also witnesses to man's dignity. She clearly affirms that man is worth more for what he is than for what he has. She bears witness to the fact that this dignity cannot be destroyed, whatever the situation of poverty, scorn, rejection or powerlessness to which a human being has been reduced. She shows her solidarity with those who do not count in a society by which they are rejected spiritually and sometimes even physically. She is particularly drawn with maternal affection towards those children who, through human wickedness, will never be brought forth from the womb to the light of day, as also for the elderly, alone and abandoned. The special option for the poor, far from being a sign of particularism or sectarianism, manifests the universality of Church's being and mission.This option excludes no one. This is the reason why the Church cannot express this option by means of reductive sociological and ideological categories which would make this preference a partisan choice and a source of conflict. Basic communities and other Christian groups 69. The new basic communities or other groups of Christians which have arisen to be witnesses to this evangelical love are a source of great hope for the Church. If they really live in unity with the local Church and the universal Church, they will be a real expression of communion and a means for constructing a still deeper communion. Their fidelity to their mission will depend on how careful they are to educate their members in the fullness of the Christian Faith through listening to the Word of God, fidelity to the teaching of the Magisterium, to the hierarchical order of the Church and to the sacramental life. If this condition is fulfilled, their experience, rooted in a commitment to the complete liberation of man, becomes a treasure for the whole Church. Theological reflection 70. Similarly, a theological reflection developed from a particular experience can constitute a very positive contribution, inasmuch as it makes possible a highlighting of aspects of the Word of God, the richness of which has not yet been fully grasped. But in order that this reflection may be truly a reading of the Scripture and not a projection onto the Word of God of a meaning which it does not contain, the theologian will be careful to interpret the experience from which he begins in the light of the experience of the Church herself. This experience of the Church shines with a singular brightness and in all its purity in the lives of the saints. It pertains to the pastors of the Church, in communion with the Successor of Peter, to discern its authenticity.