Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How do we Help?

When facing a violated theme of Catholic Social Teaching (e.g. a Sinful Social Structure, an Injustice) we are then plagued with the question, "How can I help?"

The answer is usually a complex one, which often turns people away from wanting to help at all. The problem may seem too big, too widespread for one person to handle.

A popular prayer askes God to "Give me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference." This part of Catholic Social Teaching helps us to know the difference.

Once again I direct you to the School Web Lockers for the power point we covered in class on this topic.
When an individual is hurting our first instinct is to reach out and offer help. This is called DIRECT AID. It is a personal, often one-on-one way of offering immediate assistance to a vicitm. Direct aid has immediate benefits in the life of the victim, but they are often small in scope and short-lived.
For example, if someone's home has been burned to the ground by militant rebels, offering a blanket, food & drink, or some clothing is an immediate form of aid. But it does not rebuild the house or offer any other long-term solution, and it certainly does not stop the rebels from burining down other houses.

Big problems also require SOCIAL ACTION, which is identifying the root cause of the problem and eliminating it. Social Action is a long-term approach to a problem that requires a lot of organization and usually a lot of manpower. Rarely is a social action solution something that works overnight. Rather they take weeks, months, or even years. However, there impact is widespread and long-lasting (if not permanent.)

Using our example of militant rebels, a social action approach dictates that we investigate why the group is motivated to inflict terror on civilians. If the answer lies in their lack of financial resources or opportunities then efforts to restore balance would be helpful. If the rebels do not respond to diplomacy then it may be time to look at the conflict in light fo the Church's just war theory and determine if military action is the next step.

Social Action is the philosophy behind the addage, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."

Direct Aid and Social Action work together, just like to feet, to help bring stability to a situation and enable progress toward a solution.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Social Structures

There are many different aspects to our lives and each them has its own context. These Nine contexts are the Social Structures (or Institutions) that make up society.

1. Marriage & Family
2. Education
3. Healthcare
4. Production & Distribution of Goods & Services
5. Business & Financial Matters (Commerce)
6. Law & Government
7. Media & Communication
8. Recreation & Entertainment
9. Religion (which is both a Human & a Divine Institution)

Again, there is a power point on the School Web Lockers, but it is mostly pictures.

Are all Social Institutions the Same?
A particular institution can be either Graced or Sinful. The criterion for making that judgment is rooted in God's will and the Dignity of the Human Person. If a particular institution violates, denies, or degrades human dignity then it is Sinful. On the other hand, if it is an institution that respects and builds up personal dignity with respect to the will of God then it is Graced.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching

Modern Catholic Social Teaching is built upon Seven Themes which we discussed in class. There is a power-point over these themes on the School Web Lockers.

This helpful website from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explaines each theme in more detail.

1. Life & Dignity of the Human Person
2. Call to Family & Community Participation
3. Rights and Responsibilities
4. Option for the Poor & Vulnerable
5. Dignity of Work & Rights of Workers
6. Solidarity
7. Stewardship for Creation

LEARN THESE THEMES and incorporate them into you senior project. Again, these are the backbone of Catholic Social Teaching.

Until Next time,
Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. B

Monday, October 8, 2007


The Industrial Revolution, which straddled the 18th and 19th centuries, was a time of great economic change in Europe and North America. It saw a shift from a predominantly agricultural economy to one based on manufacturing. This also ushered in an era of growth for cities as jobs shifted from the rural farming areas to urban centers of production.

A few key developments that made this revolution possible are worthy of note:
1. The Steam Engine - this basic engine was used to provide power to locamotives, production machinery, and construction equipment.
2. Electricity - certainly not "invented" during this era, it was during the 19th Century that it was truly harnessed and made widely available for manufacturing - running machinery and lighting the factories and production plants.
3. The Assembly Line - a method of production where each worker is assigned a specific job, which is performed repeatedly. This is in contrast to each worker creating an object from start to finish, which was much slower.
4. Interchangeable Parts - using identical elements to create items ensured that the products would be uniform in quality and that if a single element failed or broke it could be easily replaced.

The result of the Industrial Revolution was an economic boom and in many ways an increased quality of life for the upper class, but at the same time it had a negative impact on the quality of life for workers.

Working conditions were deplorable: factories were hot, dangerous places with poor air quality. There were few breaks and the work day was 12 hours or more. There was no minimum wage, no medical benefits, and no compensation if a worker was injured on the job. Without child labor laws there was nothing to keep children from the same miserable working conditions, and what's worse - if children were working then they weren't in school. The lack of education only perpetuated the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

Often the factory owners also owned the tenaments and apartment buildings that were inhabited by their workers, keeping them practically enslaved to their bosses.

These negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution, coupled with a capitalist economy was influential in the formation of a rival system in the minds of Karl Marx and Fredreich Engles, the fathers of Communism. It is their idea that we will explore next time.

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Colonialism is the practice of one nation extending its control and influence to other territories by establishing settlements within those regions.

Colonialism is undertaken primarily for economic reasons - that is the colony exports natural resources to the parent country where the resources are turned into finished products. These products then fuel the economy of the parent country. In addition, the colony serves as a contained market for finished goods from the parent nation.

Truly the practice of colonizing distant lands began in the ancient world. The Greeks, with their formidable navy, were masters of colonization. However, in our context we will be dealing with colonialism in the modern world at the end of the 15th Century.

We all know that "in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." He is, of course, widely credited with having discovered America. However, did you know:

1. Columbus was not looking for (nor did he suspect the existence of) America, but rather a passage from Europe to Asia. He died thinking this is exactly what he had done.

2. Columbus never made landfall in what is now the United States. In his voyages he only explored the Carribean islands & Panama.

3. America is named not for Columbus, but for Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Columubs who explored the South American mainland.

4. Scholars suspect that Northern Europeans (Vikings & possible the Irish) were sailing to what is now North America five centuries before Columbus.

Nevertheless, Columbus represents the vanguard of what became a veritable flood of Europeans into the "New World". Within a century the British had established a colony in Virginia, the ill-fated Jamestown settlement. It was not long before the French and the Dutch joined the Spaniards, British, and Portuguese in settling the Americas. Each nation was attracted to the New World by the promise of increased wealth and power, especially from the rumored Gold and Silver thought to be in great abundance. Like children cutting off slices from a pizza, the European nations carved up the Americas and began fighting with one another for bigger portions.

The rest of the world was "up for grabs" too: Europeans colonized much of Africa and parts of Asia as well.

Again, colonialism usually brought economic prosperity to those nations willing to risk the endeavor. Another benefit was found in the many advances in the technology of travel. Sailing and navigating techniques, cartography (map-making), and shipbuilding all saw enormous advances during the colonial era.

The negatives, however, were often tremendous: the degredation and oppression of the indiginous (native) people was part of nearly every colonial endeavor. Most natives were overpowered by the Europeans due to a number of factors:

1. Lack of resistance to European diseases (to some extent this did work both ways)

2. Superior technology of the European armies (guns, steel armor, etc.)

3. Loose social organization compared to the Europeans' military discipline

The end result usually followed one of two patterns:

A. The native populations were wiped out by disease or killed in armed conflict (as was the case with most of North America)

B. The native populations were overwhelmed and essentially enslaved (as was the case with most of South America)

Many parts of the world are still feeling the effects of this oppression in the form of strained race relations and economic disparity (wealthy European descendants and impoverished native descendents).

A lesser injustice of colonialism was the "second-class citizenship" of the colonists themselves when compared to the citizens of the parent nation. This played itself out in North America between the British and their colonists and eventually resulted in a colonial rebellion and the foundation of a new country. The 13 American colonies have in turn become 50 states, spanning an entire continent, due to their own sort of colonialism.

The Church today, of course, opposes the enslavement or the mistreatment of natives, but in the 15th Century the view was slightly different. Members of the Church did indeed advocate for more humane treatment of the natives, but the mindset was that they were less civilized or "savage" and therefore in need of reform at the hands of "civilized" Europeans. The Church did respond to colonialism by sending missionaries, particularly form Religious Orders, to minister to the needs of colonists and the preach the Gospel to natives. It is due to the efforts of these missionaries, especially the Franciscans and Jesuits, that much of Latin America is very Catholic even to this day. Female religious orders played a part as well, as we see in the Sisters of Providence founded by St. Theodore Guerin, who took charge of the education of youth in the frontier region of America today known as Indiana.

Until Next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
Mr. B


Nationalism is an intense love of one's nation to the point that he believes his nation superior in dignity to all others. It is a fanatic patriotism, which by itself is a more subdued pride in one's nation.
Nationalism emerged as a response to the instability in Western Europe as the feudal system collapsed toward the end of the Middle Ages. For centuries Europeans had viewed themselves of citizens of a vast Christian Empire, united in faith. As the Feudal system began to break down under its own weight the Church went from being a stabilizing factor in society to being a plagued by corruption.

People began to look to their cultural identities as a source of unity and stability. By the end of the medieval era there were distinctly French, German, British, Italian, and Spanish cultures. This local unity was derived from a common heritage, common leadership, and common customs; the modern Nation-state emerged.

The Church did not respond favorably to nationalism as it was seen as a step toward secularization. People now looked to local government rather than the Church as a source of authority. This paved the way for division among the faithful and eventually added fuel to the fire of the Reformation.

The French Revolution is perhaps the greatest example of nationalism run afoul. The French lower classes, full of Rationalist spirit, saw the authority of the Church, Monarchy, and Nobility as an insult to the more "modern" ideas of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. After assisting the American colonies in gaining their independence from Britain (and in many ways, inspired by their success) the French launched their own revolution, tore down the existing authority and attempted to establish a free and equal society.

Indeed, the lower classes of French society were oppresed, especially compared to the extravagant lifestyle of the French nobility and clergy. However, in their zeal for transforming their national identity the Revolutionaries launched a deadly campaign against every member of the upper class, known as the Reign of Terror. Countless members of the aristocracy, including women and children, met their end at the hands of a French mob and the brutally efficient guillotine.

The Reign of Terror only ended when Napolean rose to power and set out to dominate all of Europe.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B


Rationalism is the idea that human reason is the sole authority in any area of human endeavor. In other words, if it does not "make sense" then reject it.

Rationalism, as it was employed in Europe during the Enlightenment, stood in direct opposition to the Church. God, Revelation, Sacraments, Faith - none of these things seemed logical to rationalist thinkers. They saw the world as guided by natural laws and forces, reasoning, & mathematics, rather than Faith, Hope, & Love.

Some notable proponents of Rationalis are:
Leibniz, Spinoza, Descartes, Montesquie, Voltaire, Locke, Hobbes, and Hume. We shall discuss only one of these at length: Rene Descartes.

Descartes was a French mathematician and philosopher who assumed (that is, took on) a position of skepticism. By skepticism we don't simply mean being a pessimist or a negatively minded thinker. Philosophically a skeptic is one who doubts all statements without clear evidence or proof. Descartes doubted EVERYTHING: that God exists, that emotions are real, that his perception of reality was the same as anothers, even his own existence. He reasoned that there must be one foundational principle that would be beyond doubt and upon which he could build his philosophical system.

In the end, it became his very process of thinking that formed his foundational principle: "I think, therefore I am." (in Latin - the language of scholarship for most of western history, "Cogito ergo sum." in Descartes native French, "Je pense, donc je suis.")

Rationalism was good in that it opened the door to new worlds of knowledge, especially in mathematics and the natural sciences. It also led to new ways fo thinking in regard to government, law, politics and the structure of society. Combined with Nationalism, Rationalism changed the face of Europe and ushered civilization from the "Middle Ages" into the "Modern Era."

The downside of rationalism was it's utter rejection of Faith, and therefore the Church. It's obsession with the progress of humanity led to a rejection of tradition and history as well. In the end the Moral bedrock of western civilization was eroded and society plunged into a sea of relativism from which it has never really emerged.

Thomas Jefferson, famed champion of the separation of Church from State, was a quintessential Enlightenment thinker. In an attempt to "hold on" to the Faith of his ancestors, Jefferson did what many learned men of his age did and turned to Deism: the idea that God does exist, he did, at one point in time, create the world, and He established laws that govern it. However, He does not interfere with the world, but rather sits back as almost a spectator, watching the world from above. (Theism, on the other hand, is the idea that God remains intimately involved in the life of creation.) Jefferson even created his own version of the New Testament, which removed all the miracle stories - even the Resurrection so that the Gospels would be more "logical". You can read it online here.

Until next time,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. B.