We all have political and social questions. In the presidential elections we have every four years, different individuals offer different solutions to these problems. This is no different in the race they are in right now. Many of these solutions range from the good to the bad to the ugly with respect to the most important issues we care about: economic and political concerns, faith, family, work, our children, morality, and many other things. Regardless of which politicians are up for election and/or re-election, regardless of what solutions they offer, there is a common and dangerous folly that many, including myself, fall into. This foolishness of looking for a “Political Messiah” as has been pointed out in a recent article published by Professor John Médaille. Médaille makes the following observations:
the mistake is simply this: to confuse the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of men … hoping for a political messiah who will bring hope and change; will make America great again, will restore our former glory, a glory that glows more brightly in the imagination than it ever did in reality…. We are looking for candidates to restore American greatness by political means—that is, by means of power—alone. And there are many willing to fulfill this role.1
This is a brilliant reflection offered by Médaille, and I would like to take the liberty to propose a solution to the political and social problem of seeking out a “political messiah”. It is a solution that is not just another economic, political, or cultural answer. It is above all a moral and religious one, a solution that I offer to any Catholic and to the people of good will who may be reading this. This is the Christian answer to political, economic and social problems, one that has taken the name of “Christian Democracy” or in other, more popular venues, “Catholic Action”.
Pope Leo XIII writes the following regarding the nature of Christian Democracy (Catholic Action):
Christian Democracy, by the fact that it is Christian, is built, and necessarily so, on the basic principles of divine faith, and it must provide better conditions for the masses, with the ulterior object of promoting the perfection of souls made for things eternal. Hence, for Christian Democracy, justice is sacred; it must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be impugned, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth. Finally, it must endeavor to preserve in every human society the form and the character which God ever impresses on it.2
Certain principles make up “Christian Democracy” and “Catholic Action”, respectively. The first as shown by Pope Leo XIII is that it is by its very foundation, based on truly Christian principles, Catholic Action upholds the fundamental belief in Christ and in His Church. Catholic Action flows from the belief that all things begin and end in God. It may then best be described by the quote that was popularized by Pope Saint Pius X; to “renew all things in Christ,” that “Christ may be all and in all.”3 As Christ says, “Behold I make all things new.”4
To achieve this, Catholic Action proposes to bring the Catholic faith to all of society and views the Catholic State as the ideal. These things are done not merely through mere political, economic, or even social means, but above all by spiritual and moral means. It professes above all things, first and foremost, that “all authority comes from God,”5 and states as the Church has often stated in many ways that the Catholic religion, which is the one true religion, as directly revealed by God, should be given full liberality and sole profession by civil society.
Based on the belief that Christ is king, both temporal and spiritual, in our private and public lives, it also affirms that only Christ can be a “Saviour”—not only politically, but spiritually—and that the saving power of Christ first begins within ourselves, in relation to Christ, as he must first be messiah of our own hearts. Once this is done and Christ is allowed to reign within us we take him everywhere we go: to our work, school, the voting booth, the political and public arena, the parish, and nearly everywhere else.
Catholic Action then becomes what it was once meant to be; not merely an individual endeavor, but a social thing. By its very nature it will go about transforming society in a truly Christian way, for example, by promoting the long neglected natural virtue of justice, by which is meant “the obligation to give all according to their due,” or go further and promote the theological and supernatural virtue of Charity, a supernatural love based on the virtue of faith, by which we love our neighbor in relation to our love of God and His love for us.
Catholic Action is the apolitical solution to a political problem. It is the Catholic faith put into social practice.
Catholic Action has always been practiced by the Church by both clergy and laity alike. It has also been practiced in a variety of ways to the benefit of society. This can be seen in the many hospices and hospitals that were created and run by the Church from the medieval ages to our present time. For example, in the great generosity of The Sovereign Military Order of Saint John (also known as the “Hospitallers”) which took care of the various pilgrims who flocked to the Holy Land. Or in the generosity towards the sick and unfortunate by “The Poor Clares” or Blessed Mother Teresa’s “Missionaries of Charity”. There is also the great educational system provided for and founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first canonized native-born U.S. citizen. This also includes the protection of the common individual against usury, the protection of the common artist, worker, the development of various guild systems, and the assistance of those in dire poverty through various mutual associations of voluntary aid.
We should then not turn to any “political messiah” or even exclusively to politics for the solution of those things most important in life. No politician or “political decision” at large will solve the political or even social problems of our day and age. I then once again propose a different apolitical solution that works only in so far as it is based on Him who can save; namely Christ and His Church. It is only through Catholic Action that we can have such real solution. A solution that truly transforms society and not merely tries to fix it or conserve it. This indeed is authentic Catholic Social Teaching and I would propose Distributism as its expression par excellence.