In these days, our first readings are taken from the Book of Macabees. They have been telling us of the encounter of the Jewish people of that age with a type of globalization – that of the Greeks who forcibly tried to assimilate the Jews to their new world order.
Each age of course is distinct. Each has its own particular lights and shadows. (And, as Pope John Paul II reminded us globalization itself is neither all light nor is it all shadow.) Nevertheless, we can see similarities between the challenges faced by the Macabeans and our own. The Greeks were insisting that the Jews adopt their ways – and their gods.
In other words, they held that the God of the Jewish, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, did not matter.
In several interventions during recent years, Pope Benedict XVI has offered a concise definition of the secularization that threatens our global society today. He said that secularization means simple to organize life – and to live – as if God does not matter.
Of course, a world that would organize itself without God ends up by organizing itself against itself. That this would be so, we Christians can derive from the Mystery of the Incarnation: God has become man; He is one of us, one with us. As John Paul II said in Ecclesia in America, Jesus Christ is the human face of God and the divine face of man.
The witness of the Christian today is simply to model a life in which God matters. And, because God matters, we are called to model a life in which man matters as well. For this reason, our witness necessarily involves commitment and work for Justice and Peace. Both are needed for human flourishing, or in the words of Pope Paul VI for the Populorum Progressio.
The Compendium of the Church’s social doctrine is dedicated to the proposition that man matters. Indeed, Catholic Social Teaching, with foundations in Sacred Scripture but also accessible to human reason, is a reasoned dialog on why this is so. Now these teachings sometimes can appear to be quite complex – and the arguments very difficult. (I know that some have suggested that reading through a papal encyclical can be a good cure for insomnia.) However, I suggest that all the Church’s social doctrine can be summarized in one simple phrase: no man is a problem.
No man is a problem. Any anthropology that would reduce the human person to being just a problem is simply a defective, an erroneous anthropology – unworthy of man created in the image and likeness of God. When we allow ourselves to think of a human being as a mere problem, we offend his or her dignity. And, when we see another human being as a problem, we often give ourselves permission to look for solutions. The tragic history of the 20th Century shows that thinking like this even leads to “final solutions”.
This is why Catholic social teachings proclaim a positive and consistent ethic of life: no man is a problem. For us, Catholics, therefore, there is no such thing as a “problem pregnancy” – only a child who is to be welcome in life and protected by law. The refugee, the migrant is not a problem. He may perhaps be a stranger but a stranger to be embraced as a brother. Even criminals – for all the horror of their crimes – do not lose their God-given dignity as human beings. They too must be treated with respect, even in their punishment. This is why Catholic social teaching condemns torture and works for the abolition of the death penalty.
Again, as I said earlier, as Christians, our witness is to model what life looks like when God matters, when man matters. You, of course, are attending this second World Congress of Ecclesial Organizations working for Justice and Peace because you are in fact convinced that both God and man do matter. As a bishop – and as a bishop from the United States – I can only thank you and your colleagues for your witness. And you know many, from your own countries and regions, whose witness also included the crown of martyrdom. This is still true today as it was true in the time of the Macabeans and in the times of St. Andrew Dung Lac and his companions, whose feast we observe today.
May the Eucharist sustain us as we continue to work for the Populorum Progessio.
Homily given by Most Rev. Thomas Wenski at Nov. 24 Mass during the 2nd World Congress of the Ecclesial Organizations working for Justice and Peace, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.