Doing comes after being. Without formation, catholics scatter.

Most Rev. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi

Speech in Milan — Teatro don Guanella

3 February 2018


I am pleased to be here with you on this special day. I’d even go so far as to say this very special day, with this opportunity I have to meet many of the persons taking part in the activities of the Academies of the Social Doctrine of the Church we are gradually organizing in various parts of Italy. This is a very beautiful initiative: participating together in these activities has enabled us to live the experience of our unity, our spiritual communion, and our communion of intent, even if at times we have been physically far removed from one other since many people have participated on line, and hence at a distance. This happened in particular for the lectures I delivered in collaboration with La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. While participation was mostly on site at the other Academies, contact in my case was only remote. What is happening today is therefore a good idea, and for that I am most grateful to the director, Riccardo Cascioli, who organized this event.

I do not plan to dwell on lofty theological considerations today. To that end we have with us Prof. Rev. Prof. Don Mauro Gagliardi. What I will do is delve into pastoral matters. I will speak as a bishop, as a bishop who has always worked in the field of the Social Doctrine of the Church, also now that I am the president of our Observatory and in light of my office in Europe; a bishop who never ceases to raise questions and reflect on the situation of the Social Doctrine of the Church today. I did this recently in a booklet entitled “The Church in Italy and the future of the social apostolate” (Edizioni Cantagalli), and will share some of the ideas in it with you in a few moments.  I am saying this to you in order to confirm that the fact that even though my pastoral commitments as Bishop of Trieste keep me very busy, I remain ever close to the activities of the Observatory, and have closely followed the launching and the activities of our Academies of the Social Doctrine of the Church in which you have participated most actively. Moreover, I am here today to call on you to forge ahead and bolster pastoral motivation for this renewed commitment I ask of you.

The title of my talk begins with these words “doing comes after being”, or as people used to say,  Agere seguitur esse. What you do is based of what you are. It is first necessary to deal with the issue of being, and only then will it be possible to tackle the problem of what to do. This is very important because while we could consider the ‘doing’ to be something that depends on us, ‘being’ immediately appears to us as a gift. This is why Benedict XVI developed the concept of receiving coming before doing.  Precisely because doing proceeds forth from being, and being has been received, the gift has priority. A corollary of this principle is that will comes after intellect. The beingness of man is made up of intellect and will, but intellect prevails insofar as the light for rightful will. This is therefore the correct succession of things: we have received being, and hence it is necessary to attend first to being and then to doing; it is necessary to understand what we are with intellect, and then act with the thrust of rightful will.

My dear friends, this applies for each and every person, but also for the Church at large. This is where coming into the picture are both the Social Doctrine of the Church and the need for systematic formation to it. Nowadays many people think Catholics should above all take action and do things driven by good will animated by charity. Considered the most important things of all are presence is  wherever emergencies arise and response to the needs of our neighbor. This sense of contributing to peace and justice is a positive element, but, on the basis of what we have just seen, just ‘doing’ does not suffice. If ‘doing’ is not the expression of ‘being’ and is not guided by the light of truth, this ‘doing’ becomes blind. People may think what they are doing is constructive, while it may be de-constructive. People may experience deep down and individual satisfaction because they think they have done something good, but in actual fact it isn’t like that at all.

The Social Doctrine of the Church is first and foremost the expression of the full being of the Church and its essential missionary nature. This social doctrine draws nourishment and thrust above all from the life of the Church. Issuing forth there from are criteria for action, which in this sense is not just mere ‘doing’, but a ‘doing by being’. The Church cannot act before being or without being. This also applies to Catholics active in social affairs and politics through the Social Doctrine of the Church. Yes, the latter does have a practical value, but coming even before that is its value in terms of doctrine and contents that the intellect knows and brings to the attention of the will for ensuing action. Without assuming ownership of these contents and without considering the Social Doctrine of the Church connected with the being of the Church itself, people will just frantically engage in doing things, but with limited objective results.

In that book of mine I mentioned earlier I took a close look at the what has transpired in the social apostolate of the Church from Vatican II until these our times. I dwelt upon the major effort of John Paul II to launch that social doctrine anew, and I was involved in that as part of my work in the Holy See during those years. I also analyzed the obstacles that arose to curtail that effort, and must say that many of them are still in place today. One of them consists in considering the Social Doctrine of the Church as a generic thrust to do things, as the soul of a sort of generic humanism, as input for a pastoral presence less than well qualified in terms of actual contents. In this manner, however, the Church’s social doctrine understood as a doctrinal corpus is just set aside.

This brings us to the second part of my talk’s title: “without formation, Catholics scatter”. It is never an  issue of how many we are, even though we Catholics would like to be many indeed. The main issue is whether we are united or scattered, whether we are rooted in being or scattered all around in doing for the mere sake of doing. I believe I can say that nowadays, Catholics in society and especially in politics are scattered all around. Will we find the solution by virtue of extravagant formulas or by restoring our true sense of being? Nor should we believe that this dispersion only has to do with the things to do. It also has an effect on our way of being, because here lies the paradox: sidestepping the issue of being in order to dedicate oneself primarily to doing ends up by having negative repercussions on being as well.  The setting aside of the Social Doctrine of the Church has a piecemeal and scattering effect on ’doing’, and the simultaneous rebound effect of that is a waning of our being united in the faith.  We are not the only ones engaged in providing formation to the Church’s social doctrine, and when we do it we are not in competition with anyone or anything else in that same area. What we do hold dearly to, however, is being crystal clear about the profound motivations behind our every active endeavor.

Sharing these brief thoughts with you has been an effort on my part to convey to you both the spirit and the intention underlying why our Observatory has set up the Academies of the Social Doctrine of the Church that have organized activities thus far in Trieste (for the third year),  Verona,  Staggia Senese, Schio and Lerici. We are starting the Academy of Emilia with exactly the same spirit, and it will begin activities this coming March. I wish to thank all the associations and cultural centers that have collaborated with us and thereby enabled our Academies to have contacts with the concreteness of local surroundings and a community. If the La Nuova Bussola agrees, I am still ready to take to the field personally for this formation project with a view to a new edition of the on line Academy activities held this year, while at the same time inviting you to become direct promoters of new endeavors in the places where you live.  Once again, heartfelt thanks to all of you, and all the best in the work to be done together.