Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 27, 2006
A life of love demands humility
In the first half of his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict calls Christians to a way of life that is more than eros, more than self-centred passion. We need a love that is passionate, but also oriented to the good of others. Such love is rooted in an intimate encounter with God.
The second half of the encyclical recognizes that such love is not just the love of one person or of various isolated individuals. It is properly manifested as the practice of love by the Church, a community of love.
Too often, we restrict our understanding of the core of the life of the Church to its worship. Benedict calls us to a broader understanding. "The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word," he says (n. 22).
Love is a responsibility for the whole Church. Because it is a corporate act, love needs to be organized. Indeed, Canada's two largest Catholic organizations grew out of the desire to express love in a corporate way. The Knights of Columbus began as an attempt to ensure that the widows and orphans of its deceased members were properly cared for. The Catholic Women's League started as Catholic women in Western Canada who cared for the often poor immigrants who flooded into this region in the early 20th century.
Pope Benedict tackles head on the notion that the poor do not need charity but justice. He calls this idea "Marxist," although it is more widely held than in strictly Marxist circles. Charity is viewed as a way for the rich to shirk their duty to build a just society. It is seen as a way to eliminate the worst effects of poverty while ensuring the apparent root causes of poverty remain untouched.
The pope responds that it is the task of the political order, not the Church, to order society in the most just manner possible. The laity have a particular call to take up this political task. But even if injustice were eliminated, the New Jerusalem would not have arrived.
Why? Because people's most basic need is for love. No state, no matter how well ordered, will eliminate this need. As well, even a reign of true justice would be in danger of being suffocated by the pursuit of power.
"In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken belief that man can live 'by bread alone'" (n. 28).
Thus, the exercise of charity (or even the pursuit of justice) cannot simply be a practical activity. It must express love. It must be rooted in an encounter with Christ. Benedict reaffirms "the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work" (n. 37).
The abandonment to God's will helps one see earthly pursuits in their proper context. It will lead one away from fanaticism. It will take one towards humility.
Ultimately, one will see his or her ability to help others as a grace, not a personal achievement. When we confront the limitations of our ability to meet the needs of all those who require help, we will be able to overcome discouragement. "We are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world" (n. 35).
A life of love comes to rest in this humility. It does not abandon the activity of charity or the pursuit of justice. But rather than trying to transform the world into our own image, we will see ourselves as instruments in God's hands. The world will be better for our abandonment of the idea that our own personal power is the source of good.
- Glen Argan
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