Welcome to the March book club discussion of Pope Benedict XVI’s two encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi.
The pope's first two encyclicals are on two very basic Christian virtues, love and hope. Does Benedict think we need a reminder about the foundation of our Catholic faith?
I think Pope Benedict is very aware of the great desire people have in their lives that is just not being filled by the modern secular experience. It is important to note that love and hope are universal human values and needs: we cannot live without love, and we need hope to continue our lives from day to day. So we all are searching for love and we all need hope, and Benedict is saying that these universal human values are best addressed within the context of the Christian faith.
How does the pope show the difference between what most people call love and Christian love?
In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Pope Benedict does something that I think we need to pay attention to. He looks at two Greek terms of love that many of us are familiar with, eros and agape. Eros is understood as desire or a possessive sort of love. Agape is understood as a more selfless, self-giving love that seeks the good of the one who is loved. At one point in the encyclical, Benedict asks if these are two different forms of love that may be opposed to one another, or are they two forms of the one human love we all have the capacity for. His answer is that they are two forms of the one love that ultimately comes from God. Eros has a desire for the one loved, but eros alone can lead to excess. Eros must be tempered and led by agape, the self-giving love.
Walden, New York
Besides educating youth in the faith, how can we convey to them Christian hope?
Just this week, my new book, A Civilization of Love, was published. In it, I attempt to show that the example of Christians is absolutely critical to building this "civilization of love" that both Pope Benedict, and Pope John Paul II before him, called for. Our example in living out the virtues of faith, hope and charity, can give a concrete hope to us and to our children for a future that we can all be proud of.
Since he has written on love and hope, do you think the pope’s next will be on faith?
Pope Benedict does address the virtue of faith in Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), and identifies faith and hope as very much supportive of one another. He shows that true hope that is based on a proper understanding of humanity and the world we live in needs faith to be perfected. Regarding his next encyclical, it has been reported that he plans soon to release his third encyclical, which will focus on social justice and issues such as globalization and relations among nations. In fact, Cardinal Bertone told an Italian newspaper that the Pope's next encyclical will focus on "international social problems, with special focus on developing nations."
Wichita KS USA
How do we change a "culture"? There seems to be a dependence on politics and the law to change culture and we are by-passing family, faith and education in the hope of politicians changing our culture. What are chances of that "shortcut" working?
I think the way we change as a society is by leading through our example. Too often, I think we look at bibles from a political viewpoint, but there is another way, we should look at our positions on issues from a biblical viewpoint. Christ said people would know we were his disciples by our love for one another. We need to build a civilization of love and we need to build it by example. When we lead by example, people will be interested in what Pope Benedict calls the great "yes" and the positive option of Christianity. In addition, the family has been called the cornerstone of our society by both Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul. We must help our children to understand the meaning of real love, the meaning of building a culture of life and a civilization of love. If all we do this individually, millions of us will be doing this, and millions would be a civilization.
Louis C Loria
What are the most important things we should take from these two encyclicals?
There are many things that we can learn from these two encyclicals, but one major point that I think Pope Benedict has made in both encyclicals is the importance of virtue. Love and hope are both "virtues" and both are important to our relationship with God, and to our relationsihps with each other. We all have heard the words of St. Paul about "faith, hope and love," and the greatest of these being love, and I believe that is why Pope Benedict began there, because we have a society that is desperate for real love, something each person longs for. Pope Benedict also follows closely the theology of St. Augustine who wrote at the beginning of the "Confessions": "We were made for love, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." As for hope, Pope Benedict wrote in the 1980s: "Hope is not just one virtue among others; it is the very definition of Christian existence.” We cannot go on living without hope, and don't want to without love. These two virtues are key to our lives, and I think we should focus on the importance of these virtues in our own lives.
Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
Do these publications reaffirm our assumptions of the Papacy of Benedict XVI or does he surprise us with any particular surprising insights through these documents?
Well, I don't really know what assumptions of Pope Benedict's papacy that you are referring to. Certainly, both love and hope are issues he has dealt with many times over the years as a theologian. However, both documents are full of important insights. Let me mention one from each that I think is particularly important. He says of hope in Spe Salvi: "All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action." And in Deus Caritas Est, he noted: "Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such." I think those two statements give us a lot to reflect on.
What do these encyclicals mean for us Knights of Columbus?
Charity, of course, is the first principle of our Order, and the topic of Deus Caritas Est. In the second part of the encyclical, Benedict looks at the practical applications of charity (also called love) and how the Church and all Christians are to live out their love in service to their neighbor – to others and humanity.
Grand Knight Robert Camilleri
Rosary Council 3741, Henderson, Nevada
The words that just seemed to leap off the page of "Spe Salvi" for me were these: "without hope because of without God". In light of our increasingly secular society here in the United States, could you comment on the meaning of Holy Father's statement, for the members of the Catholic Church, and in particular, for the members of the Knights of Columbus. Do you believe Pope Benedict XVI will address or should address the rise in secularization in the United States during his Papal Visit in April 2008?
I wouldn't want to venture a guess about exactly what the Pope will say when he visits the United States, but certainly his thinking on the issue of secularization is well known. He has spoken on this topic a great deal, and he has called it - in its extreme - "a dictatorship of relativism." I think it is very clear that Pope Benedict expects us to be beacons of charity and hope for the world. We are to show to the world, by the way we live these virtues, a path to hope. If we take St. Augustine's statement that "our hearts are restless until they rest in [God]," we can see how there could be much discontent and hopelessness without God.
As a father, I encourage my children to volunteer in ways that help others personally, and I appreciated the pope’s encyclical for putting service in a larger perspective. But as a research scientist, the work my colleagues and I perform remove us from the usual situations one associates with opportunities for charitable service to others. How Deus Caritas Est apply to the workplace?
It is wonderful that you encourage your children to volunteer for charitable work. Love for man is dependent on the recognition of the dignity of the human person, and in every job, in any place where people interact, our example and the way we treat our co-workers, our employees, etc. is an important testament to our Christian belief. Your own charitable work can also be an inspiration to your co-workers.
Between the encyclicals on Love, on Hope, and the book “Jesus of Nazareth” – these are rather ambitious central themes showing Pope Benedict isn’t a shy man in choosing topics. What other major topic do you think he might write on? Is there anything you think he might not write on?
Well, beyond the encyclical that the pope is writing on social concerns, I think there are any number of topics he might discuss. If you look at his body of work to date, it covers an amazing range of theological and social concerns, and I don't think he is a man to shy away from any topic or question posed to him.
Pope Benedict’s encyclical on Hope seems to come out of great void on the subject. Why now?
The Second Vatican Council, and both Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI have seen hope as very important. Let us not forget Pope John Paul's book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," and the title of his biography "Witness to Hope." The focus of both popes on the importance of evangelizing youth and the focus on the new millenium also gives us a glimpse of their their hope. As Pope Benedict's encyclical shows, there are many biblical references on this subject. There also was the encyclical Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) at the Second Vatican Council. In 1985, Ratzinger wrote an article “On Hope” in which he called “not just one virtue among others … [but] the very definition of Christian existence.” I think hope - one of the three theological virtues - is something that is needed always, and no less today than in the past. Let us not forget that the Council Fathers and our current and previous Pope witnessed the greatest horrors of the 20th century - a century which history will no doubt judge as one of the most violent on record. No doubt this recent history of our world provided an additional reason for an emphasis on this virtue, hope.
A friend suggested that since hope and love are seen in the natural world and in all peoples, they are universally desirable principles that religion tries to claim as religious when they are not. How does the religious coincide with this natural understanding of these?
Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Savli that "All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action." Not all human conduct is hopeful, and there is certainly too much despair in the world. The hope that Christianity offers offers through Christ is: a hope for a better world on earth through our actions, and a hope in a better world to come. As with love, there is a strong natural component to this virtue, but the words of the catechism on this subject are very important, for Christian hope "unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the "hope that does not disappoint." This is very important, Christian hope is a hope that does not disappoint.