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Bishop Speaks
February 9, 2006 Edition

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Under the Gospel Book
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"Bajo el Libro del Evangelio"

Bishops' Schedules:
Bishop Robert C. Morlino

Friday, February 10, 2006
6:00 p.m. -- Attend Serra Valentine Dinner, Edgewood College, Madison

Sunday, February 12, 2006
11:00 a.m. -- Preside and Preach at the Celebration of the Eucharist, Bishop's Stational Mass, St. Patrick Church, Madison

Sunday, February 12, 2006
4:00 p.m. -- Preside and Preach at the Sacrament of Confirmation, St. Norbert Church, Roxbury

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
2:30 p.m. -- Attend Priests' Gathering, Bishop O'Connor Pastoral Center, Madison

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
12:00 p.m. -- Preside and Preach at the Celebration of the Eucharist, Bishop O'Connor Pastoral Center, Madison

Thursday, February 16 to Sunday, February 26, 2006
Apostolic Visitation of Seminaries, The American College of the Immaculate Conception - Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain, Belgium

Bishop George O. Wirz

Sunday, February 12, 2006
10:30 a.m. -- Preside and Preach at the Sacrament of Confirmation, St. Joseph Church, Edgerton

Pope's encyclical: Reminder of different forms of love

illustration of Gospel Book being held open over bishop's head

Under the
Gospel Book

+ Bishop Robert
C. Morlino

Dear Friends,

I find myself on vacation having joyfully and pleasantly spent the whole afternoon yesterday studying our Holy Father's new encyclical entitled God Is Love. It is one of those documents that as a bishop I would be obligated to read and study in addition to my other duties, and to do so under the ordinary pressures of work might even seem a burden.

But to be able, prayerfully and carefully, to read and reflect on the text in a beautiful surrounding has truly been a great gift, as this first encyclical of Pope Benedict is surely a great gift to the Church. I hope that each of you will seek the opportunity to read and study the encyclical - it can be downloaded from the Web site of the Bishops Conference, www.usccb.org, or it can be ordered and purchased in hard-copy form.

What I would like to do is touch upon what I consider to be the main points of the encyclical - it would be impossible to recapture in summary form the total depth of Pope Benedict's magnificent document. He rises in the document at times to the poetic majesty of the writings of John Paul the Great but also maintains the very crisp clarity of perhaps the finest theological mind in the world.

God so loved the world

From my point of view, the encyclical reaches its summit when Pope Benedict speaks about the inner contest within God Himself, relative to our salvation. We could never earn or deserve our salvation according to any standard of justice. And yet, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). Within the Godhead, love and justice contested, and love won out over justice, while at the same time justice was satisfied.

This could only have happened through Christ's suffering and death on the cross, which at the same time proved God's love in an indisputable way and also manifested His justice - so grave was our sinfulness that only the death of God's only Son could make adequate satisfaction in the order of justice. The victory of love over justice with the demands of justice satisfied - only God could work that one out through the Easter mystery of the suffering, death, and resurrection of His only Son. What a powerful love God's love for us is!

Two forms of love

Pope Benedict reminds us of the classical distinction between eros and agape, the two forms of love in classical philosophy. Eros is characterized as ascending passion and agape as descending selflessness. Benedict argues that the true love with which God loves the world must exhibit both elements and therefore so must our human love, created as we are in the image and likeness of God. God's descent in Christ was the ultimate act of selflessness, the ultimate act of love: "Greater love no one has than he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

But God's love for His people has always been a passionate and jealous love, so often reflected in both Old and New Testament writings. Agape without eros would be disembodied love and not possible for us in our humanity because there can never be a mind-body split. Eros without agape is self-destructive and undisciplined. Since the love of God Himself for us involved passion (passion as an expression of deep sentiment as well the sufferings of Christ), human love, as it is perfected, must never lose the element of passion as it grows in the dimension of agape, the descending selfless loving initiative that God has taken toward us.

Faith and reason go together

Benedict points out powerfully that just as there can be no mind-body split, there should be no split between faith and reason. Reason by itself can discover many things, the existence of God, the dignity of every human being, the truth about marriage as the union of one husband-one wife for one lifetime with openness to children.

Benedict spends a great deal of time pointing out that the loving union of husband and wife is the most perfect reflection of the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is, marriage truly is a sign of the union of Christ with His Church.

Benedict sees faith as purifying reason and enabling it to achieve its highest potential. Reason without faith is locked into a limited perception of the truth about the universe which reason seeks. Faith without reason does not allow us to fulfill the inner dynamic of human intelligence. Faith and reason both go together and as Benedict so well says, faith purifies reason.

Relationship between Church, State

Benedict addresses at some length, in his encyclical, the relationship between Church and State and repeats the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which I have repeated on many occasions, that the State should never force anyone to practice religion and should never prevent anyone from practicing religion. Apart from this refraining, it is the rightful place of the State to promote religion because the practice of authentic religion promotes self-control, and self-control among the citizenry is conducive to democracy, because the greater the self-control lived out, the lesser the need for government control or interference.

Benedict goes on to say that the Church as the Body of Christ, herself, has an obligation and responsibility to practice charity in concrete ways. He speaks about how the Church herself should develop programs so that solidarity and justice are lived out among the whole human community. The love of God, whom we cannot see, must be reflected in the love of one's neighbor on the basis of which we will be judged - "when I was hungry, you gave me to eat, when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink . . ." (Matthew 25:35).

And thus while Benedict does not use the term, "faith-based initiatives," I do not see how one could draw any other conclusion from his document than that faith-based initiatives are very appropriate and in order, as the Church lives out her mission to the world in cooperation with civil authority.

Benedict also points out that the State should not be expected to provide so completely for the needs of individuals so as to render unnecessary individual acts of charity. While Benedict does not see the Church or her bishops and priests taking partisan political positions, he does see the Church as standing up for, and living out, the principles of justice and charity which are not a specific Catholic denominational doctrine, but rather are the demands which reason suggests are necessary to bring about the common good.

Importance of ministries

In this context, Pope Benedict points out, almost in passing, that the most authentic lay ministry is precisely the ministry of responsible Catholic participation in the political sphere so that the demands of both justice and charity are lived out by the State in collaboration with religious institutions.

Also, almost in passing, Benedict specifies that charity is one of the three missions or offices of the Church, the other two being the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Sacraments. Benedict points out that while priests are ordained and ontologically changed for celebrating the ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments, it is the deacons who are the publicly authorized, life-long signs of the Church's mission or office of charity. Thus the presence of the deacons in the local Church, not because there is a shortage of priests - that simply misses the point.

The presence of deacons in the local Church is necessary because just as priests are visible signs of the living out of the Church's mission and ministry of Word and Sacrament, deacons are the visible sign of the Church's living out her ministry of charity. All of us need to be enlightened by this very important clarification of the identity of the deacon as we seek to grow in appreciation for the role of deacons in the Church.

Exemplification of truth of love

Lastly, our Blessed Mother Mary is the human person who best exemplifies the truth of love as the union of agape and eros. She was the passionate mother of sorrows as she stood at the foot of the Cross and yet the perfectly unselfish handmaid of the Lord, who lived out her "let it be done to me," her fiat, in the most perfect way, and so became the greatest of all Christians, the perfect disciple, the mother of all the saints.

I hope that these reflections of mine may provide for you some "hooks" on which to hang your own thoughts and prayers on as you read and study our new encyclical, God Is Love. Thank you for reading this; God bless each one of you.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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