The construction of a more human world: culture and labor

Speech of Luis Fernando Figari, Founder of the Christian Life Movement, at the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements. Rome, May 27-29, 1998

Let me begin by thanking His Eminence Cardinal Stafford, His Excellency Bishop Rylko, professor Guzmán Carriquiry, and all the other members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and by congratulating them for the development of this excellent initiative that has its origin in a Holy Father’s call.

Ever since the eclesial movements’ congresses held in the last decade, I have considered it fundamental that those of us who have been blessed by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be called to take part of this richness of today’s Church –the eclesial movements–, gather and share from our own received charisms, in order to deepen, in spirit of prayer and fraternal communion, in the responsibility at the service of the evangelization that God presents each of the movements in his divine Plan, in the communion in service to the mission of the Church. Charisms have a fecund dimension in the edifying of the whole Church. I firmly believe that every gift –for which we have to rejoice and be thankful– brings with itself an eclesial responsibility that, with God’s grace, we must in profound humility make an effort to receive and put into action. We can discern, reading the signs of the times, that God in his Plan counts on the free response of each one to the gift of love He gives to the different members of the movements in the eclesial communion. The Holy Father has expressed it this way, and the great Encounter with His Holiness, with which this meeting will end, manifests this very clearly.

The “anticulture”

As the Pope John Paul II has said more than once, it is a fact that we live immersed in an “anticulture” or “culture of death”, situation that certainly does not respond to the divine Plan for humanity nor for its social coexistence. Already in his time Pope Paul VI asked himself, as he contemplated the world’s situation: “Where doesn’t the ocean of incredulity, indifference, and hostility reach today?” [1]. Twenty-one years later Pope John Paul II makes reference to what he calls the “cultural diaspora of the Catholics” [2], describing it as a “conviction according to which every idea or understanding of the world is compatible with the faith”, or also as an easy adhesion to political and social forces that oppose or do not pay attention to the principles of the person and the respect to human life, to family, liberty, solidarity, promotion of justice and peace [3]. Functional agnosticism, galloping relativism, the severe crisis of truth, the ” lite” or ” debole ” attitude, the adhesion to theories or ideologies that lead to the construction of the “anticulture” of a world that in turning its back on God turns into a threat to the fulfillment of the human person, all this is not a matter of which one can flee in the false illusion of protecting oneself by margining oneself from society in some kind of ghetto or a bunker , in the belief that in this way the serious challenge of this “world” and of this “cultural diaspora” will disappear. On the contrary, this tragic reality speaks loud and clear of the necessary renovation of christian life and constitutes an energetic caveat that rejects any easy optimism, any triumphalism with which one would pretend to hide what is happening. Conversely, this situation brings into mind some words Pope Paul said inspiring himself in the Apostle of Gentiles: “Evangelizing isn’t for us a facultative invitation, but a an urgent duty (…) A serious obligation weighs upon me: Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! [4]” [5].

God’s Plan

God who is Life, Freedom, Love, is also God of life, freedom and love. He gives us these dimensions of being, and gives us the gift of faith that illuminates the human pilgrimage, and invites us to share the joyful experience of meeting Lord Jesus in the Church. The human person has been created to participate in the Trinitarian [6] love and to reflect this love in his intimate life, in his relational behavior with other human beings, and in his being and acting in the world.

The great Project of God, rooted in the dynamics of communion, reconciliation and participation, to which the fundamental dynamisms of his most loved creature respond, wishes for man a culture of life, freedom and love, that will lead him to his fulfillment as person. A healthy theology of creation expresses a positive dynamics through which man becomes a fundamental cooperator of God.

God creates everything, gratuitously, from a supreme abundance of love, and all what He creates is good, as one can read in the beginning of the Holy Scriptures. Through suggestive images we are taught that peace, harmony and joy were the environment of the human race, that cooperated with God in developing creation. In the garden of Eden work itself has this meaning of cooperation. But the human being, using his liberty wrongly, sins; he distances himself from God, denying the divine Plan and introducing the dynamics of sin, of ruptures, in himself and in the whole creation, in his cultural manifestations, and also in the search of meaning that from the bottom of his self calls for a response in the infinite. The horizon of the marvelous gifts of God is darkened by the dynamics of sin, by the fog of death, of the abuse of freedom and of slavery, hatred, injustice, irreconciliation, anti-love, but it doesn’t disappear; on the contrary, it remains vital deep inside. From the beginnings of history the mystery of evil [7] is acting upon man, seeking to distort human freedom –which should direct to truth, good and beauty, to God–, trying to distance the life of each concrete man, of societies and their culture, from the way wanted by He who is Lord of History. We witness, points out the Holy Father, with sadness the “perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going” [8].

The Annunciation, and the Incarnation of God’s Eternal Word in the immaculate womb of the forever Virgin Mary and its consequences, the mysteries of his Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, pull us out of a perspective that could be shadowed by pessimism, and put us into the paschal horizon, full of hope, in which we are called, by the force of grace that calls us to cooperation, to adhere ourselves vitally to the Lord Jesus in an ascensional dynamism that transforms the meaning of human activity and leads us to a full life.

Man, creator of culture

Since the second narration of Genesis , and even before the fontal sin, human being appears as an authentic creator of culture. The Creator presents man an unnamed universe so that he, through the designation of names [9], humanizes his natural surroundings and in this way transforms it into his cultural home.

Human being is invited to express himself through mental codes, becoming in this way integrated into the creational dynamics. God himself appears as He who invites man to fashion man’s world, by his action and cooperation with the Creator, thus impregnating the world and the whole universe of culture with the interior traces he himself received when he was created in the “image and likeness” of God. In this unfolding to which he is invited by God, human being enters a horizon by which he projects himself, and also increases the unveiling of the intrinsic reality of his person, with a teleologicity that cannot be canceled [10]. Human action generates the sphere of culture in which he appears above all as “he who is” a human being, and later from this his obvious primacy, he irradiates upon himself as well as upon the universe of the objects he produces and puts into his own service and into the service of others, through work which, as the Pope says, “is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth” [11]. This culture that man –as the subject he is– generates with his action is in this way expression and environment of the human being. In this process, through the unfolding of his self he also fulfills himself. In the same way, through human action properly oriented, he cooperates with God in the dynamics of the unfolding of creation. And the consciousness in daily life of this reality of consonance with the development of God’s Plan offers an occasion for the development of the human, his nature, at the same time that in his projection he humanizes the cosmos. In all his great achievements the person learns to discover that they “are a sign of God’s grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design” [12].

A little more than a year before being elevated to the pontifical see, cardinal Karol Wojtyla ascertained that the human being -as creator of culture- as he acts and generates effects or products, expresses himself, and in a manner, fulfills himself, and even in a certain sense he “creates” himself, actualizing himself, bringing to a certain fulfillment his inherent potentialities [13].

Man’s calling to be “a maker of culture” warns us against any idea that reduces the human being either to the many actions of the process of work or to what his work, be it intellectual or material, produces. In the human unfolding one should never forget the primacy of the ontological and praxiological dimensions of the person as such, as a creature of God that bears his image. Therefore, in daily life the ultimate horizon will be the meaning beyond which there cannot be a greater meaning. In this way, in the measure that his unfolding corresponds day by day to his preeminent ontological density and to the tension towards the religious horizon –in which the relationship with God constitutes the nucleus–, the humanizing process of the unfolding of the human being and of his work projects itself personalizing him, and contributing to the humanization of society and its imprint in the universe.

Precisely this dimension as bearer of meanings and values through which the human being assumes himself freely and dynamically and inserts himself in the world, concentrates in certain realities, defining his world in terms of values or anti-values. This is the reason for the enormous importance of taking sin into account; its presence constitutes an obstacle for the correct humanizing unfolding in work and in the construction of culture, greatly distorting the space that he should have on earth to live in love and communion, a space for fulfillment and not a battleground where the ruptures reign [14]. Pope John Paul II indicates, precisely because of this, the possibility that through the indirect consequences of its effects, the fruits of work turn against human being himself [15]. Thus also the fundamental importance of the adherence to the faith of the Church that with its light illuminates the correct way. In it we can walk towards the configuring encounter with our Lord Jesus, who at the same time redeems, reconciles and transforms the human being, shows him his identity [16] and the direction so that the unfolding of his action and his cultural realizations become truly fruitful and humanizing.

The action and presence of human being, his ontological unfolding, establishes a dynamic relational situation, in which he is responsible for the hierarchy of values assumed in the contact between man and world. A cultural universe exists, structured according to fundamental values, that ultimately either respond to or oppose human nature as it has been created by God. This universe in its proper hierarchy of values cannot be altered or corrupted without grave consequences for the fulfillment of the human being. Responding to a proper unfolding gives meaning to the work that imprints its seal in an extraordinary dimension of humanization. Disregarding the proper unfolding leads to the world of the “culture of death”, where the influx of this negative dimension has its consequences in terms of offense to the dignity and rights of the human being, of having in excess with injustice to others, of the manifestations of a seeking of illicit pleasures that sinks the person and those he touches into dimensions that go against his dignity, of power for power’s sake, of violence, in sum, a process of degradation of the human.

Pope Pius XII, in the exhortation that has been called For a better world has already said: “It is a whole world that we have to rebuild from its foundations, that it is necessary to transform from savage into human, from human into divine, this is according to the heart of God” [17]. Analogously, Pope Paul VI, in his extraordinary encyclical Populorum progressio invites us –today more than 30 years later, with the sweetness and richness of the wine that grows older– to encounter ourselves and assume the superior values seeded by God in our own self, open in human fraternity to the service of our brothers and sisters, to pass through active unfolding from less human conditions to more human conditions, until we reach by this unfolding in the work that creates culture the dimension with which the unforgettable Pontiff ends his encouraging programmatic roster of more human conditions: “Finally and above all, there is faith–God’s gift to men of good will–and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men” [18]. All this constitutes the construction of a more human world, living day by day according to the truth of the person and the human coexistence that our Lord Jesus manifests us.

Facing the third millenium of faith, we can affirm that it is time to live hope, to unfold, adhered to our Lord Jesus and to the truth that he shows us in the Church, so that, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, contemplating Holy Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, we may work together as untiring artisans of the so longed Civilization of Love.


[1] Pope Paul VI, Inaugural Speech at the III General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 27/9/74.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Speech to the Italian bishops, priests and faithful gathered in the city of Palermo, 23/11/1995, n. 10.

[3] Cf. ibidem.

[4] 1Cor 9,16.

[5] Pope Paul VI, ibidem, p. 349.

[6] Cf. Santo Domingo, 121.

[7] Cf. 2Thes 2,7ff.

[8] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 84.

[9] Cf. Gen 2,19.

[10] I have taken some ideas for this exposition from Karol Wojtyla’s Person and community. Selected essays, Peter Lang, New York 1993, especially from The problem of the constitution of culture through human praxis, pp. 263ff.

[11] Pope John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 4.

[12] Gaudium et spes, 34.

[13] Cf. The problem of the constitution of culture through human praxis (18/3/1977), in Karol Wojtila, op. cit., p. 266.

[14] Cf. Puebla, 184 and 281; Santo Domingo, 9 and 243.

[15] Cf. Redemptor hominis, 15b.

[16] Cf. Gaudium et spes, 22.

[17] Pope Pius XII, For a better world, 10/2/1952, 4.

[18] Pope Paul VI, Populorum progressio, 21. Cf. also n. 20.


Notice: This article has been translated from Spanish. The author has not looked over the translation.

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