Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI participated in a congress organized by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, in which he laid out to participants the major themes of his new Encyclical and told them that Christians must reclaim the misused and often abused concept of “love.”
The event is taking place Monday and Tuesday of this week in the Vatican's New Synod Hall, on the theme, " ... But the greatest of these is love," taken from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians.
The congress was originally scheduled to be held following the release of the Pope’s first Encyclical “Deus Caritas est”, but the document’s release has been delayed to Wednesday--reportedly because of translation difficulties.
In his address, the Holy Father made frequent reference to the Encyclical, which is still largely being used as a staging point for the meetings.
He began his address by referring to Dante‘s Divine Comedy, which he called a “cosmic journey” in which the reader takes a front row seat.
He said that this journey "ends before the eternal light, that is God Himself, before that Light which is, at the same time, 'the love that moves the sun and the other stars'."
The God Who appears in Dante's central circle of light has a human face and, we may add, a human heart. Dante's vision shows the continuity between the Christian faith in God and research based on reason.”
“At the same time,” he said however, “there appears a novelty that goes beyond all human research: the novelty of a love that impelled God to assume a human face, to take on flesh and blood. ... The 'eros' of God is not just a primordial cosmic force, it is the love that created human beings and stretches reaches out towards them."
Need for reclamation
"The word 'love,'“ the Pope said, “is so overused today, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it. Yet, ... it is the expression of a primordial reality, ... and we must retrieve it, ... so that it may illuminate our lives.”
He said that this awareness “is what induced me to choose love as the theme of my first Encyclical. I wanted to try and express, for our own times and our own lives, something of that which Dante encapsulated in his vision."
“Faith”, he continued, should become "a vision-understanding that transforms us…I wanted to highlight the centrality of faith in God, in the God Who assumed a human face and a human heart. ... In an age in which ... we are witnessing the abuse of religion even unto the apotheosis of hatred.”
He stressed that “we have need of the living God Who loved us even unto death. Thus, in this Encyclical, the themes of God, Christ and Love are fused together as a central guide to the Christian faith."
The Holy Father admitted that "A first reading of the Encyclical could perhaps give rise to the impression that it is divided into two parts with little in common between them: a first theoretical part discussing the essence of love, and a second part covering ecclesial charity and charitable organizations.”
He pointed out however, that he “was interested precisely in the unity between the two themes, only if seen as a single thing can they be properly understood.”
“On the basis of the Christian image of God,” Benedict continued, “it was necessary to show how man was created to love, and how this love, which initially appears above all as 'eros' between man and woman, must then be internally transformed into 'agape,' into the giving of self to others."
He stressed that "On this basis, it was necessary to clarify how the essence of the love for God and for others, ... is the core of Christian life, the fruit of faith."
Then, he said, in the second part of the document, “As to the divine Logos, corresponds the human proclamation of the word, so to the Agape which is God himself, should correspond the agape of the Church in its charitable work…It was necessary to highlight that the totally personal act of 'agape' can never remain a purely individual issue, rather it must also become an essential act of the Church as community; in other words, it also needs the institutional form that finds expression in the community activity of the Church."
The Pope concluded his address saying that "The ecclesial organization of charity is not a form of social assistance, a casual addition to the reality of the Church. ... Rather, it is part of the nature of the Church, ... [and] must in some way make the living God visible.”
“The spectacle of suffering man touches our hearts,” he said. “But charitable commitment has a meaning that goes well beyond simple philanthropy. It is God Himself Who encourages us from within our most intimate selves to alleviate misery. ... It is He Himself Whom we carry into a suffering world.”
He closed, by affirming that “The greater the awareness and clarity with which we bear Him as a gift, the more effectively will our love change the world.