Sermon at Matins on Sunday 9 August: Caritas in Veritate 2

9 August 2009 at 10:00 am

The Reverend Dr Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian

Some of us can remember the year 1967!  As one who can, it really doesn’t feel very long ago.  In 1967 I was in my first year at University.  Neither of my parents had been to university.  I was about as old as the National Health Service, which was founded in 1948 and has continued to offer me free healthcare throughout my life.  I did not have to do national service and never experienced, as did both my parents, and their parents before them, the horrors of a World War.  One of my earliest memories is watching a tiny black and white television in the local scout hut, which showed the Queen’s coronation in June 1953, on a pouring wet day, in Westminster Abbey.  How things have changed since then!  Now nearly every British home has a television, a fridge, a freezer, a computer, and central heating.  In 1967, the Cold War was at its height and the world was divided by two or three great power-blocks, and young people like me thought we would be lucky if we didn’t in our lifetime experience a nuclear war.  1968, the first year of the post-post-War era, was just round the corner.  People like me, who have lived our lives in a time of peace and a place of freedom have much to be thankful for.

What set me thinking along these lines was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s recent Encyclical Letter, Caritas in Veritate (love in truth).  You wouldn’t know from these opening words that it is actually about social and political aspects of the world we live in or, according to its official title, ‘Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth’.

I spoke last week about the way in which Caritas in Veritate is all of a piece with Benedict’s previous two Encyclicals.  The three together give us a wonderful Christian vision, which focuses on love, hope and truth.  Now the Pope has turned his attention to issues of human development.  Early in the Encyclical he pays tribute to his predecessor Paul VI, who in 1967 published an Encyclical called Populorum Progressio, the Development of Peoples.  For more that forty years this has been an inspiration to Christians involved in development work in such fields as education, healthcare and agriculture. The backdrop to what Paul had to say was the world I grew up in after the Second World War: a world of developed nations that had returned to prosperity after the War, a post-Colonial world of developing and often newly independent nations with huge hopes and huge problems; a world in which massive sums of money were being spent on the Cold War and the arms race; a world of opportunity, and a world of need.

Paul could see development racing ahead in some countries and not others.  Populorum Progressio asks what makes for healthy development, what sort of development does the world need, what should the aim be.  Paul says very clearly that economic development, growth in GDP, is not by itself enough.  ‘Development cannot be limited to economic growth’, he writes.  ‘In order to be authentic, it must be complete, integral, that is it has to promote the good of every man [person] and of the whole man [person].’  Forty years on, when we look at the way the world has developed, we can, and we should, ask ourselves, ‘To what extent has development been, in Paul’s word, ‘integral’ - for the good of every person and of the whole person?

I can see, in my own experience, how astonishing the development in the UK has been.  There has been progress here and amongst the nations over the last forty years, but can we say it has been integral: ‘for the good of every person and of the whole person?’ We may be a richer, but we are a much less equal society, and the same is true of the world as a whole.  Half the world’s population still live on less than two dollars a day, many of them in states plagued by instability, civil war and lack of functioning government – all the conditions which discourage inward investment.  In Populorum Progressio, Paul prophetically says that ‘development is the new name for peace’.  What he means is that ‘peace cannot be limited to a mere absence of war’ (which is perhaps what much of the world had been thankful for in the previous twenty years).  Now there had to be a real building of the peace, real development for the good of all, and that benefited the whole person.  This was to ask for far more than increase of wealth, growth of GDP.  It was to ask for better opportunities for all, for aid for the weak, for justice or fairness in trade relations, and for human solidarity in building a better world.  Forty years on, the vision may have taken a battering, but it is still there, adapted for the world in which we now live by Benedict XVI.

In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict shows himself much more conscious of the ambiguities of development: that in the name of ‘development’ communities and cultures can be smashed up and huge damage done to the environment.  He is aware that some people can use education for terrorist purposes, and that some reject western ideals of development altogether.  In some ways, he is more cautious than Paul.  Paul had said, ‘Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right.  No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities.’ Thomas Aquinas says no less.  Benedict is clearly responding to the current financial crisis when he talks about the misuse of finance, ‘which wreaked such havoc on the real economy’.  He speaks about ‘the need to go back to finance being an instrument directed towards improved wealth creation and development’ but he doesn’t say what to do when it isn’t.  Development, he says, is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good’.  That has to be right, and we can well ask whether such people are out there (I think they are, and some may be in here) and what part the church has to play in encouraging them and helping them in their work for the common good.

Benedict is calling all of us to think about the meaning of development, something that affects us all, whether we live in developed or in developing nations.  To take development forward, we need people who are technologically skilled, whether in agriculture, information technology or banking.  But we need these people to grasp ‘the fully human meaning of human activities’; to see what builds us up as human beings and what drags us down.  We need people who care about the environment and who think about the good of the generations that will come after us.  More than anything, Benedict, like Paul before him, believes that integral, holistic, truly human development must include an openness to God.  The sort of development which gives us everything we want materially, and more, but closes our minds and hearts to love and truth – that closes their minds and hearts to God -  is not real development at all.  Benedict challenges each one of us to think, ‘What has the development I have experienced in my lifetime meant for me? And what does the development I have experienced mean for my neighbour?  And where development has made us healthier, freer, or given us new opportunities, how, and to whom, shall we give thanks?’

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