True Charity

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Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), should serve as a reminder of the importance of the first principle of our Order.

In his introduction to the encyclical, the pope writes, “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” He then makes clear that our charity must be true charity. “Without truth,” he says, “charity degenerates into sentimentality.” On the other hand, “practicing charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral development.”

We might look at this in light of the Lord’s Prayer. Pope Benedict quotes the first two words of that prayer — “Our Father” — at the end of his encyclical. If we take those two words seriously, we must realize the truth that all of us are members of one family.

From this perspective, it is easier for us to see how the law and prophets are summarized in Christ’s two great commandments — that we love God totally and love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mt 22:37-40). Thus, we are able to speak of “caritas in veritate.”

When we understand that we are all members of the same human family and accept these two commandments, we can no longer ask Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). Instead, we must realize that our freedom cannot take the form of simply amassing as much wealth as we can. Instead, the actions we take should reflect the reality of our familial connection to our neighbor, and we should take stock of how everything we do affects others. In fact, to be a Christian is to be a man or woman for others.

This is the beautiful message of the encyclical.

Sadly, not everyone will focus on this message. Some will try to view the encyclical as a political document, as support for their policy preferences or political philosophy. But to do that would miss the point. As the document itself states: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish” (9).

The question is not whether this encyclical validates our viewpoint, but rather how it can help us to grow in our faith as children of God and members of the human family. All human beings, including the unborn, are part of that family. The pope made this perfectly clear in his encyclical: “Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (28, emphasis in original).

Additionally, the Holy Father points out that religious liberty is a key component to development. He wrote, “The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions” (56, emphasis in original).

In this issue of Columbia, we explore the contribution of the Catholic Church in the areas of health care, social service, education and religious freedom. The success of each of these ventures has been a result of the commitment by individual Catholics to charity in truth.

Let us honor their legacy, and the pope’s call, by renewing our commitment to true charity.

Vivat Jesus!