The candidate for Vice President, Paul Ryan is a practicing Catholic. Media will no doubt want to know about his underlying convictions. This essay can provide insight into the man, his political persuasion within the context of his Catholic faith.
Catholicism is opposed to both socialism and unrestrained capitalism because it is in favor of community and government being balanced. It is in favor of the little guy and homegrown solutions. The Catholic faith is therefore in favor of community, but sees community as founded on personal freedom and personal responsibility.
When Catholics participate in the political process, their conversation about economic and government policy is seen through the prism of the Catholic faith. Catholicism takes care of the little guy that is in the womb to those who are taking their last breath on the planet. Catholicism also requires that people will take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
So how does the Catholic faith apply to the solutions of the day? Catholics believe that each human person is created in God’s image and is therefore created with free will. The human person has been given the power to act by the creator even if a repressive society were to try and limit his power he still has the power to be a martyr for truth. Jesus Christ handed himself over to the religious and civil authorities and demonstrated responsible freedom of choice. Likewise His followers died in the Roman coliseums of the 2nd Century and walked hand in hand with Jewish brethren into the death camps of the 20th Century.
One can not only make choices, but to follow through and take action. This personal freedom is one of humanity’s greatest potentialities and strengths. It is a gift from God. Linked with personal freedom is personal responsibility to succeed or to fail. One should never think of their lives as guaranteed even when following Christ. Following him can be dangerous. All of his Apostles were martyred except for John. But there is hope in the final outcome. The Book of Revelation summarily states that God wins!
If one would have freedom one must exercise that freedom responsibly. One must be aware of the consequences of his decisions and actions. He must weigh up the possible rewards and punishments that flow naturally from the exercise of his free will. He must weigh up how his decisions and actions influence other people and society in general. Freedom and responsibility are woven into the fabric of what it means to be human. It began in the Garden of Eden with all the gifts bestowed on the first two humans and all of the consequences when freedom was abused and man no longer really loved God. Their test was man’s love of God.
Government and business often sap the individual of both freedom and responsibility. A welfare state supports the individual-sapping him of personal freedom by making him reliant on a handout. As his personal freedom is drained, so is his need for personal responsibility. The entitlement culture prevails, and poverty is exacerbated rather than cured.
Similarly, business too, often saps personal freedom. As welfare recipients become dependent on government, so the employee can become dependent on the employer to provide everything for him and the more he becomes dependent the more his own freedom is sapped, and as his freedom is drained, so his need to take responsibility for himself is drained.
Catholics would move government or business to look for the small, local solution to the problem. For example with a Catholic understanding– health care and insurance would be provided at the state or even the local neighborhood community level. In the past a doctor would make a house call. During the depression welfare monies were handed out by neighborhood representatives because neighbors certainly knew who was in need and who was not. Neighbors knew who would be taking advantage of the welfare system. When solutions are moved to the community level then there can be a system of checks and balances. It is much more difficult for graft, corruption and insider trading to go on at a local level than at a huge corporate or governmental level. It is much easier to encourage entrepreneurship, customer service and hard work when business is done at a local level. There was a time in America when neighborhood kids were watched by the next door neighbor who reported behavior to their parents that was not proper for young gentlemen and young ladies.
Just a word about rape and incest and the proposed solution of ‘Choice’ and a subsequent abortion—It was said that Catholicism protects the unborn and the last breath of every person. The difficulty is when an injustice is done to a Catholic, how is the Catholic to respond? St. Paul states to avoid suing neighbor. Jesus said that when one takes our coat we are to give him our cloak as well. Having a child under the duress of a rape or incest is by far a demonstration of an advanced Catholic Faith—Christ calls his followers to be our neighbors’ sin bearer. The emphasis then for those that have enough grace and faith is to bring to birth the unborn child while bearing the sin and offense that was done to the woman and the woman’s family. In this light—the fault is not on the child. Grace is called upon to bear the injustice. As Jesus Christ said for man it is impossible to bear but with God all things are possible. To bear the child is the most agonizing, unfair and most distasteful because the child in the womb reminds all concerned the misuse of free will that was committed upon them. Understandably it is no wonder that Christ sweat beads of blood from his brow in the Garden of Gethsemane. The pure innocence of Jesus Christ bore the sins of not just one evil man or woman but all of the evil in the world.
The Catholic Faith recognizes that there is a proper need for the appropriate level of social organization and government. Not everything should be handled down to the lowest possible level. Good government is needed to make the right decisions for the common good. People live together in families, in communities, in parishes, in schools and in cities, states and countries. On one hand power is to be handed down to the lowest level while at the same time Catholics recognize that some power needs to be held at a higher level for the good and at the service of the lower level.
Catholicism teaches that God may have created individuals but he also put them into social groups. The first family is the Blessed Trinity and the second family is a mirror image of the Blessed Trinity namely Adam and Eve and their children. Would that all consider their families as the mirror image of God in a sacred bond of love and kinship! From the beginning God made man and woman and told them to multiply. Therefore God made the family as part of the natural order. The family is therefore the basic structure within Catholic social teaching. The family is the first location of the principle for taking care of people and things at the lowest level, and the other organizations built from that are there to serve the family. So the school, the local community, the church and the government are extended families and they exist to nurture the individual family and the whole human family.
Having said that there is a social force in American culture of late that is set on intruding its own model of what constitutes a family. To Catholics the understanding of family is the model set by God in the Book of Genesis that even Jesus verified in the Gospels. It is a mother, father and children. Mankind is made in the image of God but because God is not democratic, mankind does not get to return the favor.
The Church itself is understood as the family of God and exists at the domestic, local, national and global level. The Church family has the responsibility for one another. The Church cares for the needy, the disabled, the unborn, the unemployed, the sick and suffering is treated as would with any family member. The Gospel teaches to whom much is given much is required. Therefore, within the Church there is enshrined the idea of what might be called ‘a hierarchy of obligation’ for much who has received much is to be expected. Jesus speaks of the talents given to three different people. The one who buried his talent eventually was to relinquish it for another who would use the talent. In Catholic ethos the higher individual in power and wealth, the more he is obliged to serve those below. Catholics could never doubt the status and authority of Jesus Christ. Yet, he washed the feet of the disciples and charged them to do likewise. “He who would be great must be least.” “The first shall be last.” He lifted the disciples up so that they would lift others. Those who are receiving a helping hand are charged to help others, likewise, from whatever means they have. Even the poorest of the poor can bring a smile to another human being and fill another with hope and joy of life.
Economics and politics that are enlightened by these balanced principles should produce intelligent, humane, compassionate and realistic solutions to the nation’s problems and provide a platform from which an American Catholic like Paul Ryan will pull the lever or punch a ballot in November.