Reflections on the Holy Father's Encyclical Letter

Reflections on the Holy Father's Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est - 1

Cardinal Renato Martino
President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Love experienced makes one capable of 'self-gifting'

Truth unites people because it brings them out of their closed, individual opinions. Love unites people because it brings them out of their individual forms of selfishness.

Christianity proclaims Truth and Love. Therefore, Christianity is the religion of the communion and unity of the human race.

It seems to me that, in the final analysis, this is the central aspect of the message that the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est addresses to all of us, people of the third millennium, at the level of our social coexistence.

Indeed, Benedict XVI writes: "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation — the Logos, primordial reason — is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love" (n. 10).

The metaphysical Principle stooped down to man and loved him. God is truth, so the world and our life have meaning.

Christian truth, however, is not limited to giving life an architectural or abstract meaning. Christian truth also and especially furnishes an existential meaning, a vital experience of meaning.

God is truth who comes to meet us, who challenges us, who encounters us. He is truth as an event of love. If this were not so, life could only count on an abstract and thus insipid truth and love would be blind and reduced to passion.

This central message of Deus Caritas Est — God is Love — is the basis of human coexistence.

Indeed, this message "constitutes" us, it "convokes us to a commitment" and extends the ties of love to the extreme boundaries of the earth. The trends that bind people over and above their many differences find here — in God's love — their true roots, and open vistas in which to develop.

Feeling challenged by the truth and discovering that one is loved are experiences that strengthen in the person the knowledge of his own dignity and consequently his ability to come out of himself.

Those who are loved in practice are aware of their "being" and their "worth", and hence, feel that they are a resource and are capable of giving.

Those who feel loved receive, so they learn how to give. Those who feel loved experience someone else's fidelity to them and in turn become capable of being faithful to others.

God's love reveals to man his own immense dignity and at the same time shows him the same dignity inherent in other people. Consequently, it invites him, in turn, to open himself to loving others in a chain of reciprocal gratitude for their great value to society and to the community.

It is God's love that "constitutes us" in other words, that enables us to understand that we are and what we are. It is God's love that "gathers us together" in assuming the commitment to look at one another with the same loving look with which he created us.

Human society is not born from "the reciprocal struggle for recognition", but directly from the experience of being loved, which awakens the willingness to love. In loving the world and the human being, God does not consign the world and the human being to humanity itself as a complex of "things", but as a gift and a duty, a duty to fulfil together.

In giving us to ourselves, as a task for ourselves. God asks us to help him in the fulfilment of creation and salvation at all levels: spiritual and eternal, human and historical.

In Deus Caritas Est, the community value — I mean communicating what constitutes and constructs the community — of the love of God is amply present.

This Encyclical is not directly a social encyclical. but in rounding the human community and solidarity in God's love, it puts all aspects of social life, the very constitution of society and actions of solidarity among men and women into their proper Christian context.

In distinguishing certain main contexts in the Encyclical of this "communicating" role of God's love, we will first of all focus on creation.

God's creative act is presented in the Encyclical as an act of disinterested love, and in biblical faith creation through the Word is a consequence of the fact that "God loves man" (n. 9). The natural plan is thus already imbued with love. A design of community love is spread over it.

In finding himself "created" and not a product of chance or of natural mechanisms, man feels loved. In Jesus, then, the Logos-Creator takes flesh and reveals in greater depth the real design of love for man. The Logos becomes "this" man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Saviour.

Here, the connection between creation and salvation becomes explicit to faith. Salvation passes through Christ's "historical body", through a community for whom creation had already been destined.

Another area clearly present in the Encyclical is the unifying encounter between God and Israel, between Christ and the Church, between man and woman. It concerns betrothal, marriage and fidelity.

Love experienced, it says, renders us capable of loving in the sense of a total gift of self, that is, exclusive and eternal. God's absolute fidelity to Israel also prepares Israel for a definitive "yes".

The gift of self, if it is genuine, is also exclusive and total. One only loves "unconditionally", with one's whole self.

Thus, love creates lasting bonds because it is founded on gratuitousness, on giving and on forgiving.

In Jesus, God Incarnate is united with every human being and "we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving" (n. 13).

The incarnation of God in Jesus is not only a "self-giving" but a "self-gifting". Christ attracts by making a gift of himself. Since then, the only way of being united is through the gift of self.

The marriage between God and Israel, like the marriage between Christ and the Church and the marriage between a man and a woman, has a lofty social character. We can certainly say that society is based on love.

A third context is the commandment of love of neighbour, the praxis of the Good Samaritan. The Christian view of love goes beyond Israel, beyond the Church and beyond husband and wife. It reaches all of humanity, humanity already redeemed and historical humanity; it reaches every single person and humanity as a whole.

There is an interplay between "love of God and love of neighbour", the Pope writes: "If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties', then my relationship with God will also grow arid" (n. 18).

These three contexts of love illustrated by the Encyclical — creation as an act of love, marriage and fidelity as a social factor, love of God and love of neighbour inseparably united — are the theological basis for the wonderful unifying power of Christian faith and its aspiration to overcome every barrier that separates men and women. In this sense, love is the basis of the community and an incentive to achieve justice.

What is the Church's first and principal contribution to the human community? Charity, through which the Church herself lives in service to the world.

The unity of the family founded on marriage, the respectful encounter between nations, respect for the dignity of the human person, brotherhood instead of hatred and war, solidarity in the struggle against poverty... the first assistance that the Church offers for the development of these values and the achievement of these objectives is the celebration and testimony of love put into practice directly, with those charitable activities that are proper to the Church as such, and indirectly, through the work of lay people enlightened by the Church's social doctrine.

The Church promotes the true development of man, as is written in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, when she proclaims Christ. The Church benefits universal social coexistence when she proclaims the Gospel of love, and affirms that God is love.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 June 2006, page 3

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