Friday, 11 March 2011

Repaying to God what is God's

The Director of Childcare - Brentwood Catholic Children's Society, Dick Madden, wrote the following in the March 2011 issue of the society's newsletter:
During the recent successful papal visit, the Pope made an inspirational speech at Westminster Hall, in which he said: "There are many areas in which the church and public authorities can work together for the good of citizens. For such co-operation to be possible, religious bodies need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles".

Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his farewell address to the Holy Father said: "The common bond of uniting is at the heart of the new culture of social responsibility we want to build in Britain. People of fatih are great architects of that new culture and crucially it is their faith that inspires them to help others"....

Though we would retain our identity, there will be more opportunities where we can explore working together or in collaboration with other organisations and charities. An example of this is that we have been successful in securing money to undertake educational and preventative work with children in East London to encourage them not to become involved with violent crimes and gang culture. Along with a neighbouring Diocese and similar charitable organisations we are being given the opportunity to seek additional government monies to expand our work in this area.
Travelling by train into London earlier this week gave me an opportunity to see the extent of the different graffiti "tags" on the walls and buildings adjacent to the rail line, clear evidence of the need for the work with regard to gang culture.

This week I also read a "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat that provided a very thought provoking commentary on the possibility of the collaboration of the Church with civil authorities. It was written by Madeleine Delbrel, writing in reference to a very different context than that which exists in Britain today, but it retains a startling relevance. I think the dichotomy between capitalism and Marxism can be seen in analogy in the contemporary politics of Britain. The added emphasis is mine, and does not appear in the original. Madeleine Delbrel's full essay can be found in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets Wm B Eerdmans 2000 pp.96-107.
We cannot allow ourselves to mix up the Good News of salvation with the various recipes for happiness bandied about by the world. We cannot allow ourselves to give credit to the world for certain key notions that are in fact segments of the Gospel that have been taken out of their context and taken over by certain sectors of society.  We cannot allow ourselves to let Christ's message be welded to other messages, making it a moment in man's salvation of man, putting the Gospel at the service of causes that are not purely and simply those of salvation.

The Gospel cries out fom one end to the other that God alone is, that the world on its own is incapable of producing life, truth, or love. The kingdom of heaven is the personal love of God, through Christ, for each one of us, and the love of each one of us for each one of the others. It is through loving each one in particular that we are able to love humanity. Each one of us is meant to receive the Gospel. Salvation is not a collective abstraction.

For its part, the world oscillates between two poles, in which "each one" is sacrificed to an abstraction: on the one hand, in practice, self-centred capitalism, for the sake of the well-being of the few, casts out all the others into a collective destitution; on the other hand, Marxism, for the sake of a collective well-being, casts out those who oppose it into another kind of destitution. In either case, then, we risk losing from view all that evangelisation and salvation have to do with the individual .....

The kingdom of God is not love of the world but love of people.
Dick Madden is quite correct in taking up the idea of working with other charities and with local/national government at the service children in need. The idea of working with young people to discourage gang adherence is, from the point of view of a Christian engagement, an expression of the love of the individual person that is the Gospel being put into practice. But does the nature of that engagement change when it is grant funded by government? Does it become - or at least risk becoming - a Catholic society being paid to carry out a function of government, and therefore allowing "Christ's message to be welded to other messages"? The answer to these questions is not by any means a straightforward "yes", and I would not want my asking them to be seen as a specific criticism of Childcare - Brentwood Catholic Childrens Society.

But Madeleine Delbrel's critique does prompt the question of whether the model of government grant funding of particular projects, which are then undertaken by a Catholic charity, is the best financial model for implementing thecollaboration of the Church and public authorities envisaged by Pope Benedict XVI. If the work of a Catholic charity is for the common good of civil society, why should government not fund that work in itself rather than tying funding to particular projects?

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