John Paul II: If You Want Priestly Vocations, Reject Capitalism

John Paul II: If You Want Priestly Vocations, Reject Capitalism January 14, 2016

Pope John Paul II in Brazil in 1997. This image was originally posted to Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/John_Paul_II_Brazil_1997_3.jpg. It is used under the creative commons agreement CC BY 3.0 BR.
Pope John Paul II in Brazil in 1997. This image was originally posted to Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/John_Paul_II_Brazil_1997_3.jpg. It is used under the creative commons agreement CC BY 3.0 BR.
Surrounded by consumerism, materialism, and individualism, discerning a vocation to the priesthood becomes the anti-‘American’ option for young men.

You’ll remember our post, “If You Want Atheism, Destroy Creation, Embrace Capitalism” from last week.

It was incredibly popular with our atheist friends and our capitalist friends.

This message of this post should be implied by the first.

How can priestly vocations flourish when materialism rules the flesh, when the spiritual loses value, and where success requires alienation of self and neighbor? The Consumerism – a vice – found in (and necessitated by) capitalism is accompanied by materialism, hedonism, and individualism (a collection of “-isms”). The Consumer mentality begotten by capitalist relations prioritizes “having” over “being”.

These “-isms” are detrimental to our faith life. In different ways, the materialism, individualism, and consumerism of our capitalist society can encourage us to rationalize a partial embrace of doctrine when particular or whole portions of catholic teaching contradict our politics and ways of living. In more severe cases, the “-isms” encourage and reinforce a way of life that forgets God, the intrinsic dignity of man, and the value of all creation.

In 1937 Pope Pius XI, for example, would drop the hammer on liberal economics – that is, capitalism – when lamenting the working man’s faith in atheistic communism.

In Divini Redemptoris, he wrote

If we would explain the blind acceptance of Communism by so many thousands of workmen, we must remember that the way had been already prepared for it by the religious and moral destitution in which wage-earners had been left by liberal economics. Even on Sundays and holy days, labor-shifts were given no time to attend to their essential religious duties. (#16)

Of course time for worship is essential and the demands of our economy should leave unscathed our right to giving to God what belongs to God in the liturgy. However, society’s undervaluing of worship is one concern among many.

Saint John Paul II would note the vicious cycle found in the eclipse of the sense of God and of man. Where we lose our sense of God, we start to lose our respect for our fellow man – and often our other fellow creatures. These attitudes are crystalized in social structures when we build them into our relations with one another. Our structures, then, are built by incomplete views of God, Man, and the world, which leads to the preference for and reinforcement of these vicious “-isms”.

Drawing from Blessed Paul VI, JP II would write in Evangelium Vitae:

In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death”, we cannot restrict ourselves to the perverse idea of freedom mentioned above. We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence…

The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom 1:28). The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one’s own material well-being. The so-called “quality of life” is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions-interpersonal, spiritual and religious-of existence.

It’s simple to see how the Popes have denounced the values propagated by capitalism, as they leave no room for a recognition and appreciation of the transcendent – hence “the eclipse of the sense of God”, and the materialism, individualism, hedonism, consumerism, etc., the “-isms”, that follow.

A culture of life is undermined by the vices postulated by capitalism, the vices which give capitalism its life. As we’ve said, if you want atheism, embrace capitalism.  We’ll repeat the words of Blessed Oscar Romero, “There is an ‘atheism’ that is closer at hand and more dangerous to our church. It is the atheism of capitalism, in which material possessions are set up as idols and take God’s place.”

Not only is God forgotten in materialist societies, including capitalist ones, but many virtues are replaced by vices. We’ll touch on this shortly.

Some of us have forgotten Saint Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, released three years before Evangelium Vitae.

Pastores helps us to narrow in on the dangers of the society sold to the “-isms” of capitalism: materialism, individualism, consumerism, etc. In part of it, JP II discusses the challenges to the development of vocations to the priesthood:

The many contradictions and potentialities marking our societies and cultures – as well as ecclesial communities – are perceived, lived and experienced by our young people with a particular intensity and have immediate and very acute repercussions on their personal growth. Thus, the emergence and development of priestly vocations among boys, adolescents and young men are continually under pressure and facing obstacles.

What obstacle does JP II mention? The obstacle begotten by Capitalism, with its vices of individualism, materialism, hedonism, etc.,:

The lure of the so – called “consumer society” is so strong among young people that they become totally dominated and imprisoned by an individualistic, materialistic and hedonistic interpretation of human existence. Material “well – being,” which is so intensely sought after, becomes the one ideal to be striven for in life, a well – being which is to be attained in any way and at any price. There is a refusal of anything that speaks of sacrifice and a rejection of any effort to look for and to practice spiritual and religious values. The all – determining “concern” for having supplants the primacy of being, and consequently personal and interpersonal values are interpreted and lived not according to the logic of giving and generosity but according to the logic of selfish possession and the exploitation of others.

This alienation, as we mentioned above, which is exploitation of others, extends to the whole of human relations, including sexuality. (Perhaps then, we’ll have to allow the following: If you want a theology of the body, renounce capitalism.) JP II continues:

This is particularly reflected in that outlook on human sexuality according to which sexuality’s dignity in service to communion and to the reciprocal donation between persons becomes degraded and thereby reduced to nothing more than a consumer good.

Commodification is what capitalism does to secure the valorization, or self-expansion, of value; everything is measured according to utility and return, and then determined expendable: human and organic lives are either commodities in this materialist calculus to be bought, sold and consumed, or are seen as obstacles to one’s own pursuit of pleasure and success.

Whereas some are quick to point to girl altar servers as an obstacle to the discernment of priestly vocations, I suggest we look somewhere else.

Some who favor male-only altar serving will cite the 2015 CARA report to note that a great majority of the recently ordained were altar servers. Yet, without getting into the details of the male-only altar server proponent’s position, we should note that an even greater majority of the recently ordained’s parents were practicing Catholics. Only 4 per cent responded that neither parent practiced the faith.

Almost all (93 per cent) were cradle Catholics.

The sacramental way of life for Catholic families requires, of course, families.

Not only do our Capitalist “-isms” play their own role in obscuring our sense of God, they threaten the institution of the family.

Gilbert Keith (G. K.) Chesterton. Photo credit: Ernest Herbert Mills - National Portrait Gallery via wikipedia.org / Public Domain
Gilbert Keith (G. K.) Chesterton. Photo credit: Ernest Herbert Mills – National Portrait Gallery via wikipedia.org / Public Domain
G.K. Chesterton sums up the role of capitalism in the destruction of virtues and family life quite nicely:

It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism. No doubt it might have been Communism, if Communism had ever had a chance, outside that semi-Mongolian wilderness where it actually flourishes. But, so far as we are concerned, what has broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt, is the epoch and Power of Capitalism. It is Capitalism that has forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes; that has destroyed the influence of the parent in favour of the influence of the employer; that has driven men from their homes to look for jobs; that has forced them to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families; and, above all, that has encouraged, for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty by our mothers and fathers.

Perhaps we should take note of the world regions where capitalism is hard to find – these are some of the places that export priests to countries like our own. (We should also note how the number of Catholics in this country is sustained by pointing to the high number of immigrants who still live their faith and remain untouched by the vices of our capitalist society; however, the way we welcome and treat our immigrant brethren is another despicable tale of its own.)

It’s time to be a light in the darkness of a capitalist society. For our priests, JP II writes, “Nor should the prophetic significance of priestly poverty be forgotten, so urgently needed in affluent and consumeristic societies: ‘A truly poor priest is indeed a specific sign of separation from, disavowal of and non – submission to the tyranny of a contemporary world which puts all its trust in money and in material security.'”

But, to be honest, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many to find examples of priests living in prophetic poverty – so much for a “poor church for the poor.”

If you’re seeing a greater number of people considering themselves religious-nones, or find that the institution of the family is valued less and less,  you will probably find the destruction of creation and capitalism – the destroyer of relationships – near by, as well.

Dorothy Day in 1934. This image was originally posted to Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg. It is in the public domain.
Dorothy Day in 1934. This image was originally posted to Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dorothy_Day_1934.jpg. It is in the public domain.
The anti-‘American’ option, that is to say, the choice against the values cherished by the United States, for Catholics, is living faithfully in general, and living a sacramental life in marriage or holy orders, or both, in particular. Both nourish and give life to one another. Individualism, consumerism, materialism, the “-isms” of capitalism in the United States, reject Catholic living and viciously seek its end. If you want families, priestly vocations, mystics, solidarity, and a culture of life, you have to weaken and reverse the structures that oppose these goods. A major obstruction in our society is capitalism. In its place, for those first goods mentioned – families, priestly vocations, mystics, solidarity, and a culture of life – Christ must be proposed and made manifest in all of our social relations and structures – our politics, society, and economy.

Pope Francis said it clearly when he wrote,

The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era [that is, the value’s preferred and reinforced by capitalism,] favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds. (Evangelii Gaudium, 67)

‘Capitalism is intrinsically atheistic. Capitalism is godless…’ the Servant of God Dorothy Day would quote in the Catholic Worker in 1954. Its values contradict Human values, Catholic values. The values we propose in society cannot come from both what is capitalistic and what is Catholic.¹ As Count de la Torre explained  in L’Osservatore Romano, making plain for us the incompatibility of Catholic life and capitalism, “A marriage between the Church and capitalism . . . would be invalid according to any treatise de matrimonio on the grounds of disparities cultus.'”

Until next time,

Keith Michael Estrada

*Update at 10:34am local time on 14 January, 2016: Footnote #1 added*

¹ From the same source, we’ll find that L’Osservatore Romano considered capitalism as more hostile to Catholicism than communism; The quote from Blessed Romero above is actually better understood in its fuller context, wherein Romero considers capitalism as a greater threat than Marxism; And, of course, for those who would distinguish consumerism from capitalism – which can only happen mentally and not in the world – we’d consider the pitting of consumerism and communism when John Paul II said, “Look, I can surely say by now that I’ve got the antibodies to communism inside me. But when I think of consumer society, with all its tragedies, I wonder which of the two systems is better.” Where is consumer society begotten? In a capitalist society.

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