Caritas in Veritate in Daily Life
Fr Christopher Valka, CSB
Salt and Light Television Network, Canada

Reflection on the latest Papal Encyclical

Since the release of the latest Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, theologians, reporters, and other writers have scurried to pen their analysis and opinions of Pope Benedict's thoughts concerning the social issues challenging the world today. In a work that spans 79 articles and six chapters, there are plenty of points for writers to praise and criticize. In my own research, I read ideas that span from one reporter who believes that Pope Benedict illustrates a "willful disregard for economic history and the massive benefits of free markets and globalization" to another who likens this Encyclical to a duck-billed platypus.

Certainly, the various theological and sociological issues are important to debate, but it seems to me they all fail to highlight the most basic issue of any important document: its resonantia. That is to ask how a papal document speaking on social concerns that most certainly have a direct bearing on people's lives is to be transmitted, discussed, and received by the average Catholic (and even non-Catholic) going about the work of providing for their family?

In the specific case of Caritas in Veritate, I believe that much of the angst surrounding this Encyclical may be pacified if it is read, not for the statements it makes, but for its potential for dialogue and the questions is raises.

This is, after all, the genius of Pope Benedict: where one might prefer a simple statement easily condensed into a sound-bite, this Pope offers a reason for discussion and an opportunity to wrestle with the challenges of living the Gospel in a modern, pluralistic, compartmentalized age.

As a case in point, I am still wrestling with the implications of Benedict's idea that "uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage" (25)

In light of this perspective, it seems fitting, not to offer, yet another critique of the statements contained in Caritas in Veritate; but rather, to highlight opportunities for discussion among parish, academic and small-faith communities.

First, Catholic Social Teaching. Priests and other ministers would be unwise to take for granted that even faithful Catholics are aware of even the most basic ideas concerning Catholic Social Teaching. Even fewer would be aware that that an entire compendium has been published on Catholic Social Thought that chronicles decades of statements and ideas. The publication of this Encyclical is a good excuse to offer a re-introduction.

Second, the tension that exists between "pro-lifers" and the peace and justice activists. In article 28, Benedict obliges "us to broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways". In fact, through this Encyclical there are great strides to bridge the ideologies that often separate the pro-life agenda from other social justice related concerns.

Third, globalization. "'Globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it'. We should not be its victims, but rather its protagonists..." (42). Benedict directly confronts this ideology and offers communities the potential for rich dialogue about the benefits and challenges of living in an increasingly pluralized world.

Fourth, rights and duties. In an age where rights and entitlement reign supreme, it is beneficial to discuss our rights and duties in the light of the Gospel. Beginning with article 43, Pope Benedict examines these ideas as integral to proper development.

Fifth, the role of the consumer. "It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral and not simply economic act. Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in-hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise". (66)

Sixth, technology. "Technology is never merely technology". (69) Admittedly, most ministers and clergy need assistance as to the practical approaches to living our faith in technology, but the first step is most certainly one of awareness, which I have no doubt, can prompt fruitful dialogue.

In the end what must not be forgotten is amidst the various theological and social criticisms of this latest Encyclical is that it is an Encyclical the thoughts of our Pope on the most pressing and relevant matters of our day. As such, Caritas in Veritate should be well received, not because of its statements, but because of the questions it should bring about in the daily lives of all who read and/or discuss it.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 July 2009, page 8

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