Encyclical should be required reading Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Jul. 16, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

editor's view

Pope Benedict XVI has been writing an encyclical on charity for some time. But in releasing the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”) on July 7, it looks as if the Holy Father is responding to our current world economic crisis. 

His words are certainly prophetic and inspiring. In fact, they should be assigned reading for not only members of the Catholic Church, but also for leaders of every nation, business executives, workers . . . well, everybody!

Read the document

Allow yourself time to read this encyclical. I printed it off the Vatican Web site and it took 54 pages of paper (printed on one side, sorry). However, it is a very readable document. I could almost hear Pope Benedict’s voice in his soft German accent as I read the encyclical.

What comes across is the Holy Father’s genuine concern for the bodies and souls of every human being and the deteriorating condition of our planet. The pope also shows us his profound insights into what is wrong with our world and what could make it right. 

Extraordinary force of love

At the heart of his message is love. He says, “Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”

Pope Benedict might agree with the Beatles’ song, “All you need is love.” But the Holy Father would caution us about seeing love in a limited way. Love, in the pope’s view, must be linked with the truth, with God and our faith.

We must remember that God is the origin of love. All people feel the “interior impulse” to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, the pope says. 

Love of God and neighbor

The pope points out that charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. “It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members, or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic, and political ones).” 

The Holy Father reminds us that we don’t live in isolation. We need to share what we have with others. We must be concerned not only for our own welfare, but for the common good of society.

Does the Holy Father mean that people can’t make a living and accumulate wealth? I don’t think so. But he would encourage those with money to share whatever they can with those less fortunate.

He chastises those who make profit their “exclusive goal,”  especially if it is produced by “improper means and without the common goal as its ultimate end.” He calls for an “articulated vision of development,” which means active participation of people in the international economic process. He calls for the education of all people and democratic governments to ensure freedom and peace, which lead to economic development for all people.

Show solidarity

However, the pope warns that “inequalities are on the increase.” Even in rich countries (I’m sure he includes the United States in that category), “new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty.” We certainly are seeing that in our country, with higher unemployment affecting many people’s standard of living.

Pope Benedict warns that large multinational companies sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers. He laments the downsizing of social security systems, which we can see in the elimination of benefits such as health insurance and pensions for many workers.

Food shortages also impact lives around the world, the pope notes. “Hunger still reaps enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man’s table,” says the Holy Father. He encourages us to show solidarity and share our goods with those in need. Elimination of world hunger is a “requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet,” he says. 

Turn to God in prayer

Above all, Pope Benedict says that development “needs Christians with their arms raised to God in prayer.” 

“Development requires attention to the spiritual life . . . spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God’s providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace.”

As the pope says, “Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.”

Yes, all we need is love. But it needs to be a God-centered love which reaches out to those in need. I encourage people to read this encyclical and think about how to put Pope Benedict’s words into action in our own lives.