Today, the Vatican published Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est", an encyclical on charity.
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 Jn 4:16)." These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.¨ These are the words which begin the encyclical.
"In a world in which the name of God is associated with vengeance, or where hate and violence are associated to it, the Christian message of God's Love is of great actuality," stresses the Pope.
The encyclical is divided into two parts. The first one offers a theological reflection on "Love", in its different dimensions -eros, philia, agape- giving some essential precisions on the Love of God for man and its intrinsic union with human love.
The terme "Love" affirms the document, "one of the most used and abused words in the world today, possesses a wide semantic range. In the multiple significant, though, emerges the archetype of what is the love between a man and a women, which in the antique Greece was given the name eros."
Following on the explanation of the Word "Love", the Holy Father reminds that "in the Bible", and above all in the New Testament, the concept of "Love is deepened- a development that is expressed in Mass at the limit of the word Eros and more in favor of the term Agape, to express such a self-gving Love."
Encountering possible misinterpretations of such a development, such as negative readings of Eros and corporality, the Encyclical underlines that "the Eros, set into its nature of man by the same Creator, is in need of discipline, purification and maturation in order not to loose his original dignity and not to degrade it to pure 'sex' therefore becoming a commodity."
"The Christian faith-he continues- has always considered man as a being in which the spirit and the matter compenetrate, acquiring a new nobility from it. The challenge of Eros is considered overcome when in man, body and soul meet in perfect harmony. Love then becomes, yes an 'extasis' not a moment of momentary intoxication but rather an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God".
"In Jesus Christ, who is the love incarnate of God, the eros-agape reaches its more radical form. In the death of the cross, Jesus, giving himself to elevate and save man, expresses Love in its most sublime form. In this act of offering, Jesus has assured a lasting presence through the institution of the Eucharist, which under the species of bread and wine, he gives himself as the new manna that unites us to him."
"Participating to the Eucharist, we are involved too in the dynamic of his gift. We unite ourselves to him and at the same time to all the others to which he gives himself. We become then one body. So that Love for God and Love for the neighbor are truly fused. The double commandment becomes one, thanks to this encounter with the Agape of God: Love can be "sent" because it has first been given.
The practice of Love by the Church
The second part of the document deals with the concrete exercise of the commandment of love to the neighbor. It this part he affirms that "the love to the neighbor is rooted in the love of God, along with being a duty for all the faithful; it is also for the whole ecclesial community, who in its charitable activity is the manifestation of Trinitarian love"
"The conscience of such a duty has had a constituent relevance for the Church since its beginning. In the fundamental structure of the Church appeared the "diaconia" as service of Love to the neighbor exercised in community and in an ordained manner."
Pope Benedict shows as well how "with the progressive spread of the Church, The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia).
The Pope criticizes then the utilitarian vision of charity, especially in marxism, affirming that from the XIX century on, a fundamental objection has been raised against the charitable work of the Church: it would be counter to justice and would end up acting in maintaining the status quo. With the accomplishment of works of charity, the Church would favor the maintaining of an unjust system making it acceptable and therefore slowing protracting the rebellion and the potential change for a better world. In that sense, marxims had pointed out in the world revolution and its preparation, the panacea for the social problematic- a dream that vanished through time.
Reminding in the same line, the magisterial of the Pontiffs, "beginning with the Encyclical Rerum novarum of Leo XIII towards the trilogy of John Paul II's social Encyclicals (Laborem exercens, Sollicitudo rei socialis, Centesimus annus), the Encyclical affirms that he faced with insistence the social question, and while confronting problematic situations, he always developed a very articulate social doctrine, that proposed valid orientations over the confines of the Church."
"The creation of a just order of society and the State, is a central responsibility of politics, and can therefore not be directly given to the Church. The catholic social doctrine does not want to give the Church power over the State, but only purify and illuminate reason, offering its proper contribution to the formation of consciences, so that the real requests of justice can be perceived, recognized and realized. There exists though, no stately order that, can make superficial the service of love."
"The State that wishes to provide for everything becomes a burocratic instance that cannot assure the essential contribution that the suffering man needs: the loving personal dedication," warns as well Pope Benedict.
The Encyclical shows how to see as a collateral effect of globalization, "that manifest in the fact that the solicitude of the neighbor, transcends the confines of national communities, and tends to extend to the whole world. The structure of national communities and humanitarian associations backs in many ways the solidarity expressed by civil society: many organizations with charitable and philanthropic ends have been created lately.
The Catholic Church as well- the Holy Father continues- and in other ecclesial communities have surfaced new modes of charitable activities. Among all these, it is necessary that a fruitful collaboration may be established. For this reason, it is very important that the Church's charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance."
For the Church to keep the essence of Christian charity, his Hollines refers to the necessity to:
- Be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.
- Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. The Christian's programme, the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus "a heart which sees."
- Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.
But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside," warns the Pope. "A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak."
Prayer in the action
Towards the end of the Encyclical, the Holy Father reminds the importance of prayer. "In the face of secularism and activism, that may condition also the lives of many Christians engaged in charitable work, it is important to reaffirm the importance of prayer."
A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures.
"He who prays doesn't not waist his time, even though if the situation seem to call only for action, he doesn¡¦t pretend to change or correct the plans of God, but rather searches at the example of Mary and the Saints, to find light in God." the Pontiff concluded.
To read full text of the Encyclical: