Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflections on "Caritas in veritate"

"Caritas in veritate" is an encyclical of the Roman Catholic Church, It is the Latin phrase for Charity in Truth. We can also understand this in terms of 'speaking the truth in love.' Published by the Pope on 29 June 2009, it is meant to challenge the world, especially the rich, to remember the purpose of life and their responsibility on this earth. Written for the general Roman Catholic flock as well as to all people of all religions, Pope Benedict XVI seeks to remind all people that everyone is responsible for human development in the world. We have heard a lot about people standing up for truth. However, there is no equivalent mileage on speaking the truth in love. In other words, for every 100 persons claiming to fight for truth, will these same 100 practice the charity act over and above the level of polemics. In this sense, the Caritas in veritate is a needed correction and statement as well.

Why Read the Caritas in Veritate?
Question. Why should anyone bother to read a Roman Catholic Church document? If you are an evangelical, or not a Roman Catholic, let me encourage you as follows: Think: "Global Financial Crisis," "World Poverty," "Environmental Concerns," "Ethical Deterioration" and "Fixing the Economies of the World." As you proceed to read, think about the following:
  • What exactly are our leaders trying to fix?
  • Can we fix the body without the heart?
  • Are we content to see the new world, a reinstatement of the old one?
  • What is our vision of a better world?
  • What can we do to alleviate suffering, human pain and poverty?
What is the Encyclical About?
Essentially, the encyclical is an official letter covering important issues/doctrines that needed to be reinforced for a particular time. It is roughly the equivalent of the Apostle Paul's letter to the various churches during his missionary lifetime. Meant to be read as a general letter to the Church as well as interested people around the world, its timing of the release is often a significant part of the encyclical. Rightful economic and social development cannot be done without the heart of charity.
There are 79 paragraphs in the Caritas in Veritate, which includes an Introduction, 6 chapters and conclusion. Justice and Peace are the two of main emphases of the circular letter. Chapter 1 reveals that this latest encyclical is not exactly new. It is an update of the previous encyclical 40 years ago called Populorum Progressio. It links 'vocation' with human development and that it has to be done with a heart of charity. Chapter 2 is like an overview of the problems and challenges surrounding the human race. Chapter 3 points to the limitations of current economic models that places self interests before others. This is one of the major reasons behind the current global financial crisis. Chapter 4 reiterates that 'human solidarity' is not merely something that is an optional nice-to-be-doing, but a 'duty' for all.  It calls for moral responsibility to people, to environment, to social relations, ethical business practices, international cooperation and justice. Chapter 5 addresses a fundamental flaw of current world systems: Isolation. It calls for a greater level of human cooperation and sharing. Chapter 6 talks about the impact of technology and bioethics. It warns us not to let scientific progress empty oneself of meaning from a human point of view. The encyclical ends with a renewed call for all to come back to God and to care for one another in love. It concludes with a reminder to two groups of people. Firstly, to the world at large, that apart from God, man "neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is."  Secondly, to the Christian public, the pope exhorts believers to prayerfully attend themselves to God even as they busy themselves with the developments around the world. 

My Comments
This encyclical is a brave attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to 'keep up' with the times. The world has changed far more quickly than before, with rapid growth in terms of population mix, increasing divide between the rich and poor, scientific and technological advances, and a concern over the eroding level of ethics within many human societies. Some positives:
  • Redemptive: The intent of the encyclical is to keep modern development and tradition together, just like the present and future needs to be embarked upon only with a keen sense of the past. This also speaks to all that Christians are not supposed to be practicing a dualistic religion where business and faith are separate entities, or people see their own spiritual life as totally separate considerations from their physical being. Without this reminder, many people tends to wear binary focals, that view things physical as evil and spiritual as good. When such a philosophy is adopted, why then should anybody care for the world? Unless of course, this world is not exactly evil, but like Darth Vader in Star Wars, it can be redeemed.
  • Relevance: We need to be reminded that the Church exist in the world, and are not supposed to operate in a way totally separated from the world. Now, I am not talking about Church-State relationship. I am talking about the Church being a recognized entity within the world, that its role in society needs to be recognized. 
  • Links: This encyclical helpfully highlights and links other encyclicals and documents related to the cause of human development. It also reminds the reader that other documents have already been published on the same thing. In other words, the Church has ALWAYS been doing their part in educating the people. There is nothing really new, except that people need to be reminded.
  • Reminder: It is a good reminder of what good is it to a man who gains the whole world and yet loses his soul. As believers, we have a calling, a duty to add the flesh to a world more concerned about making the bone structure of the body work. In other words, as the world invests heavily in hardware of life, do not forget the software needed to run them.
  • Timing: The encyclical was released in the midst of a deepening global economic crises. The Group of 20 nations meeting at Pittsburgh are interested in greater economic cooperation and this encyclical is an official reminder to them NOT to be working only on the problems of the rich and how to revive rich only. It is a call to all to be mindful of the poor as well.
Some Negatives
Some say that this encyclical is a direct criticism of capitalism. If the encyclical is an attempt to help the Church be relevant to the world, then why did the Pope boycott the September G20 summit at Pittsburgh? Would not his presence cause the G20 leaders to at least commit themselves to a firmer stand to help both rich and poor?
  • Limited Usefulness: On the encyclical itself, it is again too broad and general for any specific help. While it can remind all the need to be charitable, the lack of examples and practical applications will limit its usefulness. 
  • Greater Dialogue: An evangelical group's response is a helpful call for more dialogue to move the charity agenda forward as the world seeks to revamp and revitalize the economy. However, will it result in more talk-only? 
  • Suspicion of Church Role: Many societies are increasingly wary of the Church's role in engaging with the world. Already, the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in several high profile scandals, leading people to question: "Who are you to tell me what to do?" That said, for the church to be making any credible statements, they have to get their house in order. Perhaps, the Church can lead the way in humanitarian grounds, to practice what the encyclical has been talking about. In other words, remember that the Church itself can be a powerful entity toward world peace. The Church has been involved in much social action. It can do more.
Other Responses
group of evangelicals have responded positively to the statement. Two professors from Regent-College are signatories to this response. You can read their statement here. I commend the statement that one should not be 'victims' but 'protagonists' for global good and human solidarity. However, statements will only remain statements until tangible good comes off it. The encyclical lacks specifics on practical initiatives. The evangelical responses so far are not much better. Perhaps, the way forward is prayerfully ask God: "Who is my neighbor?" Then go love them with your gifts and talents. This is the most practical option.


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