Throughout the 20th century, the Catholic Church was perhaps the strongest voice in opposition to the communist regimes of the Soviet Bloc and China. For many American Catholics, the Church's opposition to communism seemed to fit well with the American embrace of capitalism. But the Church's social teaching, especially as expressed in such papal encyclicals as Rerum novarum (1892) and Quadragesimo anno (1932), has stressed the potential dangers of capitalism as well.
On Sunday, September 23, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of some of those dangers. In his homily at a Mass in Velletri, south of Rome, the Holy Father declared that "life is always a choice: between faithfulness and unfaithfulness, between selfishness and altruism, between good and evil." Moreover, he said, "no servant can serve two masters . . . you cannot serve God and wealth."
In the modern world, that requires Christians to make some hard choices:
"A fundamental decision is, then, necessary, the choice between the logic of profit as the ultimate criteria for our actions and the logic of sharing and solidarity. If the logic of profit prevails, the imbalance between poor and rich increases, as does the ruinous exploitation of the planet. When, on the other hand, the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails it is possible to alter and redirect our course towards equal development and the common good of everyone. Ultimately it is a decision between selfishness and love, between justice and dishonesty, . . . between God and Satan."
Pope Benedict continued this theme in his weekly Angelus address later that day:
"Money is not of itself 'dishonest', but more than anything else it has the power to lead man into blind selfishness. What is needed, then, is to achieve a kind of 'conversion' of economic resources: instead of using them for our own interests, we must think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ Himself Who . . . 'though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich'."
The Holy Father made it clear that he wasn't arguing against making a profit, which many would see as the fundamental element of capitalism. On the other hand, he argued, "capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization." What he is trying to stress is that economic systems are made for the well-being of man, and not the other way around. Economic "laws" are not like the law of gravity; we can change them through our actions. That, however, requires interior conversion: "the life of Christians calls for the courage to swim against the tide, to love like Jesus Who went so far as to sacrifice Himself upon the cross."
What do you think? Have Catholics become too comfortable with the idea of capitalism? Should we be reconsidering the way we make and spend our money? Join in the conversation in the Comments!