Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Beyond Election Day: Learning the Way of "Solidarity"

It is Election Day for President in the United States of America. Regardless of who they are voting for, many Americans have low expectations, if not outright fears and disgust, for both major party candidates. We are tempted to regard the next four years with a helpless and morbid cynicism. But we must remember that our political responsibility does not end when we leave the voting booth.

We have a commitment to upholding the dignity of every human person over the whole course of life from conception to natural death. We must be active in building up our families, communities, local institutions and environment, and all that has been immediately entrusted to us. At the same time, we must not close in upon ourselves into tightly sealed bubbles of fear. With due regard to the legitimate needs of safety and order, we must also cultivate the magnanimous habit of hospitality. We want to build our own communal places with such strength, confidence, and generosity that we are free to welcome others--especially those among our brothers and sisters who are most desperately in need.

We may also want to take up new initiatives and begin to take steps that could lead to changes in the dysfunctional political culture that has brought us to the awful impasse of the 2016 election year circus.

Above all, we need a new cultivation of political virtue in America, in a way that will enable us to judge and act more effectively for the good in our own society and in our relationships with peoples and nations in the rest of the world.

Nearly thirty years ago, Pope Saint John Paul II gave us some very specific magisterial teaching that remains vital and relevant today. He stressed the particular virtue that we need if we are to be political protagonists in the third millennium--the virtue that is essential for an interdependent world in possession of historically unprecedented kinds of technological power.

The great Pope called this virtue "Solidarity."

To cultivate this virtue and allow it to change our way of thinking and relating to one another is a special political task that me and my countrymen need to take up anew in this time, regardless of who becomes President after today. We must have the courage to enlarge our horizons and recognize the responsibilities that correspond to the power and wealth that have been entrusted to us. We need to recognize that the interdependence of our world is a human reality--an interdependence of human persons--that has implications for our lives. These implications, these human realities cannot be dominated, controlled, or suppressed by our power. Neither can they be ignored or pushed away as insignificant. They are real human needs that cry out to us, problems of people in our own communities, our nation, and the world that are inseparably connected to our own needs and problems. They must be lived and judged in varying circumstances with realism, proper criteria, wisdom, generosity, and love.

The United States of America will not be able to grow and mature further as a nation in the 21st century unless we learn the way of solidarity, unless we learn to practice the virtue of solidarity.

Saint John Paul II says it much better in the excerpts below. His words, though not always easy to understand, are worth the labor of our prayerful reading, study, and consideration. I dare say, we ignore him and his successors at our own peril, and the world's peril.

It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world, in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a "virtue," is solidarity.
This is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.

[The political forces of domination that degrade the human person for profit or power] are only conquered--presupposing the help of divine grace--by a diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one's neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to "lose oneself" for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to "serve him" instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage (cf. Mt 10:40-42; 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27).
The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons. Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess.
Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate groups, in their turn, should not selfishly insist on their particular interests, but respect the interests of others....

The same criterion is applied by analogy in international relationships. Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces through the processing of raw materials, with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all....
Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences.
The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever.
Solidarity helps us to see the "other"-- whether a person, people or nation -- not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our "neighbor," a "helper" (cf. Gen 2:18-20), to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God. Hence the importance of reawakening the religious awareness of individuals and peoples. Thus the exploitation, oppression and annihilation of others are excluded....
The goal of peace, so desired by everyone, will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which favor togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world.
~Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis 39, 40.