The False God of Capitalist Liberalism in Catholic Social Thought

The 2021 Benedictine College Evangelization conference topic, “Destroyer of the Gods: Christianity vs. the Idols of Secularism,” called for papers to identify the various ways “in which Christians relate to the ‘idols’ of contemporary secular culture.” Catholic social doctrine has identified the ideologies of socialism and capitalism, respectively, as major obstacles to societies where human dignity is more fully acknowledged, the state is more rightly ordered to supporting the person’s natural rights, and society is more ordered to social justice and the common good in a more harmonious way. Indeed, John Paul II, following Pius XI who critiqued the idols of nineteenth century liberalism (Quadragesimo Anno, §14), explicitly referred to the current forms of idolatry “of money, ideology, class, technology,” (Centesimus Annus §37,3) as well as of “an idolatry of the market”(CA §40,2). A few opening words on the approach of Catholic social doctrine, however, are in order.

The social doctrine of the Church is built on the truths of our faith. One such truth is the inalienable human dignity of the individual person, whom God created in the very image and likeness of God, that is, with a spiritual nature, with intellect and will—the ability to know and to love, and possessed of a social nature. Further, as Pope Leo made clear in Rerum Novarum, God created the world and intended the goods of the world to benefit all persons. (Rerum Novarum, §8) This latter tenet came to be known as the “universal destination of goods”, a phrase of the Vatican II writers of Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution of the Church (GS §69).

Following Pope Paul VI, who stressed that all social and economic rights must be subordinated to this principle (Populorum Progressio §22,1), Pope St. John Paul II terms this doctrine, that the goods of the world are originally meant for all, the characteristic principle of Catholic social doctrine. (CA §42,5) And, of course, all the popes have built on the fundamental all-importance of God’s love underlying the creation of the person and the world and of that love’s immanent necessity in the ongoing development and support of all relationships between persons, among all intermediate human associations and relationships among these and the state. As Pope Leo puts it, “For, the happy results we all long for must be chiefly brought about by the plenteous outpouring of charity; of that true Christian charity which is the fulfilling of the whole Gospel law, which is always ready to sacrifice itself for others’ sake” (RN §63).

It is a settled issue in Catholic social doctrine that the Church has dismissed the primary tenets of socialism. Pope Leo strongly denounced socialism’s condemnation of private property, including productive property, in Rerum Novarum, as a violation of natural justice and a theft of the hopes of working men, who wished to improve their station by ownership of a home and land to support the family (RN §5). The popes have condemned outright the belief of socialism that an unremitting class struggle is inherent within capitalism (RN §19, 55; CA §19,2).

Rerum Novarum is, indeed, a reformist document in pointing to the conditions for justice in production and the distribution of income based on markets. The popes have equally renounced the idea that the individual is simply the “ensemble of social relations,” molded and forged by society only (QA §118-120). The popes have consistently argued that such tenets of socialism as these, together with its avowed atheism, rob the person and society of any meaningful human dignity, acknowledge no hope of possible social harmony, and orient the state in a direction stressing force since there is no foundational basis for human rights. The condemnation of socialism and of its Marxist ideology is now a fixture in the social encyclicals and does not appear to need any further elaboration.

An active ideology most associated with capitalism continues to be that of nineteenth century liberalism. Rerum Novarum takes strong exception to the liberalism of its day, especially in its implications bearing on the condition of workers. As to the traits of liberalism, Milton Friedman, a late twentieth century advocate for nineteenth century liberalism, guides us in his Capitalism and Freedom, “the intellectual movement that went under the name of liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society.” Regarding the nation, he says that “the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them.”

Government is a means, an instrumentality only, for the nineteenth century liberal; there is no national goal or purpose except a consensus goal or goals of the individual citizens. As to the government, its power must be dispersed and limited, protecting the rights of individuals, and open to other centers of power, such as economic power, to further disperse and limit government’s power over the individual. The reason for this is that the major danger to freedom in society is the concentration of power, so government power must be limited or dispersed.

Friedman’s position is that persons have to be free to exchange goods and services and interact economically for personal gain partly because economic freedom is an essential part of the overall freedom of the person. Further, economic freedom provides the space for persons and society to thrive and flourish as long as government is limited and allows institutions and customs to develop freely, providing the space to develop the needed tools to grow and to generate the wealth to live the lives they choose.

These institutions include the political and economic institutions of a free society. Friedman held economic freedom to be a necessary condition for political freedom largely because the economic sector serves as a node of power, itself dispersed, separate from unitary political power, thus providing a refuge for ordinary people from unwarranted political intrusions into their freedom. He gives the example of the breakdown of the politically driven 1950s Hollywood blacklist of writers, where the studios, in their efforts to purchase the best scripts, hired pseudonymous writers who turned out to be the blacklisted writers, thus ending the political coercion of the writers. Economic freedom in this case helped to restore their political freedom.

As a part of Friedman’s larger story, the market itself provides protection for market participants, as well as protecting their political freedom, as just noted. Workers are protected by the market because if they believe they are being mistreated, they can always move to another employer who will treat them better and perhaps pay them more. Trying to find protection through the government simply increases the size of government and increases the reach of its power, thus diminishing the freedom of individual actors both in the market and in the political realm.

The market also protects employers because they can find different workers if their current workers are inefficient or unable to do their tasks. Lastly, the market protects consumers from high prices and poor-quality products because consumers can switch to other makers of the product, if they are dissatisfied. Given a system of law and order to prevent physical coercion by another individual and to enforce voluntary contracts, the key is to maintain competitive markets, composed of many independent buyers and sellers, so as to continue to offer choices to market participants.

The freedom to choose based on personally arrived at tastes as the driver of economic activity is fundamental for the nineteenth century liberal. An example from Capitalism and Freedom illustrates particularly well the strength of this fundamental belief. Friedman makes the case against government intervention to prevent or remedy racial discrimination by identifying such discrimination as a taste or a preference on the part of the white population. People have a right to their own beliefs and tastes and anyone entering markets makes rational decisions reflecting their beliefs and preferences. Since those discriminated against are not physically harmed or forced to enter into a contract against their free will, government intrusion into employment decisions freely made, for example, is not justified. The proper means for eliminating discrimination is free discussion to try to persuade those prone to exercise their taste to discriminate to let go of those tastes. As Friedman puts it, “Indeed, a major aim of the liberal is to leave the ethical problems for the individual to wrestle with.”

The minority worker, however, is not fully at the mercy of others’ tastes. Friedman argues that the market itself will eliminate or diminish discrimination because the market separates efficiency traits from other characteristics of the worker. Those employers who will not hire equally qualified minority workers will lose out to employers who do hire the lower paid minority workers, and they will either lose business or begin to hire minorities themselves. In this way, the operation of the market will aid free discussion as a means to end discrimination over time. However, please note that the impact of the dominant market’s enforced tastes on the dignity of the members of the group discriminated against is not considered in the presentation of this strength of the market, which may take quite a lengthy time to unfold.

Pope Leo was not persuaded by the arguments of the liberalism of his day, especially regarding the wage system. Here is his description of the existing system:

Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent, and therefore the employer, when he pays what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond. The only way, it is said, in which injustice might occur would be if the master refused to pay the whole of the wages, or if the workman should not complete the work undertaken; in such cases the public authority should intervene, to see that each obtains his due, but not under any other circumstances (§43).

Leo did not deny the worker’s freedom to enter into a work contract with the employer. His objection was that the wage contract itself did not protect the inherent dignity of the worker and hence his ability to support an honorable family life. He spoke in no uncertain terms:

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice (§45).

Leo continued on the issue of wages. With regard to wages especially, the worker had the “natural right to procure what is required in order to live, and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work” (§44). He did not hesitate to proclaim that a just wage be sufficient to support a family in frugal comfort and to gain some productive property; this wage should be attained with the support of worker societies or boards, with the state acting as a final support, should the situation require it (RN §45). 

Pope Leo deplored the absence of a “protective organization” for workers since the collapse of the guild system of the prior century, “Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition” (§3). For his part, Friedman decried the guild system. In his view, its demise was necessary for the rise of labor markets based on the contract system, necessary for freedom, in Friedman’s view. Leo XIII’s conclusion, however, was that workers in the nineteenth century were left without protection, the market itself providing none.

With these steps, Leo attacked head-on the view that the person is merely an individual who can make a contract to work regardless of consequences to one’s dignity, to one’s familial and societal obligations, and to his spiritual obligations to God. He went into great detail outlining the duties of employers and of workers. A close examination of those enumerated duties reveals Leo’s view of social and economic life and what he wanted as a standard for living a just social and economic life. Essentially, he believed that the social question was a spiritual matter and would not, could not, be resolved until all the economic, political, and social actors acknowledged the primacy of our spiritual nature in living all aspects of our lives. This includes the physical and material aspects of our lives, for we must preserve and sustain our lives, but we must do so in a fulfilling way, that is, in a way that supports our final spiritual end of knowing and loving God and others.

Leo insisted that the employer “respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character” (RN §20). He spelled out the spiritual and moral duties for them: What was due to the worker was that the employer not misuse people or value them solely for their physical powers, a practice he viewed as “truly shameful and inhuman” (RN §20); that he keep in mind religion and the good of his soul, ensuring the worker had time to meet his religious duties; that the employer not expose them to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions nor lead them away from home and family, nor to squander their earnings. The employer was not to use them in work unsuited to their sex and age, nor to tax workers beyond their strength, always providing for necessary rest.

Most of all, the employer was to give them what is just, especially taking care not to pressure the indigent and destitute for the sake of gain, nor to gather profit from the need of another. He was not to defraud them of wages, nor cut down wages by force or by usurious dealings because of his vulnerable position; his slender means should be accounted as sacred (RN §20). The duties of the worker were essentially to freely and equitably perform the work agreed to, not to injure the person or property of the employer, never to resort to violence in pursuit of their cause, not to riot and not to deal with men of evil principles who urge strife and conflict (§20).

A vitally important issue for Leo was that of intermediate organizations, which can provide the necessary aid to the person who needs the support of others in life. He discusses human associations, or intermediate organizations, extensively in Rerum Novarum. His essential argument for them is that the person is social by nature and therefore has a natural right to form and join such private associations (RN §51). In the words of John Paul II,

According to Rerum Novarum and the whole social doctrine of the Church, the social nature of man is not completely fulfilled in the State, but is realized in various intermediary groups, beginning with the family and including economic, social, political and cultural groups which stem from human nature itself (CA §13,2).

We have a corresponding natural right to form and join many forms of intermediate organizations for support, and the public authority may not forbid the person from joining such a society, for one of the primary duties of the public authorities is to protect natural rights, not prohibit them (RN §51). In particular, labor unions, associations of workers, can be particularly helpful in protecting workers from mistreatment in helping to attain higher wages. Leo believed that workers and employers could do much to solve the social question via this particularly important association, one which would not overly involve the government in the affairs of employers and workers (RN §48).

For Friedman, it is simply a choice to join such associations, a choice made by an individual to join with others in the pursuit of their particular goals. A worker association is, however, a monopoly and will interfere with the operation of the market to allocate resources and goods and service, resulting in waste, inefficiency and diminished growth of prosperity. Workers’ associations were not welcome in the nineteenth century liberal ideology, as noted in the 1931 social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno. Pope Pius XI reviews the situation of 1891:

For at that time in many nations those at the helm of State, plainly imbued with Liberalism, were showing little favor to workers’ associations of this type; nay, rather they openly opposed them, and while going out of their way to recognize similar organizations of other classes and show favor to them, they were with criminal injustice denying the natural right to form associations to those who needed it most to defend themselves from ill treatment at the hands of the powerful (QA §30).

In a related vein, should there be any expectations that a business enterprise exhibit social responsibility of any kind, including the provision of benefits to workers not required by the labor market, Milton Friedman is clear from the viewpoint of the liberal ideology (in his Capitalism and Freedom):

This view shows a fundamental misconception of the character and nature of a free economy. In such an economy, there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud . . . Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This is a fundamentally subversive doctrine.

Clearly, for Leo, the government plays a different role than it does under liberalism, as espoused by Friedman. Any legitimate public authority participates in the authority of God in its following the natural law, itself necessary for governing and operating as a moral force with authentic authority, and hence plays a critical goal in guiding the common good and in protecting the natural rights of persons (RN §32). With regard to the social question, the public authority definitely plays a positive role in upholding the person in both their individual and social dimensions. Leo elaborates:

Whenever the general interest or any particular class suffers, or is threatened with harm, which can in no other way be met or prevented, the public authority must step in to deal with it . . . If strikes threaten the public peace, if among the working class the ties of family life are in danger, if religion suffer among workers due to too rigorous a work schedule, if there are dangers to the morals or harmful occasions of evils at work, if the burdens on workmen are unjust or demeaning of human dignity, if excessive labor endangers health, or if work is unsuited to sex or age, it is right to invoke the aid and authority of the law. However, the principle of intervention is that the law must only be enough to “remedy the evil or remove the mischief (RN §36).

Although Leo justified government action to support workers when needed, he believed that the foremost duty of the rulers of the state was to ensure that “the laws and institutions, the general character and administration of the commonwealth, shall be such as of themselves to realize public well-being and private prosperity” (RN §32). In that way, “the more that is done for the benefit of the working classes by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to seek for special means to relieve them” (RN §32).

The laws, for example, should forestall strikes by lending “their influence and authority to the removal in good time of the causes which lead to conflicts between employers and employed (RN §39). Further, the laws should favor ownership, “We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (RN §46).

We have seen that Pope Leo speaks strongly and directly against the policy agenda of nineteenth century capitalist liberalism. Over seventy years later, Pope Paul VI states well the position taken by the popes toward the issues associated with capitalist liberalism:

However, certain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations (PP §26,1).

St. John Paul II addresses the social question in terms of Leo’s 1888 encyclical on liberty, Libertas: “Indeed, what is the origin of all the evils to which Rerum Novarum wished to respond, if not a kind of freedom which, in the area of economic and social activity, cuts itself off from the truth about man?” Pope Benedict proceeds in the same vein about modern technology, an offshoot of the market: “Produced through human creativity as a tool of personal freedom, technology can be understood as a manifestation of absolute freedom, the freedom that seeks to prescind from the limits inherent in things.” In critiquing the “technocratic cultural perspective,” he states, “The ‘technical’ worldview that follows from this vision is now so dominant that truth has come to be seen as coinciding with the possible. But when the sole criterion of truth is efficiency and utility, development is automatically denied” (CV §70).

At this point, it is clear that Christian freedom and the freedom of capitalist liberalism are two different matters. Some discussion of the two freedoms is called for. In his 1888 encyclical, Libertas, Pope Leo XIII criticizes liberalism for elevating false liberty to the same status as true liberty. True liberty exists when a person is able to pursue the goods necessary to the attainment of one’s nature, that is, the pursuit of those objects which lead the soul to God (L §15; L §30). The false liberty of capitalist liberalism, on the other hand, exists when a person is able to pursue any good, however that good is discerned, and whether it follows right order or not.

As we have seen, for Friedman, these ethical issues are to be left to each individual to decide upon. Both the true liberty of Christianity and the false liberty of capitalist liberalism require freedom from obstacles to the attainment of their respective goods. Leo sees the obstacles to false freedom as anything standing in the way of attainment of the good, whatever the good is and however that good is decided upon and chosen by the person. For Christianity, the chief obstacle to the pursuit of the proper good is sin, which stands as an obstacle to the use of freedom to attain one’s final end of a loving union with God as well as any goods of the world which would meet one’s basic needs in pursuit of that ultimate goal. It is in this sense that Leo believes that the pursuit of false freedom opens the doors to social evils, for when the ethical decision is left to the individual, every person is the law to themselves and is left to make their own distinction between good and evil. Standards for respecting the inherent dignity of the person fall by the wayside when neither natural law nor divine law remain as a moral guide (L §15).

Then-Cardinal Ratzinger dwells on the nature of Christian freedom in the 1986 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, in pointing to the salvific dimension of freedom as the most basic dimension. For the Christian, freedom from the bondage of evil and sin are bought for us by the Incarnation and Redemption of Jesus Christ. Our acceptance of the word of God and the sacraments gains for us the freedom to do good by the necessary support of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the intellect and strengthens the will. Hence, we are enabled to see and to live more fully the truths of our faith. In Ratzinger’s words, “Liberation for the sake of a knowledge of the truth which alone directs the will is the necessary condition for a freedom worthy of the name” (Instruction §25, 26). It is in this way that Christian freedom is the freedom to do good. It is the freedom to fulfill our vocation to know and love others, to take the truths of our faith into all the arenas of our life and to live our Christian vocation fully in our family, society, culture, politics, and economy.

John Paul points us toward the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as showing us the true path of freedom: “The Crucified Christ reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; he lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom” (Veritatis Splendor §85). Contemplation of this gift by Jesus of his life, freely given, as an act of love and faith,

Is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one’s brethren. Communion with the Crucified and Risen Lord is the never-ending source from which the Church draws unceasingly in order to live in freedom, to give of herself and to serve (VS §87,2).

He summarizes it thus, “Jesus, then, is the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God. His crucified flesh fully reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth, just as his Resurrection from the dead is the supreme exaltation of the fruitfulness and saving power of a freedom lived out in truth” (VS §87,4), Christian freedom finds its roots in the truth about the free gift of self in the act of Redemption by Jesus on the Cross.

John Paul makes a clear statement about our use of freedom in Veritatis Splendor: “Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness” (VS §72,1). In Redemptor Hominis, he makes a crucial point regarding our interest in this paper in stating:

This difficult road of the indispensable transformation of the structures of economic life is one on which it will not be easy to go forward without the intervention of a true conversion of mind, will and heart. The task requires resolute commitment by individuals and peoples that are free and linked in solidarity. All too often freedom is confused with the instinct for individual or collective interest or with the instinct for combat and domination, whatever be the ideological colors with which they are covered. Obviously these instincts exist and are operative, but no truly human economy will be possible unless they are taken up, directed and dominated by the deepest powers in man, which decide the true culture of peoples. These are the very sources for the effort which will express man’s true freedom and which will be capable of ensuring it in the economic field also (§16,7).

A principal danger of the nineteenth century liberal ideology is that it appeals directly to a fundamental inclination of the person, that of pursuing our own desires and will, not those of God. Cardinal Ratzinger explains:

Such is the profound nature of sin: man rejects the truth and places his own will above it. By wishing to free himself from God and be a god himself, he deceives himself and destroys himself. He becomes alienated from himself. In this desire to be a god and to subject everything to his own good pleasure, there is hidden a perversion of the very idea of God. God is love and truth in the fullness of the mutual gift of the Divine Persons. It is true that man is called to be like God. But he becomes like God not in the arbitrariness of his own good pleasure but to the extent that he recognizes that truth and love are at the same time the principle and the purpose of his freedom (Instruction §37).

Another way we encounter this false freedom is that capitalist-liberal ideology also appeals directly to our concupiscent nature, that is, our love of ease and comfort. Most people likely do not see this love of comfort as posing a great problem, but John Paul, Benedict and Francis see this desire as the force behind consumerism and environmental destruction. (CA §37,1; CV §51,1; LS §219, 232) Recall that consumerism for John Paul is one of the two forms of alienation in modern capitalism, where persons are caught up in webs of superficial gratifications; he links consumerism to the ecological problem through the anthropological error of ignoring God’s gift of the environment, his plan for it, and making arbitrary use of the earth. We also encounter it at work when we treat workers as secondary to production or efficiency or profits. (CA §41,2)

By ignoring the God given requisites of the earth, “man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.” (CA §37,1) Note that whether through pride or through the constant seeking of comfort and profit-driven efficiency, we arrive at an arbitrariness in our use of freedom from not following God’s plan for us and for the world.

We may conclude that capitalist liberalism is an ideology, a false god. Catholic social doctrine is not an ideology. Liberalism is a partial representation of the truth posing as a full representation of the truth while Catholic social doctrine is a true and full representation of the person with the full panoply of deepest human traits and needs. It is based on an adequate anthropology, if you will. It is clear that Catholic social doctrine requires an entirely new mindset, removed from ideologies, for capitalism to be a social and economic formation that provides a more just social order, according full dignity to everyone, in pursuit of the true common good and allowing for the exercise of authentic freedom.

Following the critique of liberalism by the popes has brought us to the point where liberalism’s freedom is revealed as a false freedom, posing as a person’s true end. True freedom, however, is fully in service to our true end, a loving spiritual union with God, other persons and all of creation. To acquire true freedom requires, we have learned, the true gift of self to God and others, a sacrifice by which we share in the sacrifice of the Cross. This ongoing sacrifice, accomplished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, must be at the center of our spiritual lives. The message of Catholic social doctrine is that our spiritual life and pilgrimage in Christ must guide us in all the human dimensions of our lives, personal, familial, cultural, social, economic, and political.

It is necessary to view capitalism as a social, economic and political formation which is profoundly powerful because it triggers our hopes, dreams and aspirations and directs the use of our freedom toward fulfilling our immortal and deepest spiritual longings in the individualistic and materialistic realm that is the world of markets. It is, as such, prone to exploitation by the nineteenth century liberal capitalist ideology. John Paul is so aware of the dangers that he had difficulties even with the name “capitalism,” for the term itself risks emphasizing the dominance of capital over labor (Laborem Exercens §7,3). Rather, he preferred that the terms “business economy,” “market economy,” or “free economy” be used instead to describe a system where economic freedom at its core is ethical and religious and is circumscribed within a strong juridical framework placed “at the service of human freedom in its totality” (§42,2).

He is well aware that the world of markets allows opportunities and even incentives for the practice of virtues necessary for social and economic life (CA §32,3) However, any praise that he gives to markets is closely followed by his assessments of the dangers of markets, even to the point of warning of the possible idolatry of markets (CA §40, 2). The practice of Christian freedom in a world of markets must be accompanied by an ongoing gift of self. For John Paul, this means the giving up of a lifestyle of comfort and established structures of power (CA §58,1) and the adoption of a lifestyle of moderation, sustainable within the limits given to us by God in his gift of the world.

The social encyclicals contain within themselves, whether explicitly or implicitly, spiritual programs for us which are in line with our willingness to walk the way of the Cross with Christ and with the message of the particular encyclical. Such spiritual programs can provide concrete guidance for the work of adopting a new mindset and new sustainable lifestyles. A reading of the social encyclicals of the last three popes can help to point us in new directions. For John Paul’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, our spiritual life is to guide our lives away from the all-consuming drive for profit and the thirst for power at any cost, which he regarded as the two major structures of sin in modern social and economic life, toward the gift of self and life of service toward others in need of help in pursuing their full development.

Pope Benedict in Caritas in Veritate also provides us with a model for this spiritual journey. In his critique of modern economic life, he identifies isolation, alienation, self-sufficiency, ideology, and illusion as causes of underdevelopment of the person, in rich and poor nations alike. He urges us toward living a life where we move from isolation to communion with others, from self-sufficiency to solidarity, and from ideology and illusion to the reality of living God’s plan for us (§101-105).

Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’—stressing the environmental dangers posed by modern economic life—urges us on a journey from consumption to sacrifice, from greed to generosity, and from wastefulness to a spirit of sharing in our decision about lifestyles (§9). These spiritual journeys, the ongoing work of a lifetime, lived out in every concrete situation of our lives in the cultural, social, economic and political dimensions, with the active support of the Holy Spirit, the Church, our families, friends, co-workers and all other supporters, provide us with indispensable means for a proper use of our freedom to thrive spiritually, and to discover and live out the solutions to the social question.