Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
21st September 2017
In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas defined laws as the “ordering of reason to the common good” (ordinatio rationis ad bonum commune). This ordering of reason is the essence of justice, that cardinal virtue which in turn establishes relationships in society according to a criterion of fairness and equity. The promotion of the common good is the promotion of social justice.
Human society demands that men be guided by justice, respect the rights of others and do their duty.
As Saint John XXIII declared with great clarity and wisdom, in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth): “Human society demands that men be guided by justice, respect the rights of others and do their duty. It demands, too, that they be animated by such love as will make them feel the needs of others as their own, and induce them to share their goods with others, and to strive in the world to make all men alike heirs to the noblest of intellectual and spiritual values. Nor is this enough; for human society thrives on freedom, namely, on the use of means which are consistent with the dignity of its individual members, who, being endowed with reason, assume responsibility for their own actions” (Pacem in Terris, 1963, 35).
“Men, both as individuals and as intermediate groups, are required to make their own specific contributions to the general welfare. The main consequence of this is that they must harmonize their own interests with the needs of others, and offer their goods and services as their rulers shall direct – assuming, of course, that justice is maintained and the authorities are acting within the limits of their competence. Those who have authority in the State must exercise that authority in a way which is not only morally irreproachable, but also best calculated to ensure or promote the State’s welfare.
Those who have authority in the State must exercise that authority in a way which is not only morally irreproachable, but also best calculated to ensure or promote the State’s welfare.
The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities. In working for the common good, therefore, the authorities must obviously respect its nature, and at the same time adjust their legislation to meet the requirements of the given situation.
Among the essential elements of the common good one must certainly include the various characteristics distinctive of each individual people. But these by no means constitute the whole of it. For the common good, since it is intimately bound up with human nature, can never exist fully and completely unless the human person is taken into account at all times. Thus, attention must be paid to the basic nature of the common good and what it is that brings it about.
We must add, therefore, that it is in the nature of the common good that every single citizen has the right to share in it – although in different ways, depending on his tasks, merits and circumstances. Hence every civil authority must strive to promote the common good in the interest of all, without favoring any individual citizen or category of citizen. As Pope Leo XIII insisted: ‘The civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual, or of some few persons; inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all’.
Considerations of justice and equity demand that those in power pay more attention to the weaker members of society
Nevertheless, considerations of justice and equity demand that those in power pay more attention to the weaker members of society, since these are at a disadvantage when it comes to defending their own rights and asserting their legitimate interests” (Pacem in Terris, 53-56).
Pope Francis summarized the teaching of the Church on the common good in his Encyclical Laudato Sì: “An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is ‘the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment’.
Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups, applying the principle of subsidiarity. Outstanding among those groups is the family, as the basic cell of society. Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.
In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods, but, as I mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, it demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers. We need only look around us to see that, today, this option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good” (Laudato Sì, 2015, 156-158).
We should ask ourselves whether the wealth being generated in our society is creating new forms of economic disparity.
One concrete aspect I would like to bring to our reflection today is the need to promote and ensure an equitable distribution of the wealth generated in our society. One of the mechanisms of this equitable distribution is the appreciation of labour through which capital is turned into wealth. This appreciation of labour is in turn implemented through the mechanism of a just wage. To return to the wisdom of Saint John XXIII: “A further consequence of man’s personal dignity is his right to engage in economic activities suited to his degree of responsibility. The worker is likewise entitled to a wage that is determined in accordance with the precepts of justice. This needs stressing. The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with human dignity. Pope Pius XII expressed it in these terms: “Nature imposes work upon man as a duty, and man has the corresponding natural right to demand that the work he does shall provide him with the means of livelihood for himself and his children. Such is nature’s categorical imperative for the preservation of man” (Pacem in Terris, 20).
We should ask ourselves whether the wealth being generated in our society is creating new forms of economic disparity, whether it is creating an oligarchy of the super-rich while reducing our workers to situations where they cannot even afford the monthly rent for a decent home, where the savage laws of demand and supply are reducing many people to situations without hope and without a secure future.
It is the role of government to ensure that Maltese citizens continue to enjoy a dignified standard of living in their own homeland. This includes the ability of low income families, young couples who are in the process of setting up their family, and pensioners, to be able to enjoy proper housing and proper nutrition, good education and health services. As we thrive to attract the rich and the mighty of this world to invest here and work among us, let us also try to ensure that our families are not edged out of the decent standard of living most of them still enjoy.
The political community must not focus only on economic growth as the sole means of advancing the common good.
We are blessed by a strong welfare policy which needs to be sustained and promoted. However the political community must not focus only on economic growth as the sole means of advancing the common good. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) declares that: “The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy” (Gaudium et Spes, 1965, 74).
Pope Francis added another dimension to the notion of the common good when he declared: “The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us” (Laudato Sì, 159).
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
Photos: Curia Communications Office