Monday, January 19, 2009

Deus Caritas Est

On the eve of the Inauguration I am rereading Deus Caritas Est or God is Love for the umpteenth time and working my way through The Way of Love for additional insights to share with our book club; we began discussing this Encyclical last week.

I finished Deus Caritas Est or God is Love for the second time 15 January 2009. The first time I read Deus Caritas Est (DCE) was also my initial exposure to an Encyclical, a Papal Letter, as well as to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. I was not disappointed on either account; in fact just the opposite. This second reading, however, I really appreciated DCE and its author!

If you've never read any Church documents, I can't recommend a better place to begin. I'm sure PBXVI had that in mind when he contemplated his first Encyclical. Given 'his reputation as a strong authoritarian who was set upon disciplining many in the Church and reprimanding “the world”,'* no doubt Pope Benedict's choice of "Love" as a topic for his first official letter as pope must have surprised many. It would seem to be out-of-character to those who rely on the news media as their basis of opinion for public figures. But for those who knew the real man, the quiet scholar, the faithful priest, it was a statement about his life's devotion to Jesus Christ who is Love Incarnate.

The first half of the book is entitled "The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History" and by the Pope's own admission, 'it is more speculative' since he wanted 'to clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man, together with the intrinsic link between that love and the reality of human love.' (DCE 1) In this first section, PBXVI deals with the problem of language and how the word 'Love' is used, misused and misunderstood. (See my next post on Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power for more about the misuse about language.) There is an explanation of the differences between eros and agape love, a refutation of Nietzsche's claim that Christianity destroyed eros and the fulfillment of God's Love through The Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The second part of the book, Caritas, The Practice of Love by the Church as a "Community of Love" deals with the proper practice for Church today, that of being manifest love. If we call ourselves Christians, then Charity, or Love, is our responsibility--Charity in all its many forms. Works of charity should not blind us, nor do they relieve us of the responsibility to work for justice. Even so, the Holy Father points out that, 'The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics...(and) the State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions.' (DCE 28) However, no matter what system man creates, 'Love--caritas--will prove necessary, even in the most just society.' (DCE 28)

Deus Caritas Est reveals a man in love with a God of Love. It is a beautiful synthesis of the Christian Gospel and a perfect first Encyclical. Read it and rejoice!

* During his time as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was often caricaturized as a “rigid” enforcer of Church Dogma. This adverse judgment on him had no basis in fact; nonetheless it was the portrait of him that many had chosen to accept. It is true that it was his job to protect Church doctrine, which sometimes required him to reprimand or to discipline wayward theologians, but the image of him perpetuated by the media was, and is, far from the truth. Those who know him well describe him as a brilliant, but rather shy and retiring professor type, who always strives to speak from the heart of the Church. Those inside and outside of the Church respect Pope Benedict for his great intellect and learning. By all accounts, he is unfailingly kind and has a great capacity for listening, even to those with whom he does not agree. In short, he is a faithful disciple of Jesus and the Church.' (Extracted from the Diocese of Pittsburgh Study Guide which our group is using).

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