Candidates are about to spend billions of dollars carving out the time to tell us how great they are, and there’s no one we can assassinate to change the fact. So before it really starts, I want to get a solid Catholic critique of the entire scene: Our basic mode of bettering the world is backwards.
Justice is not the state of the city or nation. Justice is a virtue, the interior disposition of a particular person to give each other his due. Charity is not primarily a social activity, a non-profit institution, or an annual giving. Charity is a virtue, a mode of being, an interior disposition of a particular human being which enables him to love his neighbor. The reversal which sees charity as an institution and justice as an exterior state of affairs long before either are a way of the heart is bogus. The world is changed if hearts are changed.
It’s been said that this sort of talk suppresses action, that if the Christian were less concerned with the state of his “interior life,” with doctrine, prayer, moral quibbles, and church attendance; if he were instead concerned about the injustice outside his front door, then he would change the world, opening himself to the radical call of the Gospel. But where on earth do we think action comes from, if not from the interior person? Where does the free choice to do some good come from, if not from the will? Action bursts forth from the person like seedlings from the cool, dark earth, and it is only by plunging into this darkness of the interior life — through prayer, contemplation, and keeping the divine law — that we become effective sources of action, springs of justice, centers of right political activity and a betterment to our community. The city is restored to the precise extent that the soul, through boring-ass things like discipline, restores itself. The nation is made just to the extent that his quiet, uneventful decisions to do good and avoid evil take root and make the person just.
So it is no “call to action,” to diminish the personal cultivation of virtue in favor of exterior acts. It is a crappy anthropology, one which thinks it can have action while diminishing its source, exalting “change” without its cause. It is a perversion of effective action performed by a world which externalizes the responsibilities of the interior life, absolving us from being charitable and being just by contenting us with making charities and promoting justice. We are content with expecting from our politicians the exterior acts of goodwill and justice, which can be faked, at the expense of actual justice dwelling in the soul, which cannot be faked. Then we are surprised when they crumble under the dichotomy of their interior and exterior lives and perform this or that evil. We have developed a politics of hypocrisy, because we have separated the person from his acts and indulged the quaint, secular notion that on can “change the world for the better” without changing oneself.
So I am skeptical of any revolution that is not first a revolution of the heart, cynical of any reformation that is not directed against the only corrupted institution undoubtedly given to us to reform — our soul. Catholic social teaching starts at the locus of personality which is given to us to work on, and does not indulge the lazy, ineffective delusion that the heart is changed from the outside in.
What is true for the person in general is doubly true for the Christian. “The Christian is the soul of the world,” the animating principle, the leaven the fluffs up the whole lump. It is his duty to give the world its flavor, to be the type of seed which bears much fruit, to spread goodness, justice, and mercy wherever he is planted. The Christian is the soul of the world — the world is not the soul of the Christian. To save the world, save the Christian. To kill the world, reform it without reforming the Christian, its soul.