Reflection on Caritas in Veritate
Matthew Harrison
Producer, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network Canada

Encyclical's look at life and authentic human development

At 40 some odd pages, not including footnotes, Caritas in Veritate is a dense document. The third Encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI explores the economic crisis, while discussing areas of solidarity, subsidiarity, the environment, human dignity, and the sanctity of life. As the Pontiff states in the document, it does not offer any "technical solutions" (n. 9), but as he reminded us at his 8 July [2009] General Audience, it serves as part of the Church's mission to recall "the great principles that show themselves to be indispensable for building human development in the coming years".

Human development is very much part of the investigation that the Holy Father is conducting in Caritas in Veritate. What caught my attention in reading this Encyclical was the Holy Father's vision for authentic human development in particular, what he considered key: the respect for life. "Openness to life", writes Benedict, "is at the centre of true development" (n. 28).

As expected in bringing up life issues the topic of abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and population control are addressed by the Pontiff. Besides condemning these practices, the Holy Father reminds us that a country that welcomes these ideas affects not only its own citizens, but other nations as well. By embracing this "anti-birth mentality" a country often exports it "to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress" (n. 28). Pope Benedict's insight here should grab the attention of those of us in the West. The decisions that are made in Canada or in the United States are of great influence. How often do we read articles on life issues that include some kind of note referring to a precedent-setting legal decision by a country's court? The issues we debate and decide locally, and nationally, have repercussions internationally. The damage done has far-reaching consequences: "When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good" writes Pope Benedict, "If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away" (n. 28).

Related to this, the Holy Father looks to the environment as one of his examples of other forms but adds one caveat. While steadfastly defending the environment as a gift from God that we are to responsibly steward, he adds it is "contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person" (n. 48). "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa", cautions the Pontiff, adding: "The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development" (51).

Noting its importance as part of human development, Pope Benedict calls for the protection of the family. He begins this discussion by addressing declining birthrates (n. 44), wisely pointing out that a counter to this trend is more complicated than simply encouraging married couples to have more children. There must be a change in our mentality, a rediscovery of the value of family and of children.

"It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person" writes Benedict. "In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character" (n. 44).

Though Caritas in Veritate is touted as a response to the current economic crisis, it is much more than that. A defense of family, the sanctity of life, a caution to not undermine the importance of human dignity: the Holy Father prudently explores each area, dissecting each topic on its own, as well as relating it to economics. Regardless of any economic aspect, the wisdom shared concerning these areas stands on its own. It serves us well to take note of this as we strive for authentic human development.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 September 2009, page 9

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