Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reflections on Deus Caritas Est: A Declaration of War

"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him". In these opening words of the encyclical Pope Benedict identifies the starting point of the life of the Christian. The "fundamental decision" of a Christian's life is not found amoung the lofty philosophies from Plato and Socrates down to the present, but that life with God is an encounter, and experience in the life of the Christian that affirms the deepest longings of their very being. This experience, on the basis of the very definition of God, His very existence, that is, Love, is thereby an encounter with Love: an encounter with the Love of God that has been manifested through His creative act of Love, that is, something of creation itself, whether that be through nature, another person, or any other means.

The Pope identifies three types of love, eros, agape, and philia. Philia is love of friendship, which takes on a depth of meaning that could be the fruits of a meditation: philia is used "in order the express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples". Eros is ascending love, it gives the partaker a taste of the divine, a chance at something bigger and more beautiful than he could ever experience on his own. Within this is God's most gracious gift and thereby humanity's greatest perversion. The sex cults of ancient Graeco culture were elucidated in the encyclical in order to show this greatest perversion. God's greatest gift of eros came in the Incarnation. In radically uniting His very being with the physical body of a man, Jesus gave humanity the ability to personally and radically unite themselves to the Divine, the ascend to not just the foretaste of some greater power but to God Himself in all His glory and splendor. The Incarnation was therefore eros in that it allows humanity to ascend for the first time to the throne of God.

Agape is descending love, oblative love. It involves not just sacrifice but the total giving of self to the other. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta shows this clearly. She cannot be identified apart from her work with the poor. Her self had become so integrated into her love for the other that she lost herself, but, as Luke the Evangelist explains, "Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it".

Agape and eros were perfected in the Cross and Resurrection. Jesus' body was able to ascend to the heavenly throne as a sweet-smelling oblation to God. In the same way, He descended to hell in perfect sacrifice for the lives of the humanity that He, the Logos, created. The Pope explains this beautifully: "His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. John 19:37), we can understand the starting point of this Encyclical Letter... In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move."

The Last Supper gives an enduring presence to the sacrifice on the Cross. Here we are given the Body and Blood of Christ. Pope Benedict explains that more than just receiving the Eucharist, we "enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving". The Eucharist, thereby, is sharing in the love of God, and the Pope thereby finds that "A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented".

The second half of the Encyclical, which I will now briefly cover, deals with that concrete practice of love, that is, Charity. Charity is to be the gift of the Christian to the other of himself in the dynamic of the love of God that extends beyond the Old Testament commandment found in Deuteronomy to the reality of the decision of the Christian life. Love transcends this requirement because, in the Incarnation, we now have first been loved by God. This leads us to Caritas-Charity. "Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs". Emphasis was added to show that charity is not to become social work. God must come first and in putting God first we attend most consciously to spiritual needs and to the glory of God.

One point to make before moving on the title given to the post. Throughout the Encyclical Letter the Pope shows the power of prayer in the life of a Christian and the necessary role it plays in the life of the Church. Everything must be brought to prayer to God.

Carefully crafted into the feel-goody title of "God is Love", the Pope sets the tone for his papacy, drawing from his extensive work with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He declares war on those Catholics who are wishy-washy, who don't proclaim the faith with the zeal we find at the foot of the Cross. Those who try to make the work of the Church into social work, who try to take from the Apostolic office the primacy in the work of Charity in the world. He declares war on those who transform the liturgies based on the democracy of the locality, forgetting the democracy of the dead, that is, tradition, and forgetting also that Jesus gave the keys to Peter and only Peter. He declares war on those who doubt the truth of the Incarnation, who wonder if Buddha could have been correct as well. He declares war, however, first and foremost on those Catholics who claim for all the world to see and hear their membership in the Catholic Church only to, in the next minute, undermine the work of the Church and further separate the Love of God from humanity.

How powerful a message to say that God does not just love us, but that He is Love. He is Love! Nothing in the infinite existence of God fails to be completely consumed with Love. His creative act was an act of love. His sacrifice and death on the Cross was an act of love. How amazingly powerful is that. The call of the Christian is to let themselves be consumed by God's love, to burn with it so powerfully that we lose ourselves in it. Looking always heavenward, the call of the Christian is to evangelize the world with love. Nothing else is enough, but nor do we need anything else. The pierced side of Christ gives us the starting point for understanding God. Becoming more human by becoming closer to God, we find that in our growing love for God we love our neighbor with increasing intensity, such that we desire to sacrifice ourselves, agape, for him.

What the Pope declared war on, then, is a lack of fire, of passion. The Christian should set the world on fire, but how many do we see that go about the faith half-heartedly, barely able to start a fire by rubbing their two figurative sticks together. The life of a Christian is an uncomprimising passion for the love God pours on us.


Blogger Brad said...

Great post Sean. God loves us so much...and we give Him so little in return. In all things may God be glorified!

10:17 PM  

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