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The Two Doctrines of Progress

by | Nov 2, 2020 | Formation, Reflections

Through his writings, we invite you to discover Frederic Ozanam, co-founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and one of the most beloved members of the Vincentian Family (and about whom, perhaps, we may still know very little).

Frederic wrote much in his 40 plus years of life. These texts — which come to us from the not too distant past — are a reflection of the family, social and ecclesial reality lived by their author and which, in many aspects, bears similarities with what is currently lived, especially as regards the inequality and injustice suffered by millions of impoverished men and women in our world.

Commentary:

Frederic’s words may sound harsh, but no less than those of Jesus himself:

Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.[1]

Although it seems that these are different topics (progress and following Jesus), the parallelism is evident. Jesus Christ tells us that the path of follow-up is not easy, that it has difficulties, that being a true follower brings efforts:

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me,’ replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’[2]

Jesus tells us, in this text, that the most important thing is to proclaim the Kingdom of God; nothing and no one is above this.

And, what is the Kingdom of God? A kingdom very different from those we know of the world, where Jesus, the servant of all, is the only King, and asks us to serve the same as Him. A kingdom where “the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”[3] What a good program this is for all Vincentians!

If we think well, the words of Frederic are not far from these reflections we have done with those biblical texts. What is progress for Frederic? To build a better world for all, with effort and sacrifice. It is not a great program for a politician, but it is the only possible program for a Christian. If we want to be followers of Jesus and to walk in His steps, we have no choice but to assume that this path is not going to be easy.

Many documents, which compose the Church’s social doctrine, speak about this matter[4]. Progress is a right of all men and women, not just some chosen few individuals. Furthermore, the Church insists on the value and the dignity of the humanity and therefore, does not identify progress with ere economic development:

The development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. As an eminent specialist on this question has rightly said: “We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole”[5].

Suggestions for personal reflection and group discussion:

  1. What are the dangers that lie in wait for us and tempt us to fall into the “other doctrine”: the doctrine of sensuality and selfishness … the doctrine in which we think only of ourselves?
  2. How can we avoid those dangers? What can we do to return to the path that Jesus invites us to walk?
  3. What place does the building up of the Kingdom of God have in our life?

Footnotes:

[1]   Mt 7:13-14.

[2]   Lc 9:57-62.

[3]   Mt 11:5.

[4]   In the Analytical Index of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, there is an extensive section dedicated to the theme of “progress” (p. 486).

[5]   Pablo VI, Populorum Progressio, § 14.

Javier F. Chento
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