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Accept all of Church teaching, not just some parts Print
Guest column
Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

Guest Column

Editor's note: Following is a response to George Weigel's column, "Benedict and the truth about charity," published in the September 17 issue of the Catholic Herald. Portions of this article have been edited.

For those of us who have read Pope Benedict XVI's social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, George Weigel's recent commentaries may seem off the mark. Did he really read the same encyclical as the rest of us?

Caritas in Veritate is a very lengthy discussion of how our works of charity must proceed from the essential truth we find in Christ. If not, then such works reflect a kind of momentary whim or sentimentality.

Pope Benedict's encyclical extends and elaborates concepts developed previously in Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progressio, applying the concept of Charity in Truth to a range of worldwide social issues including inequitable distribution of wealth, relations between the first and third world countries, the explosive growth of modern technology, and man's relationship with the natural world. It is a heady document, quite lengthy, and well foot-noted.

But Mr. Weigel side steps all of these issues, focusing instead on only a couple of narrow issues consistent with his conservative point of view: the Church's defense of life and opposition to "cultural relativism." While these are certainly important issues and crucial to our life as Catholics, Mr. Weigel is clearly avoiding many larger concerns, which to him may be politically unpalatable.

Consider the work as a whole

The problem for Mr. Weigel is that the pope signed his name to the entire encyclical, which means that we, as Catholics, need to consider the work as a whole. It is certainly lengthy, difficult in parts, and may have some implications for the future development of Catholic social doctrine, as Mr. Weigel rightly suggests.

But for each of us, individually, the encyclical has implications for the way in which we relate to one another, think about and respond to inequality around us, and relate to poverty and inequality beyond our national borders. Pope Benedict calls us, as Christ calls us, to venture out of our comfort zones to address injustices in our world.

Jesus Christ was not a political thinker and was not particularly concerned with social doctrine: in Christ there is no right or left. For some on the left side of the spectrum, there may be rejoicing over the social justice issues but consternation at the equal emphasis on "life" issues -- he strongly upholds the right of the unborn child to life and adamantly opposes euthanasia and contraception.

We are not a one-issue church. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict has not made it easy to be Catholic, just as Jesus did not make it easy to be his follower. We may all read the encyclical and at the disagreeable points end up saying, "This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?"

Widen our vision

Yet we are called upon to accept the magesterium as a whole, not just the parts we like. We are called upon to be opened, to widen our vision as much as possible, recognizing that in the end it will never be wide enough -- the grandeur of God vastly exceeds our limited abilities.

Encountering our limitations and even our failures, we are called to wonder at aspects of creation which we may find so perplexing, so contradictory. We are not called to reject or to dichotomize, to split the world into the us and them.

We are called to address injustice and wrongs, in every form throughout the world, and to do this out of love, Mr. Weigel, out of love.

Peter Williamson lives in Madison.