Tuesday, June 14, 2005


In Defense of "Cruise Ship" Spirituality

In the past few years, Catholic apostolates such as apologetics organizations like Catholic Answers and Envoy Magazine, and Catholic singles groups like Ave Maria Singles and CatholicSingles.Com have hosted cruises, providing a vacation option for like minded Catholics.

This has drawn the ire of certain Catholics denouncing it as "cruiseship spirituality". One would wonder why, unless they see Catholics taking vacations and choosing a cruise as a vacation option as spiritually harmful. Along these lines, one would also wonder what in the world is wrong with Catholic apostolates providing Catholics an opportunity to take these vacations in a Catholic environment that helps better form their minds and souls (and maybe meet that special someone in the cases of the singles apostolates).

The response of the "more altruistic-than-thou" peanut gallery would be that such folks are "taking apologetics tours while the poor suffer". Sigh! First of all, how is the suffering of the poor alleviated by people not going on cruises? I don't think the poor are so steeped in self-pity so as to expect people to stop taking vacations because of their woes. Blessed Mother Teresa once said that, "[t]he poor do not want your pity; they want your understanding."

Secondly, those who wring their hands about many Catholic apologetics apostolates not having "an active heart for the poor" fail to understand that the poor are helped not only by assistance vis-a-vis the soup kitchen and homeless shelter, but also by providing them the opportunity to make a livelihood for themselves by placing their talents and labor at the service of others.

As one who has taken a few cruises myself (mea culpa, mea culpla, mea maxima culpa), I have noticed that many of those working on these cruise ships come from poor countries and poor circumstances. Working in the cruise ship industry give them a chance at a better life by earning more than they ever would in their own countries. And the opportunity to travel afforded by the industry enables these people to expand their cultural horizons.

On the last cruise I took, I remember having a conversation with a cheerful young man from Honduras who worked as a waiter in one of the main dining rooms. Being the inquisitive (ok nosy) type, I asked him how he liked his job. He responded by enthusiastically stating that he enjoyed his job very much and how it enabled him to support his family.

So how does the "cruiseship ship" spirituality leave the poor out in the cold, again?

Of course, underlying this hostility exhibited by these "more compassionate-than-thou" Catholics is the presumption that those of us who enage in "cruise ship" spirituality from time to time don't engage in the corporal works of mercy toward the poor in either soup kitchens or other venues of the kind. This is quite a presumption considering the fact that those make these criticisms have no way of knowing whether or not those they are criticizing do such works or not.

The fact of the matter is that many of those who take part in these cruises, whether as vacationers or as those involved in hosting the cruises have assisted the poor by either educational outreach, volunteering in kitchens and homeless shelters or by fighting it out in the trenches of the pro-life movement opening up their homes to women choosing life for their babies in the face of difficult circumstances, often making great sacrifices to do so.

Many of those who use the poor as a weapon against the "rich" are often those that as Fr. Neuhaus says are "in love with being in love with the poor and suffering." Their sense of worth seems to depend upon the poor remaining such and therefore always dependent on them. This is not love. It is tyranny of the worst sort.

The soup kitchen and the market are not meant to be enemies, but collaborators serving the common good. And "cruise ship" spirituality is a part of it.

For further reading:

Live Simply? Live Shrewdly
By Donna Doornik

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Blessed Are They The Poor in Spirit: A Catholic View of Economics

In worldly affairs, there are few issues that are given greater importance than that of economics. After all, without money one cannot do too much. The outcomes of elections are normally determined more by economics than any other single issue. As the phrase coined by Clinton operative James Carville in 1992 says, “ It’s the economy stupid.”

A close observance of the influence of economics will reveal that its importance is more than superficial. Economic activity, commonly understood as the means through which goods and services are exchanged, is a part of man’s social nature, and thus a part of human nature. Therefore, in order to achieve true economic prosperity, not just superficial appearances of it, it has to be conducted in a manner that adheres to the truth of human nature.

Since it is her duty to bear witness to Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of the truth of God and man, the Catholic Church views the issue of economics as one of paramount importance, as Sacred Scripture and Catholic social teaching attests.

In describing the nature of the Kingdom of God, Jesus often uses stories of a business or an economic nature as an illustration (e.g. The story of the talents etc.).

The scripture passage that best reflects the paradigm through which the truth of economic activity is to be seen is the first beatitude: “ Blessed are they the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. “ Although it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, this first beatitude has profound economic implications. What Our Lord is saying here is that regardless of personal wealth and stature, or lack thereof, our entire existence is equally dependent upon God, thus making us all equally poor in His eyes, and he who recognizes this fact and lives his life accordingly, is blessed indeed.

It is in the recognition of his poverty before God that man recognizes his own abilities. In his dependence on the Infinite Creator, man discovers his own creative powers. This is the taproot of all true economic prosperity.

In this light, the evangelical counsel of poverty is not a repudiation of economic progress, but a necessary element of it. By renouncing attachment to material wealth, the evangelical counsels bear witness to the fact that economic prosperity is man’s servant, not his master. It also places greater trust in it by making itself dependent on its generosity. For example, convents and monasteries, whose duty it is to bear witness to the gospel in a special way, require monetary assistance in order to function.

Man’s recognition of his poverty before God is also the basis of true human equality. Failure to recognize this fact as the foundation of human equality leads to a false sense of equality that is materialistically rooted as opposed to an ontological (that is of being) equality rooted in creation.

This is precisely why the Church has always rejected Marxism, Socialism, and Communism. Pope Pius XI succinctly sums up the Catholic view of socialism in his well known statement: “...no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno n. 120) These philosophies, because they are Atheistic in nature, deny that the human person is made in the image and likeness of the Infinite Creator, which as a result, distrusts man’s own free initiative and creative ability. In fact, when anyone asserts the natural God-given rights of the individual, which calls forth this free initiative and creativity, he is treated as a criminal in a socialist system. This view reduces man to mere economic commodity to be bought, sold, and used as a cog in the machinery of totalitarianism as opposed to a person freely placing his talent and ambition at the service of the common good. Pope John Paul II affirms this when he says: “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.” (Centesimus Annus n. 13)

The economic destruction resulting from the socialist ideology have been clearly played out in the drama of history starring Communist Eastern Europe with Communist China and Cuba as co-stars. Furthermore, let us not forget the cameo appearance of the socialism of Nazi Germany.

But the socialist ideology is not always so overt. The more subtle forms of socialism such as the liberal welfare-state take over through an incremental usurpation of freedoms and responsibilities. Pope John Paul II addresses the issue of the Welfare State (which he refers to as the Social Assistance State) in this fashion: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (Centesimus Annus n. 48)

The enormous increase in spending that accompanies this bureaucratic stranglehold necessitates a confiscatory taxation that targets especially those in the higher income brackets, those whose entrepreneurial efforts are essential to the economic well-being of any community. This in turn creates an insidious class warfare that pits labor against capital—as though the two were intrinsically opposed to one another. Unfortunately, the pro welfare state neo-socialist liberals have been very effective in convincing all too many people that this false dichotomy actually exists. Furthermore, because this form of socialism works in tandem with a philosophy of moral relativism that is able to cloak totalitarianism in the language of freedom and individual rights, it is more dangerous than the more overt forms of socialism. In some cases, this has also been cloaked in Catholic sounding language, such as the ”Liberation Theology “ that has run rampant in much of Latin America and has had its devastating effects in the United States as well.

Misunderstandings about the meaning of the free market and abusive forms of capitalism such as the laissez faire economic system that was in place in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries have contributed to the rise of modern socialism. Because of the damage wrought by these abuses, socialism is mistakenly seen by many as the solution to the problem.

The survival of the free market depends upon adherence to the truth of God and the human person. Economic activity that does not place itself at the service of the intrinsic dignity of human life, from the moment of conception to the time of natural death, is doomed to failure. History could not be anymore clear about this.

By virtue of this fact, it is a self-contradiction to be in favor of a free market economic system and the legal sanctioning of abortion at the same time. Life is man’s greatest economic resource, when we give it we receive it in abundance and when we destroy it we gravely threaten economic well-being. For example, if the mothers of Einstein and Bill Gates decided to abort them while they where still in-utero, the world would not have benefited from their genius. Every new life that is conceived brings with it another set of unique ideas—ways of cultivating resources that have not been thought of before.

The genius in the cultivation of resources and economic success finds its fulfillment in the preferential option for the poor. A society whose economic activity is exclusive to anyone because of race or social class cannot truthfully claim economic prosperity despite superficial appearances of it. In ignoring the poor, society not only fails in its duty to help those in need, but also deprives itself of the beneficial contribution of ingenuity that is gained by those who, through their circumstances, have discovered ways to make astoundingly productive use from the most meager resources. Growing up in a large blue-collar family myself, I know first hand how to make abundances from the scantiest of means. This sort of ingenuity has been the hallmark of American economic prosperity. We have seen immigrants come to this country with nothing more than faith in God and gratitude for their freedom build economic empires. The preferential option for the poor is not a political play toy exploiting the needy by creating an unhealthy dependence on government programs nor is it “...exclusive or discriminatory toward other groups”, (Centesimus Annus n 57), but a recognition that the economic chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

It is in the service of the truth of the human person that governments place its powers in the socio-economic sphere. It is the duty of the government to protect economic freedom by laying down a firm institutional framework within which it is to operate. After all, freedom, especially in the context of economics, cannot be sustained in anarchy.

By the same token, the necessary involvement of the government has its limits. Failure to recognize these limits reflects a total misunderstanding of role of the government in the socio-economic area. These misunderstandings manifest themselves in ways that are not without detrimental effects as history and recent events clearly bear witness to.

By accepting our poverty before God and making the most of the gifts he gives us, we ensure true economic success regardless of our income level. We can then say with St. Paul: “ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

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