Jan 23, 2014
“Universal destination” may sound like a fancy way of saying where we’re all headed, but this odd expression happens to be the name for a central principle of Catholic social teaching. It follows therefore that it is also central to Pope Francis’ much-discussed apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
The point is important particularly in light of the announcement that the Pope and President Obama will meet in late March in Rome to talk – according to the president – about their shared concern over economic inequality. It’s a matter on which they see eye to eye. Or do they?
Even friendly critics of the apostolic exhortation have seemed often to miss its central thrust, with perhaps some reason. The document is long, rambling, and studded with overly broad generalizations, and the flaws make it easy for well-disposed readers to become distracted and lose track of what its economic sections are actually saying.
Begin with the crucial fact that, like other social justice documents of the Magisterium, Evangelii Gaudium doesn’t deal in policies and programs but principles. The most important of these is the universal destination of goods, understood as an existential basis for an equitable sharing of the world’s wealth. (Worth recalling as America marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.)
Pope Francis, looking at the global scene, puts it like this: “We must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resource or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 190). With necessary adjustments, that applies to the national and local levels too.