Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thinking about government and the economy

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

These are the last days of an election season that has been tough and intense — at all levels of government. And as I said in my column last week, it is always a challenge for us to keep our loyalties in line. Because, before all else, we are Catholics.

There is no area of our life that we can imagine is separated from God. We are always in God’s presence. And we are always accountable to him for our words, our actions and our intentions.God does not look at us as members of a political party or as conservatives or liberals. What God asks is that we be faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel of love. We all understand this. But in practice it is easy to forget.

I think many of the problems we see in our political life today are rooted in our society’s “forgetfulness” of God. As a society, we are becoming increasingly secularized. That means we are trying to govern ourselves and run our economy as if God makes no difference or as if he doesn’t exist.

But what we’re seeing is this: Without God, we lose our sense of common purpose. Our leaders can’t reach consensus on important issues because our society no longer agrees on shared moral values.That is at the root of our current debates about government and the economy. We don’t seem to agree any more on what government is for or what the purpose of our economy should be.

These are some of the big questions we face in this election. Our duty as Catholics and as citizens is to work with people of good will to find solutions to the challenges we face. As Catholics, we have been entrusted with the good news — that the human person is sacred and created in the image of God. It is not easy to translate this beautiful reality into policy solutions or budget proposals. But our Catholic teaching calls us to work for a government and economy that promotes the dignity and rights of the human person. It calls us to work for a society where the good things of this earth — its resources and opportunities — are considered as gifts of God to be shared by everyone.

Catholic teaching sees a positive role for both the market economy and for the government. The church sees the market economy as a powerful engine for generating wealth, freeing people from poverty and meeting social needs. But we also recognize that without ethical guidance from political authorities, the market can be exploited for selfish motives, resulting in imbalances and injustices. So we agree that government has specific duties — to protect the rights of workers, to provide a social safety net and to direct economic activity and public policy toward the common good.

On questions of government’s role in providing social assistance, sincere Catholics can have legitimate differences of opinion over how best to apply the church’s principles. There are no easy answers. But there is no question that the government has an important role to play — and so does the church, through her charities and other ministries. That is why the church is committed to always being a partner with our neighbors and our government to build a society that is more worthy of the dignity of the human person.

As we continue to seek solutions to our common challenges, we need to remain rooted in the teachings of our faith. Our Catholic vision of society challenges all of us to stretch beyond our political preconceptions and party affiliations. We need to be guided especially by the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. Solidarity reminds us that we are all in this together. Solidarity reminds us that we have a duty to build a society in which we take care of one another as brothers and sisters made by the same creator.

Our faith teaches us that we have a duty of love to care for those in need. The principle of “subsidiarity” encourages us to seek solutions at the local and even the personal level. Subsidiarity reminds us that we are not isolated “islands,” but that we depend on one another — and that all of us depend on God.

So as we prepare for these elections, let us pray for one another and for our country. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to overcome our tendencies to selfishness — so that we can love more with the heart of Jesus and work for a society that better reflects his teachings.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by and appears in The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez. 

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