At the BMW championship recently, golfer Phil Mickelson was reported to have purchased a glass of lemonade from some kids at a roadside stand. The price was $1, and he left a $99 tip.

Mickelson is one of his sport’s leading players. Through hard work, perseverance and many trials, he has developed the game of golf to an art.

Mickelson is also known for his philanthropy. He and his wife, Amy, have hosted thousands of children in back-to-school shopping sprees. They contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hurricane Katrina relief, and they donated considerable money to help with wounded veterans.

Mickelson’s generosity is an example of the social principle of solidarity.

The principle of solidarity is a sense of the common good, of the natural and supernatural connections that bind us one to another, and of our responsibility toward one another.

In individual cases, the application of the principle is a reminder of the clear moral imperative that the wealthy exercise their sacred obligation to aid the less advantaged and to work toward the betterment of everyone.

While the Catholic Church is certainly not in favor of Marxism or socialism, Thomas Aquinas, one of the great thinkers of the Catholic faith, taught that ownership of private property is certainly allowed but that the use of that privately held wealth must be directed toward the common good. This is because everything ultimately belongs to God, and we are given stewardship of it for a period of time.

This principle of solidarity in relationship to government action means that state government — and many times the federal government — are appropriate vehicles to direct the use of wealth collected through taxes or otherwise for the common good. We see this in such things as unemployment insurance and in Social Security.

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

There was a time when rugged individualism precluded thoughts of the federal government creating a social welfare net, even as the agrarian and more local family units, which were more relied on before the 1930s, became less intact.

Mickelson’s encounter with the lemonade stand demonstrates the principle of subsidiarity, which is also part of Catholic social teaching. Golf, particularly, rewards individual hard work and God-given talent. Lemonade stands are probably the most basic unit of the entrepreneurial spirit to be found. Their construction and operation, and yes, regulation, belong at the most local level possible.

Subsidiarity is the principle that says that in matters economic and political, the preference is always to be given to the most local level of authority that can handle the matter. We don’t appeal lemonade stand issues to state regulatory authority; at least I hope not. So, too, with questions such as traffic, employment issues and health concerns solutions should be found at the most local level possible.

This principal does not negate the idea that sometimes the federal government must be involved, but the preference is clearly for solutions to be found at the local level if possible.

Subsidiarity if taken to an extreme, and left unchecked, could result in a rampant capitalism and even a rugged individualism that exults greed over the common good. Solidarity, if left unchecked, can devolve into government rule to achieve whatever those in power deem to be justice either through an outright exercise of power or through more subtle forms of social engineering.

Catholic social teaching emphasizes the application of both the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of solidarity. The two are not meant to be mixed and balanced; instead one principle acts as a check on the other principle.

There is no Christian doctrine that clearly defines when and how the two principles are to be applied, when one is meant to be used to check the other. Instead, the application of the two principles — subsidiarity and solidarity — where one principle limits the over-application of the other principle, is an exercise of prudent judgment.

The Rev. David Olson is pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish.


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(11) comments


You are taking liberties with Catholic social doctrine by saying that governments redistributing wealth is "Solidarity". That is NOT in line with Catholic doctrine at all.

Please don't believe this fella. He is bastardizing social doctrine for his liberal ends.


This is a good column, infinitely more thoughtful than the individualistic loose-cannon version of solidarity and subsidiarity which Paul Ryan launched upon listeners at Georgetown University earlier this year. In his typically hyperpartisan speech, he seized the Catholic concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity and clumsily misused them as political bludgeons.

In that speech, Ryan repeated the extreme right's common but patently absurd accusation that his political opponents are trying to rig the system to achieve "equal outcomes". Ryan then attempted to glorify his individual-empowerment vision for America with his pathetically naive notion that the elderly should be set free to purchase their own individual health insurance from private insurance companies which he would "force" to compete in the best interests of senior citizens!

The generosity of individuals like Mickelson can not keep pace with rapidly rising costs of health care for example, but Olson's column is commendable.


The Shrine showed us how the Catholic church hates capitalism. Catholic schools were closed all over the area, churches combined or closed for lack of funds. The donations for the Shrine we were told, came from outside our area. Now many,many Catholics voted for the most pro-abortion president in history. An administration that is going to force the Catholic church to pay for abortion. It seems the Catholic church wants the money from a capitalistic society, but protests many of the people that are funding the church. Playing both sides. I think the church is looking into the face of it's biggest and hardest fight in history. Morals or money, it is time for all Catholics to decide what God means to them.

Bill O'Rights

There is no requirement that the Catholic Church, or any RELIGION, must provide any medical procedure for anyone. There are reasonable regulations on BUSINESSES concerning medical care for their employees. If a religion does not want to comply with business regulations they should stop operating businesses and go back to being religions.

Seriously Now

Hey, old&dirty, you are seriously confused and/or misinformed. The shrine (I recall) only said that no money came from local church coffers, the diocese, etc. Nothing about "outside our area." It was all volunteer donations and a PRIVATE PROJECT. Whether someone buys a big screen TV or donates to something you don't like is none of your concern. As they say, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Churches combined or closed for lack of PEOPLE going to them, not funds. Changing demographics and a general move away from religion were the cause, not dollars.

Seriously Now

An interesting article, only lightly seasoned with Nappy-Fang bait. I am surprised that some of the non-thinkers here have not tried to obliterate the entire point of the letter by just screaming "PRIEST ABUSE!!!" Perhaps it is a rainy morning and they are lying in bed, hung over or the drugs haven't worn off. One line caught my eye, "There was a time when rugged individualism precluded thoughts of the federal government creating a social welfare net, ..." This seems to be the sustaining idea of a lot of tea party goons, that there STILL should be this John Wayne, gnaw-off-your-own-leg-if-it gets-stuck kind of thinking. Under that is this almost medieval assumption that, if something bad happened to you, you must have deserved it. How odd.

Buggs Raplin

Nappy, the supernatural is a very real concept. As you know, I reject all organized religions, but there are things beyond the natural. I know this from experience.


No, you don't.

Buggs Raplin

You had to be there when it happened. But then, Nappy, you are so wise and wonderful in everything you say and do, I wonder why Obama hasn't found a place for you in his administration. Tribune readers, please...sometime today..get down on your hands and knees and give thanks for Nappy's invaluable insights.


Better question: were you 'all there' when it didn't happen? Are you drunk or something?

Supernatural claims = made-up nonsense.


Olson: "....supernatural connections...."

...aren't real.

There is no such thing as the supernatural.

What's real? Here ya go:


The Road to Reality


File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat


Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.