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A Letter from the Pope: “Caritas in Veritate”

Beyond a personal dimension

But the pope says that love calls us beyond that. We’re called to love a larger world and work at building – and repairing – our earthly city.

“In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.” (67)

That’s not an easy job as our world struggles with a new globalism, advancing technology and, today especially, economic and political strife. We are living in a world where science offers promises, but it isn’t our sole answer. Love – patient love, hopeful love, sacrificing love, love that calls for all our talents and gifts – is needed. That love Christ begets in us.

Caritas in Veritate calls for Christ’s love, a love that serves not just me or my loved ones, or my country, or my church, but the development of the human being, the whole human being and all human beings who belong to the wide universe of creation.

It calls for a love that, respecting the reality of things and God’s plan for them, brings all its gifts of mind and heart to the cause of human development in our world.

“Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer, Christians moved by the knowledge that truth-filled love, caritas in veritate, from which authentic development proceeds, is not produced by us, but given to us. For this reason, even in the most difficult and complex times, besides recognizing what is happening, we must above all else turn to God’s love. Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.” (79)

The pope’s encyclical is many-faceted. The New York Times columnist, Ross Douthout, remarked on its “left-right fusionism.” “It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.” (NY Times, July 13, 2009)

The pope obviously believes that Christians should be involved in a broad range of inter-connected social issues and not a single social problem.

I wondered after reading the encyclical how the 82-year-old pope felt after putting his signature to this massive, complex document. Tired out?

Stamp Stamp issued in Germany for the
80th birthday of Pope Benedict XVI

Surely he was. The encyclical and the big issues it deals with would tire out anyone who looks at it. But instead of exhaustion, the pope in his letter promises something else to those who involve themselves in the large issues that face our world – the surprising gratuitousness of God.

We often think it’s all up to us, the pope says. “Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society.” (34) But surprising, life-giving gifts await those who build our earthly city, “gifts beyond our merit… in many different forms” that awaken us to the presence of God.

“Charity in truth places us before the astonishing experience of gift.” That’s something to think about as we face our world today. We may tend to shun the massive problems that confront us in our own communities as well as the world community. Too much, we say.

But the pope says that love is at its best when life seems too much. Jesus Christ showed that when he faced with love the challenge of the Cross.

Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P. is former editor of The Passionists' Compassion Magazine.

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Note: numbers following quotations refer to sections of the Encyclical, which may be found online.