Category Archives: Faith & the Public Order

St Benedict’s Legacy on Work

Our Catholic Faith, I believe, has something important to say to the concerns of post-modernity, especially regarding matters of faith and reason AND faith and the public order. Work –our labor– is one of those things that Catholicism speaks eloquently about. We still live with the legacy of Marx and his kind when it comes to understanding the role and place of work. Contrary to Marxism’s theory of alienation, we would say, human labor does have meaning and there is a dignity to the process of work and the worker.

The following is an excerpt of a 1980 letter sent to the Benedictines by John Paul II on the 1500th anniversary of monastic life. John Paul writes:

Man’s face is often wet with tears impelling him to pray, but these tears do not always spring from sincere compunction or excessive joy. For often tears of sorrow and disturbance  ow from those whose human dignity is disregarded, those who cannot achieve what they justly desire, and who cannot do the work that suits their needs and talents.

St Benedict lived in a civil society deformed by injustices. The human person frequently counted for nothing and was treated as a criminal. In a social structure drawn up in orders, the most wretched were segregated and reduced to slavery. The poor grew poorer, while the rich grew richer and richer. Yet this remarkable man willed to found the monastic community on the prescriptions of the Gospel. He restored man to his integral condition, no matter what social order or rank he came from. He provided for the needs of each according to the norms of a wise distributive justice. He assigned significant duties to individuals, duties which cohered aptly with other duties. He considered the conditions of the weak, but left no room for easy laziness. He allowed space for the cleverness of others lest they feel hemmed in, or rather, so that they might be stimulated to give their best. Thus he removed the pretext of a light and sometimes justified murmuring, and brought about the conditions of true peace.

Man is not reckoned by St Benedict as a kind of nameless machine, which someone uses to get the maximum profit, providing no moral justification to the worker and denying him a just wage. It should be noted that in his time work was usually done by slaves who were denied the status of human beings. Benedict considered work, however it happens to be done, as an essential part of the life and obliges each monk to it, making it a duty in conscience. This labor is to be borne ‘for the sake of obedience and expiation’, since indeed pain and sweat are attached to any truly efficacious effort. But this distress has a redemptive character when it purifies a man from sin, and it ennobles the things carefully worked on and also the environment where the work is done.

St Benedict, leading an earthly life in which work and prayer were properly balanced, in this way happily inserts work into the supernatural way of considering life. By doing so, he helps man to know himself as God’s fellow-worker, and truly he becomes such when his person, acting with a certain creative energy, is enhanced in an all-round way. Human action is carried out in a contemplative manner, and contemplation attains a certain dynamic quality. It influences the work itself and throws light on the ends proposed for the work.

Work is, therefore, not performed solely in order to avoid the idleness which enfeebles minds, but also and indeed chiefly, to enable a man to grow gradually as a person mindful of his duties and careful about them. Also, talents perhaps concealed deep inside the person may be discovered, and brought to fruition for the common good, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’.

Work is not relieved of its burden of the harsh clash of forces, but a new interior impulse is added to it. The monk is united to God not in spite of his work but through it, because ‘while working with hand or mind he continually raises himself to Christ’.

Thus it happens that even lowly and insignificant work is done with a certain dignity, and becomes a vital part of ‘that sovereign effort by which God alone is sought in solitude and silence, so that to such a life is added the vigor of continual prayer, the sacrifice of praise, celebrated and consummated together, under the influence of cheerful fraternal charity’.

Europe became a Christian land chiefly because sons of St Benedict gave our ancestors a comprehensive instruction, not only teaching them arts and crafts but also infusing into them the spirit of the Gospel which is needed for the protection of the spiritual treasures of the human person. The paganism which was formerly drawn over to the Gospel by the many hands of missionary monks is now spreading more and more in the Western world, and it is both the cause and the effect of the loss of the Christian way of esteeming work and its dignity.

Unless Christ endows human action with a constant lofty meaning, the worker becomes the slave –a special kind of slave unique to modern times– of profit and industry. On the contrary, Benedict affirms the urgent necessity of giving a spiritual character to work, enlarging the purpose of human labour so that it can escape the excessive application of the technical arts and the excessive greed for what is useful to one’s self.

(An excerpt from Pope St John Paul II’s 1980 Apostolic Letter for the Fifteenth Centenary of the Birth of St Benedict)

Electing new government

The Democratic National Convention just finished and Republicans had their jamboree the week before last. I am finding it difficult to settle on the right candidate for governance of these American States. Neither of them, in my opinion, are right for high office. While I am not going to outline right now why I think so, I am merely offering my reservation for both political candidates.

What do I have to do to able to vote with an informed conscience? Is there a primacy of conscience? At this time, a good sense of one’s moral compass, the desire for the good of all, one can say that making a decision for a political candidate (party) today is not easily made or clearly or satisfying. Political elections is not supposed to be rooted in ideology but in solid principles based on Christian ethics (here I am speaking as a Catholic but there same would be said of people faith and good will applicable to all people) and Catholic Social Teaching. Using what the US bishops said, I have “the responsibility to make choices in political life [that] rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience” (FCFC, 37). Herein lies the hard and necessary work. In his 1993 document, Veritatis Splendor, John Paul taught that a human being “must act in accordance with [the judgement of conscience]. If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience, the proximate norm of personal morality” (60). This idea comes from the Thomistic tradition that says if one ignores the conscience one ignores God (even if the conscience is in error).

What is conscience? Among many things that can be said about conscience the teaching of the Church is that conscience is not a mechanism for one’s rationalization of one’s subjectivity, allowing for a person to do what he or she wants at will without the guidance of objective norms of the moral life. Conscience is relational to the objectivity of truth; the notion that there is my t truth and your truth is to retreat for truth because truth is not reduced to this type of certainty. One ought to consider what the Council Fathers taught about conscience they described it as “the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shining what is evil.” Moreover, “conscience is a judgment of reason  whereby the human person recognizes the moral  quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed.” Hence, we say conscience is basic to the person who seeks to know and do what is good and true based on a process of discernment and moral reasoning. The primacy of conscience is rooted in a sense of the truth first and foremost. This notion of primacy led Blessed John Henry Newman to say in this regard that “Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts… I shall drink  –to the Pope, if you please, — still to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.” The Authority of the pope and primacy of conscience are not in opposition to each other because both seek to know the truth: no conscience without the truth.

A conscience can err in its “[i]gnorance of Christ and his gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the church’s authority and her teaching, [and] a lack of conversion and charity.” (FCFC 400).

But back to what is crucial: to keep in mind what promotes the dignity of the human person based on a well formed conscience as the guide for making a decision on a political candidate. The faithful, then, in the formation of conscience “ought carefully to attend to” church teaching with an openness of mind and heart regarding the reasons of thus-and-such moral point with the work of seeking and adhering to the truth; Thus, we ultimately are called upon submitting one’s reason and will with sincerity. Here we acknowledge the Church is a most reliable in the formation of conscience.

Areas of concern for the flourishing of human dignity:

  • concerns for the family as “the first and fundamental unit of society”;
  • principles for sacredness of life in the face of evils like abortion, euthanasia, IVF;
  • just war teaching in both its jus ad bellum (when nations may go to war) and jus in bello (how war must be conducted) –even with the complexities of modern warfare;
  • principles of subsidiarity and solidarity –the social security and welfare programs;
  • a moral mandate of a just wage; the rights—and obligations—of workers generally;
  • just immigration policies;
  • rights of economic freedom/initiative and private property;
  • support for good agricultural;
  • support for good environmental stewardship;
  • rights to health care and education; fighting unjust discrimination;
  • a preferential option for the poor, elderly and chronically ill;
  • and, a reasonable consideration for international debt relief of poor nations.

One help is the concept that the US bishops place on the table: “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (FCFC, 36)

Some essays and resources to read:

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2007; updated by the US bishops)

Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for Trump?

Why I Must Oppose Donald Trump: One Priest’s Perspective

a bibliography stitched by the UND

and consult with Joseph Ratzinger’s Conscience and Truth

By what intention do we judge?

These days are tense.  We are faced with important decisions by which we engage others. At a recent memorial service for the police officers killed in Dallas, Texas, the following was said by our former President.

“At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. … Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

George Bush
former President of the USA and former governor of Texas

Queen Elizabeth at 90

Queen Elizabth and her dogsToday is Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday.

As one of the colonists, I send good wishes and prayers for  Her Majesty.

May the Virgin Mary and saints intercede for her, and the good people of the United Kingdom.

Peace and Blessings.

Christians are civilized

We do not teach in an uncivilized way, we do not pelt our enemies with insults which is what most people do, fighting not against arguments but against those who propose them; at times, too, they cover over the weakness of their reasoning with invective, like the cuttlefish who, they say, belches forth ink before itself to give its predators the slip, or to hunt without being seen. But we try to show that fighting the war on Christ’s behalf consists in fighting as Christ did—the meek one, the peacemaker, who sustains our weaknesses.”
— Saint Gregory of Nazianzus

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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