Monday, February 16, 2009

Subsidiarity & the Respectful Life

We saw in an earlier post, the more about the practical virtue of respect for an effective leader. To help us now understand more about the character of the respectful leader, I want to borrow a concept from Catholic Social Teaching. Specifically, I have in mind mere the principle of subsidiarity.

The entry on subsidiarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) begins by pointing out that participate in society and social groups fulfills an essential aspect of human nature even as it "presents dangers." Thinking of the political realm the authors of the CCC identify as the chief danger the "Excessive intervention by the state." Such intervention is deemed excessive when it, or has the possibility to, undermine the "personal freedom and initiative" of its citizens. The Catholic Church "has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity" specifically with an eye to offering a response to the intrusive state. Central to this articulation is the idea that "'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'" (#1883)

Moving swiftly from anthropology to theology, the CCC argues that subsidiarity in human society is a reflection of how God relates to His creation:

God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence. (#1884)

Stressing as it does the primacy of human freedom and initiative (what I would call simply, wisdom) in the structuring of our shared life, the "principle of subsidiarity" leads the Christian (and person of good will, since while grounded theologically, subsidiarity is a principle of natural law) to oppose "all forms of collectivism." Continuing, we read that subsidiarity as a principle of social organization necessarily "sets limits for state intervention" and instead leads us to work for a way of a life in which we are able to harmonize "the relationships between individuals and societies." (#1885)

While offered within the context of "establishment of true international order." (#1885), what strikes me as important for parish leadership is the argument that leaders (i.e., the "higher order") should "not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order." Instead the task, dare I say, vocation, of leadership is to serve the "common good." This service, if I've understood what I have read both in the Catechism and more generally in Catholic Social Teaching, is directed not toward the collective, but the person and what Pope John Paul II calls the "community of persons" (i.e., the family, the school, the state, the Church, etc.)

I will, in my next post, contrast the principle of subsidiarity to what I see as the more typical patterns of parochial clerical and lay leadership. Let me add, these patterns are often dysfunction, but they are also (thank God) changing.

Until then, and as always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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