2402. In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.
2403. The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or
gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal
destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires
respect for the right to private property and its exercise.
In this novena we approach Our Lady of Perpetual Help, together with St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise Marillac, in prayer for justice regarding the distribution of the Earth's goods, for there are many sins against this bedrock principle of Catholic social teaching. Across the world, land is stolen from the poor, and concentrated in large land holdings by clever operators able to corrupt and manipulate government authorities for private gain. Globalization, together with policies enforced on poor countries by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, encourage and funds this process. Food is grown for export to the rich, while economic disincentives are put in place that discourage growing food for domestic consumption by the poor.
The number of people displaced by such arrogant and coercive policies numbers in the hundreds of millions worldwide. Their need is great, their poverty a result of the theft of the productive assets of the poor by the rich and powerful. This is not just rhetoric; this is fact. It goes on every day, in ten thousand different locations around the globe.
Along the way, we hear a lot about the "sanctity of property rights," but somehow, the property rights that are sacred are always the property rights of the rich. The property rights of the poor obviously count for nothing in our new high-velocity global economy. Traditional arrangements going back hundreds and even thousands of years in some areas are rudely brushed aside by the clever manipulation of due process and legal systems and thus the poor are displaced. The "commons" is enclosed to benefit the rich, feeding an ever-growing world urban proletariat that is often coercively and legally prevented from bettering their economic situation.
In the context of US politics, we often hear the rich cry out about the "injustice" of income taxes and such which fund means-tested poverty programs. They loudly claim a property right to their income. But I must ask them: how much of that income is derived from their theft of the productive assets and opportunities of the poor? How many minimum wage workers fed their greed? How many clever legal and due process strategies were employed to pad the bottom line? How many jobs were destroyed? How many propaganda vehicles were deployed to hide the land and money grab? How many homes of poor people were wrecked to make way for playgrounds for the rich and powerful?
Why is it that the top 20 percent of households is seeing real gains in income, while the bottom 20% are seeing real losses or stagnation in household income? Why are so many low-income housing units being destroyed -- not by "pure market forces", but rather by politicized and corrupted market actors?
This week we go to two of the major saints that can be considered as patrons of the concept of justice in the distribution of earthly goods: St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise Marillac. They lived 350 years ago, but their influence continues today in the many lay and consecrated religious apostolates that grew from their ministry. In all of these activities, the emphasis is on solidarity with the poor. The St. Vincent de Paul circles are among the major world apostolates that pursue justice in the distribution of the Earth's goods.
It is said that the poor will always be with us, this is because the selfishness and greed of the powerful will always be with us. Thus, our need for the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is great.
The Work of Justice and Peace we consider this week relates to reconciliation, evangelism, catechesis, and orthopraxis. The spiritual needs of the poor are as great as their material needs. Those who desire to be in solidarity with the poor need to remember that there is a connection between the spiritual and material needs of the poor; in the absence of justice, spirituality can help people bear the injustice and find ways to oppose it and increase the justice and compassion in a society. There are those who would set justice and spirituality as opposites, as though to embrace one is to reject the other. This is a perennial temptation of the "left" and the "right", both in terms of Catholic Church politics and secular worldly politics. The call to separation, to either-or in this area must be resolutely resisted because it is a trap and snare of the devil that is set to confound the Word of God in the world. Hand out Rosaries, YES!, but also give bread. Dig wells -- and build churches. Establish schools -- and train catechists and evangelizers.
Works of Justice and Peace
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