Sr. Louise Zdunich

January 17, 2011


My question is this: In our current economic recession resulting in many job losses, most economists suggest that unless we spend more to keep the market going, it is difficult for the economy to recover.

On the other hand, frugal living with spiritual poverty is a virtue in Catholic Church teaching. If everyone truly practises this teaching, not only will the current recession linger but our economy will get worse and more people will lose their jobs.

Giving our savings to the poor will not basically or radically alter the situation because the recovery requires a structural approach with infusion of cash for our economic system to bounce back so that the GNP growth will be brought back to its pre-recession four per cent per annum. What are your thoughts?



Of necessity, my response to this complicated question will be incomplete.

Why would we believe that giving to the poor would not help the economy since they too would spend the money on buying consumer goods? All they receive would be needed for life's necessities. So whether we or they spend it, the money will continue in circulation and boost the economy.

Our society is geared to excessive consumption and often useless buying. We've all read the figures indicating how much we in the western world use of the world's resources compared to those in the poorer nations. Sometimes we are forced to buy because products aren't made to last and repairs soon become no longer available. Recently, the governor of the Bank of Canada warned that we shouldn't be spending extravagantly but should save for retirement.

I don't believe that the downturn in the economy comes from consumers not spending enough. I believe it comes from greed. We hear of countless frauds in our society. Large corporations who run much of our economy are getting richer. Recently some have taken over the water supply in poorer countries, bottling and selling it, thus depriving the poor of life necessities such as water.

A number of wealthy Canadians have billions with large increases (as high as 31.3 per cent) in their wealth during the past year while the poor got poorer. Most telling is a headline in a Jan.4 newspaper: ' CEOs earn more in a few hours than most workers do all year.'

As Christians, we are taught to follow Jesus' example and teaching to help the poor. Both Old and New Testaments counsel helping those in need and living simply.

A powerful lesson comes in the Last Judgment parable (Matthew 25.31-46) when Jesus comes to judge all, basing the heavenly reward on the help given to the needy: "Come inherit the kingdom. . . . Whatever you did to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did to me."

Church teaching explains our responsibilities. The first significant step was 120 years ago with Pope Leo XIII's publication of Rerum Novarum, the Magna Carta of social justice.


Earlier, it seems, there was a belief that the social order was from God, so the poor should be satisfied with their lot. Since Rerum Novarum, subsequent popes have continued to elaborate on the dignity and rights of individuals.

Leo XIII assumed that renewal of the heart with Christian charity was the solution rather than systemic change which might threaten the social order. Later, Popes Pius XI and Pius XII raised questions about the functioning of the system and maintained that real change was necessary.

Leo XIII virtually rejected revolutionary change; even workers' strikes seem unacceptable. However, Pope Paul VI refused to reject the legitimacy of revolution for Third World peoples if remedies were not found for an unjust economic order.


The awareness of world interdependence was a profound insight of Catholic social teaching. Pope John Paul II nuanced Leo XIIIs strong defence of private property rights by stating that these are conditional on the common good.

John Paul in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens assumed that broad economic planning by all nations would bring about a just economic order. We are to continue working for systemic change while we ourselves live simply and share with the poor.

Based on principles of the dignity and freedom of the person created in God's image and the social nature of humans with inherent rights and duties, the Church has responded to different times and conditions with creativity and flexibility.

But do Catholics really know what this teaching involves? Are Catholics able to live and communicate to others the principles that guide them to social justice action and simple living?

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