(Originally posted July 09, 2009; lost in transit; recaptured (incomplete) April 09, 2012)
The release today of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (“Charity in Truth”) completes the faith, hope and love trifecta begun with Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”) and Spe salvi (“Saved by Hope”).
I confess that, unlike many of my gifted friends, associates and intellectual betters, I have not yet finished reading Caritas in Veritate.
Even so, I have (unsurprisingly) managed to form an opinion on the letter.
What I have read, I love.
I love it because aside from the messages that are pleasing to the “progressives” and the other messages that are pleasing to the “conservatives,” and beyond the rush for all comers in the Catholic family to define the thing and break it down for their targeted audiences, the essential message of Caritas in Veritate is that God loves us, and that God’s expansive, unconditional love is the ever-ancient, ever-new means by which we humans, we created creatures so beloved of Him that He deigned to become one of us, may fully develop as beings of body, of mind and of spirit.
“Each person finds his good by adherence to God’s plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free.”
– Introduction, Caritas in Veritate
There are storks. There are numerous clouds upon each of which sits a Creator. With our Christian sensibilities, let us allow that the thousands of cloud Creators, enlivening beautiful babies and adorable puppies and kittens, depict the Triune God, omnipresent and yet “individual” (or, “personal”) to each of us. The storks do the Creator’s bidding, spreading his love (via new life, new creation) throughout the world. But Creation, in order to be perfect, balanced and complete, requires – along with all of that lovable goodness – the presence of the unlovable, the different and the mysterious.
Creating the dangerous-yet-necessary balancing truths is the God-aspect of Dark Clouds. He is as much a part of the Omniscient as the rest of the clouds, and he brings forth new life, but in the form of alligators that bite, rams that buck, porcupines that sting.
He births the difficult and demands their delivery unto the world, for he knows what is not obvious; that the difficult and the challenging help hone and build “the strength for the life” of the world, what Caritas in Veritate calls “human development.”
It is left to one bedraggled-but-intrepid, faithful stork to put forth into the world the difficulties and challenges of the Creator, and the wordless exchanges between master and servant in this cartoon are eloquent of the dialogue of the life of faith.
“Here, I am Lord, I come to do your will – even though it bites, and I don’t understand.”
– I am so glad you are here; I love you.
“Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will – even if it bucks, because I trust.”
– I see what this trust is costing you; I love you.
“Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will – but it stings, and I cannot escape.”
– I will wipe away every tear and clutch you to my bosom in my deep love.
“Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth.”
– Introduction, Caritas in Veritate
The stork’s loyalty is very affecting, particularly when his feathers fall from his body and you realize that yes, all of this obedience, it costs the stork something. It is not painless. But he is a stork, and the delivery is his job, and he understands, confirms and practices those two truths.
Note the cloud-Creator in the film: Though what he creates is less obviously “good” than the rest, he completely and unabashedly loves all of it. And he loves his obedient and loyal servant so much that, seeing the lost feathers and woebegone expression, his compassion is moved; he removes the stingers, he caresses the ache, he clutches the stork to his breast in commiseration and a fervent attempt to console.
He is fully aware of the cost to the stork, and looks after his leave-taking with concern, and his every arrival with anxious assessment. But the cloud-Creator does not in any way deny or dilute the truth: he is there to create, and to love; the stork is there to love, and to deliver. In that truth, great charity, great love, great understanding and something like a commonality of respect resides.
In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict writes:
“Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived…Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.”
But they know that perfection is not an entire and balanced truth; perfection is an illusion, just as “relative” truth is an illusion.
Finally, the long-suffering stork, faced with what appears to be more than he can bear, flies off to a different cloud-Creator, to one that seems extra-fluffy and incapable of dishing out anything but good times. The wounded God of Dark Clouds is shaken. He stomps a bit of lightening and then, heartbroken, he weeps at this seeming rejection. He does not chase after the stork, though, because, as Benedict writes,
“Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom and of the possibility of integral human development.”
– CiV, Introduction
Fidelity to his stork requires the same fidelity to the truth; God IS who He is, and cannot change. The stork is free to be who he is, as well, and to accept the intrinsic challenges in being the “difficult delivery” stork that will allow him to develop to his maximum potential.
The stork, however, is also free to leave, to try to change things, even to reject the Creator and his truth, and his love, for what may seem like an easier life.
His leaving cannot change who the stork is, though. It can only change his circumstances.
The anguish of the cloud-Creator is short-lived but rooted in the stork’s apparent choice to move against truth. The cloud-Creator wails out loud. Does he weep for himself, in his abandonment, or for the stork who has moved against truth? Or for both?
The stork returns, carrying a protective helmet and shoulderpads; as prayer fortifies a lived-out faith, they fortify his lived-out mission. The stork manfully takes up his striking burden, and life goes on – creation continues, in truth. Caritas in Veritate; the Creator and the servant love each other, in the truth that is love, and the love that is truth. It is a lesson to be learned by each of us, as individuals, but that becomes more difficult in a world where created individuals are subsumed by ever-larger state-entities:
To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning. Not without reason the word “vocation” is also found in another passage of the [Paul VI’s Encyclical Populorum Progressio], where we read: “There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning.”
…A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility.
Caritas in Veritate, Sections 16, 17
Benedict wants us to know that the world is changing, but that truth never changes; that good and evil hang beside each other on neighboring crosses; that economic models rooted in human “truths” (and not Divine Truth) will only deepen what is difficult, exploitative, stagnant and false; that governments too-easily pay lip-service to “humanity,” while forgetting the human beings therein; that policies built on lies can never be true, and what is not true, cannot have charity . . . or love.
None of that is new. In fact, it’s an old, old message. But we need to really hear it, or ignore it at our own peril.
You can read the whole encyclical here. I will take my serving in small bites and mull them over by my own lights, rather than simply listening to what others say about it. I suggest you do likewise, and not put a lot of stock into my own cartoon-inspired musings.
See how Caritas in Veritate resonates with you.
For much more cerebral (and undoubtedly more enlightening) takes on the letter, see below:
John Allen: Pope proposes A “Christian Humanism” for the global economy
Michael Novak: The Pope of Caritopolis
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Interviews Kishore Jayabalan, Director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute on Benedict’s ideas.
Joe Carter: The press is just distracted, but not ignoring the encyclical.
Fr. Z picks out what he finds an “important paragraph”
Rod Dreher: figures if only Benedict had written about sexuality, the press might be paying attention