Thursday, July 9, 2009

What's in a Name?

Caritas in Veritate, Charity in truth, are the words that open Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical, and from whence it takes its name. The title encapsulates the core message of the letter, as if the rest of the text were threads that can be spanned off from a coil or pieces of a puzzle whose full picture appears already on the cover of a box.

The name says it all. Without truth, charity, also translated as love, has no meaning, no purpose, is at best mere sentimentalism, “an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way” (3), says Benedict. Love is mankind highest call, its very reason for being and existing. “Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope” (2). Unless we understand that man, made in the image of God, is made to give and receive love, we will not be able to understand that solidarity is more than just a choice and taking care of God’s creation more than a way of living.

But why “in truth,” and what truth? In the modern, relativist way of thinking, there seem to be no absolute truths, no parameters of thinking and acting that are valid for everyone. My truth is not your truth. And so, the “charity in truth” statement doesn’t seem to make much sense in a world devoid of meaning and final truths.

Like a voice crying in the desert, Benedict continues to preach the gospel of truth and holds that there is an ultimate Truth from which all other truths derive. Yes, there are things that harm and destroy mankind and things that uplift him and lead him to reach its full potential. Yes, there are universal values and principles that can be perceived by reason and faith, and that should guide all our actions.

Only after accepting the truth of the dignity of man and woman, that they are made for love and communion, and that such truth trumps all other truths, will the pursuit of justice and the common good make sense. Only then we will be able to see that anything that violates the dignity of human life, that prevents it from reaching its full potential or transforms it into mere spendable capital, is wrong and calls for the restoration of justice, and that we all have a responsibility in it.

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