It is not easy to bring individuals together who possess different viewpoints regarding controversial subjects. It is just as difficult to ask virtual strangers to exchange polemic ideas within a designated venue. Notwithstanding, the Acton Institute‘s conference, Toward A Free and Virtuous Society, was exemplary in its ability to gather diverse voices and promote harmony among all participants. It was a forum intended to stir the cobwebs of intellectual complacency and rekindle a calling within everyone; to instill the moral obligation to labor incessantly toward a society where virtue is the compass and freedom is the direction which guides all.
I was thrilled at the prospects of interchanging ideas, experiences, and personal anecdotes. Furthermore, the idea of fusing economic, religious, and philosophical concepts appeared to many a very difficult, yet intriguing, union. Visiting alumni, for instance, expressed their appreciation for the conferences on account of having acquired the crucial information that helped them to bring the aforesaid combination together. Effective religious leaders need to possess the comprehension not only of theological and philosophical matters, but they must also be able to speak a prophetic voice. That voice enjoins all members of industry, business, and government, to seek the good and effectively make the transactions between human beings an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of personal and social freedom. This is perhaps the most priceless benefit any conference member can procure.
The conference also provided an ideal setting for sowing the seeds of friendship. It was a blessing to find so many people with different backgrounds, experiences, and aspirations. Conversations between lectures, and those that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, brought people together. It was a break from everyday life where those that rest and reflect alongside you also share your similar concerns and pray for similar answers. I felt honored to become acquainted with individuals who I grew to admire and count on for advice and opposing perspectives.
Topics surveyed over the weekend included Christian ethics, primers on economic theory, globalization, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The overarching premise of most lectures was the need for the preeminence of the Christian spirit in attaining material resources as a means to progress, development, and increased opportunities for citizens. The generation of wealth, however, is but a part of the responsibility of humanity. How we utilize the resources acquired conveys another major topic of consideration. To dispose of wealth through methods whereby inefficient and debilitating programs continue to perpetuate poverty and dire social conditions is inappropriate. To allow the state to address poverty and other social realities often serves to complicate matters. Instead, we are to look upon the civil society and the primary components of society; the family, the church, and the community.
As Christians, we are called to make provisions for the poor and to embrace this blessing. Leaving this mandate to the state diffuses the role of the family, the church, and the community. Individuals, through personal charity and formed by a classical understanding of justice, are called to take action to end poverty. Our boon is the gift of service bestowed by God. This entails the whole, or the state, being responsible to the parts, as in the family, the church, and civil society. The state becomes a facilitator, a means, and not the end, whereby the quintessential institutions of society are provided with the support necessary to address various social issues. This is the principle of subsidiary in action. This point is beautifully articulated by Pope John Paul II, “[A]ccording to Rerum Novarum and the whole social doctrine of the Church, the social nature of man is not completely fulfilled in the State, but is realized in various intermediary groups, beginning with the family and including economic, social, political, and cultural groups which stem from human nature itself and have their own autonomy, always with a view to the common good.”
Coordinating an event such as the Toward A Free and Virtuous Society, is certainly a challenge. I was impressed by the sincere attention to each participant and the candid approach to the subject matter discussed. All staff members were always willing, not only to help, but also to make the time at the conference a pleasure. I truly felt welcomed and appreciated by the staff, the lecturers, and the coordinators. The time invested was a blessing. It was an opportunity for growth, spiritual, and social reflection.