This is the sixth installment about Pope Francis II ‘s encyclical, released last week, Evangelii Gaudium. The entire third section of the document is about ” The Common Good and Peace in Society” and this final sub-section is entitled “The whole is greater than the part.”
This entire section is the one most connected to “the common good,” which is a principle of Catholic Social Teaching. The Common Good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either in groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily.” (Gaudium et Spes, 1965) “The Common Good is the good of all people and of the whole person . . . the human person cannot find fulfillment in himself, that is, apart from the fact he exists “with” others and “for” others.”
234. An innate tension also exists between globalization and localization. We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground. Together, the two prevent us from falling into one of two extremes. In the first, people get caught up in an abstract, globalized universe, falling into step behind everyone else, admiring the glitter of other people’s world, gaping and applauding at all the right times. At the other extreme, they turn into a museum of local folklore, a world apart, doomed to doing the same things over and over, and incapable of being challenged by novelty or appreciating the beauty which God bestows beyond their borders.
(The word that immediately popped into my mind was “parochial.” In one sense it is a church word — of the parish. Local. In its other sense it is a pejorative: narrow minded, limited in scope, insular. The Pope is urging us to be parochial without becoming parochial. Hmmm . . . . Although he speaks of global issue, the advice applies even on the local level. I immediately though of the tensions we are having here in San Antonio about gentrification, development and historic preservation. Recent issues like the uproar over tearing down the historic Univision building to make way for a luxury apartment complex, the brouhaha (brew-ha-ha?) over the soon-to-be-built brew pub under the Hays Street Bridge, or the H.E.B. grocery’s request to close off the part of Main avenue that runs through their HQ in exchange for building a much-needed grocery store downtown.. The character of a neighborhood vs. the growth and change of a city. How do we move to and/both from either/or?)
235. The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts. There is no need, then, to be overly obsessed with limited and particular questions. We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all. But this has to be done without evasion or uprooting. We need to sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can work on a small scale, in our own neighbourhood, but with a larger perspective. Nor do people who wholeheartedly enter into the life of a community need to lose their individualism or hide their identity; instead, they receive new impulses to personal growth. The global need not stifle, nor the particular prove barren.
(Think globally, act locally. Yes. )
236. Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each. There is a place for the poor and their culture, their aspirations and their potential. Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. It is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.
(The image of the polyhedron is an interesting one. The Greek translates as “many faces,” and I think that is exactly what Pope Francis intends to convey — many different faces, all needed for completion of the object.
I suspect the Pope was probably envisioning the image on the left, which, technically, is the type of polyhedron known as the great triambic icosidodecahedron, a combination of triangles and pentagons. I like the image on the right — a Hoberman Sphere. We still have one in the closet at the peaceCENTER, I hope, and have used it to illustrate the interconnectedness of all things. The connection points are hinged and it can expand and contract, which tells a story of its own. Even though a polyhedron is composed of different shapes, it still conforms to a pattern.)
237. To Christians, this principle also evokes the totality or integrity of the Gospel which the Church passes down to us and sends us forth to proclaim. Its fullness and richness embrace scholars and workers, businessmen and artists, in a word, everyone. The genius of each people receives in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration. The good news is the joy of the Father who desires that none of his little ones be lost, the joy of the Good Shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings it back to the flock. The Gospel is the leaven which causes the dough to rise and the city on the hill whose light illumines all peoples. The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom. The whole is greater than the part.