What do John Philip Souza, the guy who created the Flintstones cartoon, and Orson Welles have in common? Well, they were all human persons created in the image and likeness of God just like you. So I guess you have the same thing in common with them.
It may seem silly, but solidarity begins just there, right at the realization that we all share a certain fundamental dignity and that this dignity translates into an adamantine connectedness between us all. Solidarity is one of the most commonly mentioned principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and Blessed John Paul II once compared it to interdependence, which could be explained away as the bleeding heart liberalism of a beatnik pontiff, or – more accurately I would say – as the realization that no man is an island and that the self-made-man is a myth.
The late, great Holy Father describes solidarity as a virtue, as a social virtue. It requires, then, that we practice at it. This is why, as I wrote in my post on Friday, Catholic Social Doctrine is not just doctrine but also “a way.” This is why the Catechism states, “This teaching can be more easily accepted by men of good will, the more the faithful let themselves be guided by it.” It’s a notion as old as Aristotle: virtues require practice.
In Solicitudo rei socialis, the encyclical with perhaps the clearest articulation of solidarity, we find Blessed JP2 write,
This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.
That last phrase is jolting. “We are all really responsible for all.” It ought to be distressing, but it is the truth for the Christian, and it is a truth that we are invited into with astonishing results whenever we receive the Eucharist…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
If you’ve never read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I would consider it one of the more important books in my life. Do read it if you can. If you’ve already read it, then you may recall Fr. Zosima, who recounts his conversion story beginning with his older brother, who was something of a rake and an atheist. The brother came ‘round in the end though as he became very ill:
To the servants who entered his room, he kept saying, ‘Why must you wait on me like this, my dear friends? Do you really think I deserve to be waited on by you? If God spares me for now and I go on living, I’ll wait on you too, for we should all wait on each other.”
Mother listened to him, shaking her head. ‘It’s your illness that makes you talk like this, my dear.’
‘My dearest, beloved mother,’ he said, ‘since it is impossible to do without masters and servants in the world, let me also be a servant to my servants, just as they are to me. And I’ll tell you also, mother dear – we are all guilty toward others and I am the guiltiest of all.’
That made even mother laugh. ‘I would like to know,’ she said, laughing and crying at the same time, ‘how you can be the guiltiest of all? With all the thieves and murderers, what have you done to accuse yourself like this?’
‘Mother, my own dear blood’ – he sometimes used the most peculiar endearments – ‘my own dear blood, my sweet joy, know that this is the truth and that every one of us is answerable for everyone else and for everything. I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I feel it so strongly that it hurts.’
Solidarity is not just about the care of the socio-political realities of people in the here and now. That’s the too dangerous game in which many in the social justice crowd engage. To be in solidarity, for them, means getting involved in social action against “the man.” What are often ignored are the cultural and spiritual needs for the human person.
Perhaps what could be added to the Holy Father’s dictum is that we are all really responsible for all and for all of each of them… for their total good, not just their material well-being. This virtue of solidarity, is a difficult one to accept …I know. But it is nonetheless true, and, as the Catechism says, the more we try to live our lives by it the more we can come to accept it. What we also come to discover, however, is just how extensive it is.
G. K. Chesterton, Uncle Gilbert as I like to name him, called tradition the “democracy of the dead.” That’s an important notion. Our traditions, passed onto us by culture, are the result of hundreds of millions of “votes” cast by our predecessors. In a world where everyone’s voice must be heard, that ought to count for something. So solidarity is not just socio-political, nor is it merely monetary. Solidarity can be chronological. It can also be spiritual.
Every Sunday we say that we believe in things seen and unseen. We believe that there are angels flittering about the tabernacle. And at each Eucharist we believe that we are not just remembering through reenactment and not redoing the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but that we are connecting with an originally historic and simultaneously eternal event. Christ is there crucified before us. We are there. This is solidarity.
When we attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and kneel there as the good presbyter raises high the sacred body, we are there too with John and Mary looking on at the broken man who is God. Solidarity exists there because of God’s movement towards us, which make this is an astonishing solidarity that ought to take our breath away.
Keep in mind, too, that also present at the altar is the Church, militant and otherwise. Through the Eucharist we gain solidarity with members of the communion from around the globe, but also with those on the other side of the undiscovered country. When the bells ring and the priest kneels, we are there with the suffering Lawrence on the grill; we are there with Campion on the gallows; we are there with the martyrs of Compiegne and with St. Joan tied to the stake. Heaven is before us at the making of the corpus Christi. Why would not our dearest brothers and sisters in the faith make true their solidarity with us by drawing our hearts and minds deeper into Him whom they loved so well in this life?
The spiritual and chronological solidarity must extend to the “all” here and now. With reception of the host we are also there with the lonely, single mother who struggles to know if she is doing enough. We are there with the father who means to beat back the voice that tells him his family would be better off without him. We are there with the elderly woman who misses yet another opportunity to remember the name of the daughter before her.
The Eucharist provides us with the opportunity for a solidarity with the world that is unmatched and unheard of. By bringing us into the heart of God, and through the movement of God into us, the Eucharist enlivens that adamantine connectedness that is so easily forgotten and ignored in our everyday lives. Through its healing balm we can begin to become more like those saints of the heavenly banquet, and be “partakers of the divine nature.” What a solidarity is that!
This is why social justice must start with Jesus Christ, for anywhere else and our solidarity becomes so narrow as to choke the charity out of it.
I hope you all have a very blessed Corpus Christi.