This week we are looking at paragraphs 156-158, a short section called The Principle of the Common Good, which you can access by clicking here and scrolling down.
Paragraph 156 begins by stating, "An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment." This last little snippet of a quotation comes from Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church, written during the second Vatican Council.
Paragraph 157 underlines the necessity of respect for the human person and his or her rights, the importance of distributive justice--something that is sadly lacking in a world where 1% of the population owns fully half of the world's wealth--and society's obligation to defend and promote the common good, which I read as "the good of all."
The first line of paragraph 158 almost covers the entire point of the encyclical:
In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, locally and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.Except that common good defined this way forgets to call us to solidarity not only with human beings, but with all of creation. Yes, we need to recognize "the implication of the universal destination of the world's goods" and "appreciate the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers", but we also need to recognize that the earth and its resources belong also to the rest of creation. And the decisions we make to care for humanity must also be extended to the rest of God's creatures as much as possible.
I often wonder what the world would look like if God suddenly appeared, waved a magic wand, and distributed earth's wealth evenly to all 7.4 billion of us, plus the animals on land, in air and ocean. I suspect we wouldn't have a 125 million dollar hockey arena going up in my city's downtown, but we might have more small outdoor neighbourhood rinks where everyone could play. We might not fly around the world for tropical vacations, but maybe we'd have better transportation systems that use fewer fossil fuels to take us to visit the people we love. Would shopping malls be more important than community halls? Would terrorism be undermined by communal sharing? Who would actually be poor? (The rich and famous would be forced to live an ordinary life -- how I love that thought!) And if the common good extended not only to human beings but to all God's creatures, would we need zoos or nature reserves to protect endangered species? Would there even be endangered species?
The thing is, we can all participate in creating the common good by asking ourselves whether our actions, every day, are benefiting the earth or harming it. We won't always be able to answer that question in positive ways because many of the systems that support our present lifestyles were built to make money for consumer culture rather than to support the common good. But once we become aware of how our own lives impact the life of our planet, we can change the way we live, and encourage others to make changes too, so that the planet's wealth can be distributed more equitably to all. But first we have to tap into the power of the people.
Here's a wee example of what I'm talking about: A grocery chain decided that it would market pre-peeled oranges last week. Someone posted a picture of said oranges in their new plastic packaging on social media, and the outrage that followed convinced the store to leave the oranges "in their natural packaging -- the peel." You won't see these around any more, I hope! Plastic is one of those things that we've gotten used to having around, but the problem is that it never goes away. Orange peels don't last long in my compost pile, but every little plastic fruit sticker sticks around for ages!
There are many ways that we can foster the common good by living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the developing world through living more simply ourselves, and preserving God's creation through boycotting and protesting those things that undermine life in all forms. That's our superpower, as my kids might say.
When is the last time you let someone with power know your feelings about an issue that is undermining the common good? This week, let's challenge ourselves to write a letter or sign a petition (or talk to our local grocer) about making positive change for all, and perhaps make one step toward changing our own lives. Here are just a few possibilities... choose one, or all...
Could I take a shorter shower to conserve water?
Could I walk instead of driving?
Could I wear the same Easter outfit this year as I did last year?
Could I make and eat one more vegetarian meal this week?
Could I use my own grocery bags instead of getting more plastic from the store?
Could I buy fair trade, organic, or non-sweatshop items?
Could I go to a library instead of buying another book?
Could I grow some of my own food? Even in a little windowsill pot?
If you want more ideas, click here for other Simple Suggestions... and have a good week of considering how to simplify for the sake of the common good in your life.
Next up: #32... For the sake of future generations