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
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,
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.