Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 23, 2007
The Church is society's heart and soul
In his encyclical of last year, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict makes the statement, "The Church cannot neglect the service of charity anymore than she can neglect the sacraments and the word" (n. 22).
It is not anything new to say that Jesus can be found in the poor and that the service we render to the poor and the forgotten is service that we render to Christ himself. Taken at its simplest level, one might see this as an extrinsic obligation. That is, we had better help the poor because Jesus told us to do it.
However, by saying that the service of charity is an action of the Church, not just its members, and that it is equivalent to the sacraments and the ministry of the word, Pope Benedict is pushing this "obligation" to a far deeper level.
In fact, he is saying that our service to those in need is a reflection of the very nature of God. God is love, each person of the Trinity united with the others in love and the whole Triune God as a creative being, one that reaches out beyond himself.
When we love, we are like God. And the Church - no mere institution - is the embodiment of God for the world. It is called to be love. Love is present in the Eucharist, Christ's dying and rising for us. It is present in the word, God's self-revelation to humanity.
Love has got, not exactly a bad name these days, but a rather vague and ethereal one. It tends to be a private thing, or rather private between two or more people, with no real consequence, other than good feelings, for the "real world."
Pope Benedict describes it as central. It is surely central to the nature of God, but also central to the Church and to human nature. We cannot be fully human unless we live in love. As such, love leads us to pursue the common good, both in justice and in charity.
The Church then is not a cozy haven for spiritually minded do-gooders. Its spirituality is a spirituality that cannot neglect the pursuit of the common good. Its actions have import for humanity, for society.
The Church, indeed, is the heart and soul of human society. It cannot be pushed off into the spirituality corner. The Church's actions of charity, in some profound way, fulfill society. They also make the Church the Church just as the celebration of the Eucharist is integral to the Church's self-fulfillment.
Theologian Rodney Howsare tells of a TV program depicting a priest celebrating Mass and then afterwards distributing soup to the homeless in the church basement. "This is what we are really about," the priest said.
This, of course, minimizes the Eucharist by making it a warm-up for charitable service. Christ is really present in the Eucharist and he is really present in the act of charity that represents his love.
Lord, save us from a privatized faith. Lord, save us from a faith that is lacking in charity for that is no faith at all. Lord, save us from a faith that does not seek to do justice. Lord, lead us to seek justice rooted in God's love for that is the only real justice.
The love crisis is the root of the crisis of Western civilization. Without love rooted in the Triune God, we are left with a cold, thin secularism. We are left with a narrow view of love.
This does not mean we can dispense with government welfare programs and laws that protect human rights.
What it does mean is that those need to be supplemented by, or rather, find their context within, the love that is God. Society cannot afford to be indifferent to that love.
For the Church, the action of charity is essential to its being. Just as we must have word and sacrament, we must have charity. In all these things we find the nature of God.
- Glen Argan
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