Although the mainstream media and political pundits frequently talk about the Catholic vote, rarely does anyone meaningfully ask how the Catholic vision of reality might shed light on a contemporary issue or theme in American Society. Arguably, a good example of a topic about which the Catholic Church has much to say is the topic of how to implement “Change” in our political journey.
Of course, one might ask what could the Catholic Church possibly have to say about “change” in American political life? Well, for starters, we Catholics should have something to say because few institutions, if any, know more about change than the Roman Catholic Church. In our collective experience, we have realized that although many things change, indeed must change, the essential revelation of Jesus of Nazareth is everlasting and will not change. As a community of believers, therefore, the truth that makes us who we are as a Church, our integrity as the People of GOD (emphasis on God) must not, and cannot, change.
We have learned, however, that historical and social changes are inevitable. And we have specifically learned that change is never simple or easy; and in order to effectively manage change, we must first ask what precisely do we want to change and what do we want to remain unchanged. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “Change is not good in itself.”
In applying the Pope’s insight into our own situation, we need to assess what precisely do we Americans want to change as we face historical challenges that appear overwhelming. I submit that the ultimate question regarding change as we move forward in these uncertain times, which should guide and help frame all secondary issues involving change, is as follows: Are we a nation whose greatness is founded on eternal and everlasting principles OR are we a nation whose greatness rests on our collective achievements and material prosperity?
To put it more concretely, do we want to become more and more secular, thereby losing sight of the unique capabilities and talents of each individual child of God? Do we want to embrace moral relativism, thereby eschewing the recognition that the rules of fair play and justice have objective roadmaps?
We would do well instead to heed Pope Benedict XVI’s insights as to change as we should first and foremost struggle “for the relatively best possible framework of human coexistence in our own present day and, in doing so, to preserve anything good that has already been achieved.”
As we examine our current crisis, therefore, we should strive to preserve the good that has already been established in this great land. We should preserve the notion that there is truth and that God has given each person dignity worthy of protection. We should also preserve the concept of natural law in that we acknowledge each person’s basic needs of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are endowed by a Creator and as such are inherently deserving of legal protection.
We should also seek to preserve the political and economic realities that have shaped our greatness. Although somewhat more difficult to preserve in a global world, we should renew and explore how the principle of subsidiarity might shed light on many challenges we face. We should also examine our economic system and practices and counterbalance individual greed and excess, and meaningfully enforce our anti-trust and securities laws. But we would do well to preserve what has worked well for us in the past, particularly in light of Pope John Paul II’s recognition that although pure and unchecked capitalism without regard to the human person should be avoided, capitalism as a means by which private property and positive contributions of persons and businesses can be captured is fully compatible with natural law.
And as we preserve what is good, and proceed cautiously into the unknown, let us not simply get caught up in change for change’s sake, especially when it encompasses a radically new path for all of us. As history shows us, a path that summons change of the entire existing structure to make way for a non-specific new, as we have recently seen in some of the cruel regimes of the Twentieth Century, is the path of radical change that cannot reverse course.
As for this Catholic American, although Gospel challenges and transformation is always needed in any society, I do not believe that we need to strive for wholesale change of our entire identity. That’s not what we Americans do. One revolution is enough for a nation when it is done correctly the first time.
Rather, we Catholics should lead the nation forward, mindful of Pope Benedict XVI’s warning to watch out for radical calls for complete change, but preserving what has been established as good and worthy of respect in these great United States of America.
Charles J. Gernazian, Director
Catholic-American Center on Law and Religion