Monday, April 16, 2018

Challenging Reading: Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism)

Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
March 19, 1937

The book cover is from Amazon, but it's out of print. I've linked to a free online source for the text above.

First Son read this encyclical in his study of Russia and the Collapse of Communism in twentieth-century history. It's listed as one of the key resources for the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™ in this unit. Because it wasn't very long, I assigned it to read in a single day along with a few pages from another of his books. (My plans for this study can be found in the Facebook Mater Amabilis™ group.)

In this encyclical, Pope Pius XI, reiterates how Communism denigrates the dignity of man, how it is inherently anti-religious, and some of the ways Catholics, including those in the laity, can combat it's pernicious spread. In reading it, I felt like a lot of different ideas settled into place for me. (I'm actually really enjoying the whole unit on Russia!).

The encyclical is focused, of course, on Communism, but I was surprised how many statements seemed to be applicable even today.
As in all the stormy periods of the history of the Church, the fundamental remedy today lies in a sincere renewal of private and public life according to the principles of the Gospel by all those who belong to the Fold of Christ, that they may be in truth the salt of the earth to preserve human society from total corruption.
Novel idea - live a Christian life both in public and private! Many of the ideas, too, reminded me of the two encyclicals I have read, both by Pope Francis.
The rich should not place their happiness in things of earth nor spend their best efforts in the acquisition of them. Rather, considering themselves only as stewards of their earthly goods, let them be mindful of the account they must render of them to their Lord and Master, and value them a precious means that God has put into their hands for doing good; let them not fail, besides, to distribute of their abundance to the poor, according to the evangelical precepts.
Not that it was only written for the rich:
But the poor too, in their turn, while engaged, according to the laws of charity and justice, in acquiring the necessities of life and also in bettering their condition, should always remain "poor in spirit," and hold spiritual goods in higher esteem than earthly property and pleasures. Let them remember that the world will never be able to rid itself of misery, sorrow and tribulation, which are the portion even of those who seem most prosperous. Patience, therefore, is the need of all, that Christian patience which comforts the heart with the divine assurance of eternal happiness.
Later he talked about how the oppression and injustice endured by the poor create a spiritual environment that leaves them vulnerable to the false promises of ideas like Communism.
But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life. We desire therefore, Venerable Brethren, that this divine precept, this precious mark of identification left by Christ to His true disciples, be ever more fully explained by pen and word of mouth; this precept which teaches us to see in those who suffer Christ Himself, and would have us love our brothers as Our Divine Savior has loved us, that is, even at the sacrifice of ourselves, and, if need be, of our very life.
I couldn't help thinking about these words in terms of immigration today in America, from countries suffering from war and the fear of terrorists sneaking in with refugees, and from countries suffering from violence and poverty and the fear of illegal immigrants disproportionately using resources or abusing support systems. I also thought of people in our country who turn to gangs, drugs, or violence because they feel abandoned and excluded by the economic system. I don't know what the answers are in these complicated issues, but I do think injustice and a lack of charity (love) exasperate desperate and frightening situations and encourage people to seek answers from troublesome sources.

Pope Pius XI offered a few suggestions, and perhaps they would contribute to alleviating some of the problems we continue to encounter. I believe Pope Francis also encouraged the same kind of changes.
To be sure of eternal life, therefore, and to be able to help the poor effectively, it is imperative to return to a more moderate way of life, to renounce the joys, often sinful, which the world today holds out in such abundance; to forget self for love of the neighbor. 
First Son struggled a bit while reading this text. When asked to narrate, he could only manage the most basic ideas from the encyclical, but he did get that! We worked through some of the paragraphs together, talking about the vocabulary and tracing the ideas as Pope Pius XI connected them. I explained that he would be reading encyclicals regularly starting next year and that he should be prepared to be challenged in doing so without giving up.

I printed this text from the online source linked above. The book cover is an affiliate link to Amazon. The opinions are my own.

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