A simple way of living.
We all need it. Benedict XVI continues to be clear about that. Simple living is not for monks or priests or religious. Simple living is one of the most obvious deductions from the first three principles of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person, solidarity, and subsidiarity. Our dignity demands that its brilliance not be tarnished by too many things. Subsidiarity requires personal simplicity as the first solution to world poverty. And solidarity asks that we take on the plight of the world's poor upon ourselves. Benedict made these points nice and clear recently during his comments on the World Day of Peace. He notes:
12. If the poor are to be given priority, then there has to be enough room for an ethical approach to economics on the part of those active in the international market, an ethical approach to politics on the part of those in public office, and an ethical approach to participation capable of harnessing the contributions of civil society at local and international levels. International agencies themselves have come to recognize the value and advantage of economic initiatives taken by civil society or local administrations to promote the emancipation and social inclusion of those sectors of the population that often fall below the threshold of extreme poverty and yet are not easily reached by official aid. The history of twentieth-century economic development teaches us that good development policies depend for their effectiveness on responsible implementation by human agents and on the creation of positive partnerships between markets, civil society and States. Civil society in particular plays a key part in every process of development, since development is essentially a cultural phenomenon, and culture is born and develops in the civil sphere.
He continues to note that globalization is ambivalent as a value, and must be paralleled at all moments by a true understanding of solidarity. This solidarity must take up its roots in Civil Society, as he explains. Civil Society is often that part of a people that comes between family and government. For Hegel it is the broadest part of a nation, spanning all the interactions of people that are not directly familial or political in a strict sense. Solidarity, then, must become the new virtue of civil society. Economics can only fully function, says Benedict, when there is such a thing as a responsible human agent, acting in a responsible fashion, not only towards himself, but towards others. In other words, enlightened self-interest is not enough to make globalization more than ambivalent. Solidarity is also required, an exiting from oneself to dwell in the other.
I kind of like this image of what is means to live a simple life. It means to make another one's own home. Jesus said to dwell in him. Live in his skin. Live in him. Not just a metaphor, but also a reality to be sought. Jesus opened his flesh on the cross so that we could enter in and dwell there. So if we too are going to be able to dwell in others and allow them to dwell in us, then we must be wounded as well. We must go about building a house inside others. The reason this is not colonizing though, is because there is a two-way invitation. Simplicity of life means dwelling emotionally, volitionally, intellectually -- in other words, Personally -- in other people. They become my residence. And if I live in the skin of a poor suffering person, I will have trouble spending my money on more comforts for myself. Indeed, I will want to make my own house more comfortable; but that house is now him.
If I live in Jesus, then I spend all my time and money building my house and making it look nice. That is the Church. And the same is true of the poor. They are my home. If I look to dwell in them, I will want to improve my home. That is their lives. And I will open my flesh to allow them to dwell in me. When's the last time I opened my flesh? It should be every time I receive the Eucharist. As Jesus' body is broken, so is mine. And as I break open, others can come in. A pretty vulnerable moment. The Mass, the Eucharist, have quite a bit to say about economics and a life of solidarity.
Imagine if this understanding of solidarity was the founding principle of Civil Society.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ