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Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est – God is Love: The Way of Love in the Church’s Mission to the World

by David L. Schindler, Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America

David Schindler is a friend of the Houston Catholic Worker and presents here his theological view of Pope Benedict’s Encyclical, “God is Love.”

I. The Love that “Moves the Sun and Stars” and Has a Human Face and Human Heart

Pope Benedict presents his new encyclical with Dante’s words about the light that is at the same time the love “which moves the sun and the other stars” (“Paradise,” XXXIII, verse 145). This light and love in their unity “are the primordial power that moves the universe” (BGTL, 1). Though these words reveal the thought of Aristotle, who “saw in eros the power that moves the world,” Dante perceives something “totally new and unimaginable for the Greek philosopher”: the revelation of God as “Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love.”

Even more, Dante saw that this Trinitarian God of love has a human face and indeed a human heart in Jesus Christ. Dante thus shows the “continuity between Christian faith in God and the search promoted by reason and by the realm of religions,” while at the same time he shows the novelty of a love that has led God “to assume the flesh and blood, the whole of human being.” God’s eros , in a word, is not only a “primordial cosmic force” but also the “love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, victim of thieves”.

Although love has become a much-abused word today, Benedict insists that we must take it up again and purify it, showing how faith in this love “might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us.” In an age in which “hostility and greed have become superpowers”, and in which religion has been abused “to the point of culminating in hatred,” the burden of the encyclical is to show that a “neutral rationality on its own” can no longer protect us; that, on the contrary, we have “need of the living God who has loved us unto death.”

Benedict says that the encyclical welds together the subjects “God,” “Christ,” and “Love,” in order to show the humanity of faith. This is to be done above all by showing how eros is transformed into agape , the “love for the other that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, willingness to sacrifice oneself for him and openness to the gift of a new human life.” This eros that is ordered to the self-transcendence of agape –that is, in such a way that these two loves bear an inner unity with each other–is “in the first instance” manifested “in the indissoluble marriage between man and woman [that] finds its rooting in creation.” It is in this relation between man and woman that we see above all that “man is created to love.” Indeed, the Bible shows us how this spousal love images for us both God’s relation to man and man’s relation to God. Above all, we see in the New Testament how this spousal imagery deepens inconceivably in the incarnate Logos’s becoming food for us in the Eucharist, such that we now share truly in his very body and blood. With this foundation, says Benedict, the encyclical shows that “the essence of the love of God and of one’s neighbor described in the Bible is the center of Christian life, the fruit of faith.”

The second part of the encyclical underlines how “the totally personal act” of agape cannot remain something “merely individual,” but must on the contrary “become an essential act of the Church as community.” “An institutional form is also needed that expresses itself in the communal action of the Church.” This communal action is more than “a form of social assistance . . . superimposed by accident on the reality of the Church, an initiative that others could also take.” In its communication of love of neighbor, the Church’s charitable activity must “in a certain way ( in qualche modo ) make the living God visible.” “In the charitable organization, God and Christ must not be strange words; in fact, they indicate the original source of ecclesial charity.” Thus, in a word, “charitable commitment has a meaning that goes well beyond mere philanthropy.” God himself moves us “in our interior to alleviate misery,” and in this way “we take him to the suffering world.”

II. The Relation Between Justice and Charity and the Distinctiveness of the Church’s Charitable Activity in the World

Benedict says in his presentation of Deus Caritas Est that the two parts of the encyclical can be rightly understood only if they are seen as a single thing [ solo se visti come un’unica cosa, sono compresi bene ] (BGTL, 2). This unity is evident immediately in Benedict’s placing of the Church’s mission to charitable activity in the light of the Trinity and of the Father’s sending of his Son in the Spirit. The Church’s charitable activity, in its most fundamental meaning, is a participation in the missionary love of the Son in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit (n. 19). “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: It seeks his evangelization through word and sacrament . . . ; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. 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” (n. 19). It is this aspect, “the service of charity,” that Benedict proposes to focus in the second part of DCE .

(1) The sacramental “mysticism” of the Eucharist is social in character . Union with God entails “union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or will become, his own. Communion [thus] draws me out of myself toward . . . unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body,’ completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united” (n. 14).

The transition Jesus makes to the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbor “is thus not simply a matter of morality–something that could exist apart from and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental realization. Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape ” (n. 14). Hence “the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. ‘Worship’ itself, eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. . . . The ‘commandment’ of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be commanded because it has first been given” (n. 14).

“This principle is the starting point for understanding the great parables of Jesus” (n. 15). For example, the parable of the good Samaritan teaches us that “[a]nyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of neighbor is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now” (n. 15). Further, we see that Jesus identifies himself with those most in need–the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison. In a word, “[l]ove of God and love of neighbor have become one: In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (n. 15).

(2) The saints and Mary . It is the saints who above all exhibit the inseparability of the love of God and the love of neighbor. The saints “constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others” (n.18). The double commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbor both “live from the love of God, who has loved us first (n. 18).

Benedict says that “prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed” (n. 36). Citing Mother Teresa on the need for a connection with God in our daily life (n. 36), the pope stresses “the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work” (n. 37).

It is Mary above all who reveals the unified meaning of this double commandment and the significance of prayer. In her great words–“My soul magnifies the Lord”–“she expresses her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbor–only then does goodness enter the world” (n. 41). “[R]ather than carrying out her own projects, [Mary] places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives” (n. 41). In “her quiet gestures,” “in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus,” we see that she is a woman who loves (n. 41).

The saints thus make one thing clear: “Those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men but rather become truly close to them. In no one do we see this more clearly than in Mary” (n. 41).

(3) The Church’s respons-ibility for charity . Love of neighbor, says the pope, is first of all “a responsibility for each member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level” (n. 20). This “constitutive relevance” of the love of neighbor in the Church was manifest from the beginning, for example, in the early believers’ common pos-session of goods (Acts 2:44-5).

In time, the Church put this fundamental ecclesial principle into practice through the estab-lishing of the diaconal office (cf. Acts 6:5-6). A group of seven persons was entrusted with the daily distribution to widows and the like. Benedict points out that these persons were not to carry out this task in a purely technical manner [ tantummodo tech-nicum ministerium ]. On the contrary, they were to be men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (cf. Acts 6:1-6). Which is to say, the concrete social service they were to provide was at the same time “a spiritual service” (n. 21). Benedict discusses several examples of how, in the course of Church history, this charitable service is seen as essential to her “ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel” (n. 21).

The foregoing considerations point toward two essential facts: first, “[t]he Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her threefold responsibility: of proclaiming the Word of God (kerygma-martyria ), celebrating the sacraments ( leitourgia ) and exercising the ministry of charity ( diakonia ). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.” Second, “[t]he Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas-agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church” (n. 25).

We must remain mindful of these two essential facts if we are to understand properly DCE‘s discussion of the central issues of the relation between justice and charity, and of the distinctiveness of the Church’s charitable-social activity in the world–to which issues we now turn.

(4) Justice and charity . The pope begins his discussion of this issue by noting the objection that has emerged since the 19 th century with respect to the Church’s charitable activity (26). “The poor, it is claimed, do not need charity, but justice” (n. 26). “Instead of contributing through individual works of charity to maintain the status quo, we need to build a just social order in which all receive their share of the world’s goods and no longer have to depend on charity” (n. 26). Benedict acknowledges that there is some truth to this argument but “also much that is mistaken” (n. 26). He emphasizes that “the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the state and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods” (n. 26). He notes that the issue of social justice has taken on a new dimension “with the industrialization of society in the 19 th century” (n. 26).

Though, admittedly, “the Church’s leadership was slow to realize that the issue of the just structuring of society had to be approached in a new way,” a growing number of groups, associations, and the like–especially new religious orders–were founded to combat poverty, disease and the need for better education (n. 27). Then there were the social encyclicals, beginning with Leo XIII ( RN , 1891), and followed by Pius XI ( QA , 1931), and then later by John XXIII ( MM, 1961), Paul VI ( PP , 1967), and the trilogy of social encyclicals by John Paul II ( LE , 1981; SRS , 1987; and CA , 1991).

In light of the above, and in light further of the complexity of today’s situation due at once to the collapse of the collectivist revolution of the 20 th century and to the growth of a globalized economy, Benedict says we need to consider anew the relevance of the Church’s social doctrine even beyond the confines of the Church. In so doing, he  says, two fundamental points must be considered: (a) that “the just ordering of society and the state is a central responsibility of politics” (n. 28); and (b) that “[l]ove– caritas –will always prove necessary even in the most just society” (n. 28). In the initial public discussion of Deus Caritas Est there has been much commentary on these two principles, and it is therefore important to examine them carefully. How are these principles to be understood, in light of the unity of the encyclical as affirmed by Benedict and in light as well of the changed social situation in the world?

(a) “Regarding the statement that the just ordering of society and the state is a matter properly of politics, the pope begins by affirming as “fundamental to Christianity”:

“the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, in other words, the distinction between Church and state or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere ( Gaudium et Spes , 36). The state may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom.. . For her part, the Church . . . has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the state must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated “(n. 28).

It is important, especially in light of tendencies in Western liberal societies, to see that the distinction between Church and state affirmed here by DCE does not entail embrace of a purely juridical state. That is, justice remains “both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life; its origin and goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics” (n. 28). The necessary distinction between Church and state, in other words, does not entail a separation between (moral) truth and the state. The purpose of the state is not simply a matter of refereeing among various individuals and groups claiming immunity from possible coercion by other individuals or groups. On the contrary, as just stated, it is a matter of the positive pursuit of a justice intrinsically bound up with the ethical good.

Furthermore, recognition of the fact that pursuit of the just ordering of society is properly the function of the state, and not the Church, does not mean that the Church’s role in this pursuit is merely negative, or indeed purely “accidental” with respect to her own proper mission. On the contrary, the issue of justice is a matter of practical reason, and this reason needs constant purification, “since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests” (n. 28). It is here, then, says Benedict, that “politics and faith meet” (n. 28):

“Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God–an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly” (n. 28).

On the one hand, then, the Church’s social doctrine gives the Church no power over the state: the two must remain institutionally-juridically sepa-rate. “The formation of just structures is not the immediate duty [ statim officium ] of the Church, but rather belongs to the order of politics, the ambit of reason itself [ ad ambitum scilicet rationis sui ipsius consciae ]” (n. 29). On the other hand, this social doctrine aims “to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just” (n. 28). “The Church has an intermediate duty [ officium intermedium ], in that she contributes to the purification of reason and the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run” (n. 29).

It is helpful to note here the significance of Vatican II’s communio ecclesiology that, while essentially including the institutional (Petrine) dimension of the Church in fidelity to Vatican I (cf. CDF, SACUC,), nevertheless draws out the distinct meaning of the Church as a communion of christological-eucharistic love. This ecclesiology helps to clarify further the crucial distinction being made by DCE : although the institutions of Church and state each have their own proper end, reason–the reason shared by all human beings–retains its ultimate finality in the love whose sacrament is the Church. “[T]he Church’s social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being” (n. 28). It is not the responsibility of the Church–that is, the Church qua formal-juridical institution–“to make this teaching prevail in political life” (n. 28). But this does not mean that she can or should “remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has her part to play through rational argu-ment, and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper” (n. 28).

DCE ‘s assigning the just ordering of society properly to the state thus implies no withdrawal whatsoever of the Church from a commitment to social justice–a commitment, for example, to the elimination of “structures of sin” in the sense developed by John Paul II ( SRS , n. 37; CA , n. 38; EV , n. 12; cf. also DV , n. 56). The issue, rather, concerns the manner in which this commitment is to be executed. The pertinent point is that, consistent with Vatican II’s ecclesiology of communio DCE is insisting that the Church must carry out her commitment to social justice through means that are, not directly juridical-institutional, but on the contrary a matter properly of her missionary communion-love. The commitment to social justice and to the elimination of unjust social structures is to be carried out properly by the Church qua communion of saints–a communion first constituted as asacramental gift from God in Christ and which, as such, is not reducible to community in a “sociological-democratic” sense. It is in and through this missionary eucharistic- communiolove that the Church “form[s][the] con-sciences [of the ‘People of God’] in political life and . . . stimulate[s] greater insight [on their part] into the authentic requirements of justice as well as to greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might be contrary to individuals’ own gain [ etiam cum contrarium est singulorum lucri ]” (n. 28).

(b) This leads to the second principle emphasized by Benedict: “[l]ove– 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” (n. 28). Thus if, in accord with the principle just discussed, Christian faith/love assists rational ethical argument and social justice to be “more fully [themselves]” (n. 28), we should see that Christian love also goes beyond the justice properly realized by the state. “There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable” (n. 28).

What the suffering person most needs, in other words, is not something that the machinery of the state as such can provide: namely, “loving personal concern” (n. 28). Indeed, as the great contemporary “saints” of charitable activity today–for example, Mother of Teresa, Madeleine Delbrêl (cf. WOPS/NAGR), Dorothy Day (cf. OP ), and others–have emphasized, the suffering that runs deepest is that caused by the absence of meaning, especially of ultimate meaning. In this they echo the words of DCE : “[o]ften the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God” (n. 31). In and through her “saints,” the Church “is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ,” a love that “does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment for their souls, something which often is more important than material help” (n. 28). To deny this is to presuppose an unacceptably “materialist conception of man”(n. 28).

“The proper-particular duty [ proximum operandi officium ] for the just ordering of society,” then, falls with the lay faithful who, as citizens of the state, must work for the common good in legislative as well as cultural areas (n. 29). Again, this implies respecting the “legitimate autonomy” [ legitimam autonomiam ] of social life and “cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences,” that is, while recognizing that it “remains true that charity must animate the entire lives [ pervadere vitam ] of the lay faithful and also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity’” (n. 29).

As the final phrase here suggests, it is important, apropos of a proper understanding of the relation justice and charity, to recall again the unity of the two parts of DCE as stressed by Benedict. The reason and natural law to which the lay faithful must properly appeal in their efforts to secure justice in the political order bear an inner relation, already qua human-natural, to love, a love understood as an eros that cannot but move toward its fulfillment inagape –that cannot be fulfilled as eros outside of a dynamic for transformation toward and in agape . Were this not true, “the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence and would become a world apart” (n. 7). Were this not true, Jesus, in his path that “leads through the Cross to the Resurrection,” would not portray “the essence of love and indeed of human life” (n. 6). Further, ethos–ethical reason–would not be interwoven with faith and worship “as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape ” (n. 14), as is implied in the Church’s reality as sacramental communio .

In a word, then, the reason to which the lay faithful are to appeal in their public pursuit of justice is never “neutral” (BGTL, 2). Rather, reason itself is ordered to love (cf. n. 10), a love which has its first and most basic meaning in the created order in marriage, and, in the New Testament, in the Eucharist of the Incarnate Logos.

It is from within this ever-present dynamic for love and for encounter with the living God in Christ and his Church that the lay faithful are to carry out their proper mission of ethical formation, and of purifying reason and of being ready to act in the pursuit of social justice. To be sure, the very nature of this love itself precludes “what is nowadays considered proselytism” (n. 31). Christians living this love will “never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom they believe and by whom we are driven to love” (n. 31). “A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak: he knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8).

In a word: the laity’s necessary appeals to reason and the natural law when cooperating with other citizens in politics–appeals, that is, to the “legitimate autonomy” of social life–must not be taken to imply, even for a moment, that the reason of every human being , even in modern differentiated societies, is not restless for the Logos, the “primordial reason” who “is at the same time a lover” (n. 10), and who is eucharistically-sacramentally present in the Church. It is this call to love–the call to fulfill human eros in agape in this sense–that must suffuse the lives [ pervadere vitam ] of the laity here and now and in their common pursuit of public justice with other citizens–that is, even as we know that this call to agape -inspired and -formed justice will never be completely realized in the present life, and in any case can never be imposed or forced on others.

(5) The distinctiveness of the Church’s charitable activity DCE reaffirms John Paul II’s insistence (in SRS ) on “the readiness of the Catholic Church to cooperate with the charitable agencies of other churches and ecclesial communities . . .” (n. 30). DCE also affirms the fruitfulness of the “many forms of cooperation between state and Church agencies” that have grown up (n. 30). The increase in diversified organizations devoted to meeting the various human needs, says Benedict, is “due to the fact that the command of love of neighbor is inscribed by the Creator in man’s very nature [ a Creatore in ipsa hominis natura est inscriptus ]” (n. 31). But this increase is also the “result of the presence of Christianity in the world”–and thus we see “how the power of Christianity [can] spread well beyond the frontiers of the Christian faith” (n. 31). “For this reason,” says Benedict, “it is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintain[] all of its splendor and . . . not become just another form of social assistance” (n. 31). And so he asks: “what are the essential elements of Christian and ecclesial charity?” (n. 31). What is it that Christian faith and love “add” to “secular” charitable activity? DCE answers with three comments.

(a) First, Christians who engage in social work need to be professionally competent, and this generally implies civil training that is not the peculiar prerogative of Christians. While professional competence and training are “a primary, funda-mental requirement,” however, they are not of themselves sufficient [“ facultas profession-alis prima est fundamentalis necessitas, sed sola non sufficit ”] (n. 31). On the contrary, in addition to this necessary professional training, Christian charity workers require also and “before all else a ‘formation of the heart’ [ ante omnia, ‘cordis formatio ‘]” (n. 31). “Technically proper care [ cura simpliciter technice apta ]” is not enough (n. 31). Charitable workers need to be rooted in “that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others” (n. 31).

(b) Second, “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies [factionibus et doctrinis ]. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically [ secundumquandam doctrinam ], and it is not at the service of worldly strategies [ neque adstat in ministerio mundanorum consiliorum ], but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs” (n. 31). DCE takes special note in this context of the “various versions of a philosophy of progress” that have dominated the modern age since the 19 th century, citing in particular Marxism (n. 31). Such philosophies reject charity because they judge that the exercise of charity obstructs the dynamic for overturning the unjust structures of society, thus thwarting the progress of history.

(c) Third, and as already noted above, charity cannot be understood as a means of what is today considered “prosely-tism.”

“Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends.[] But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practice charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others” (n. 31).

In light both of DCE ‘s concern that Christian charity maintain its distinctness as a form of social assistance, and indeed of dominant tendencies among Christians in Western societies, it is worthwhile to underscore how, in relying necessarily on technical training and professional competence in carrying out his work, the Christian social worker must take care to avoid slipping, however unwittingly, into the activist-secularist mindset that DCEdecries (n. 37).

Thus, in the texts just cited, DCE emphasizes that Christian social work necessarily presupposes professional competence–that is, because and insofar as such competence is a matter of human reason and nature. At the same time the encyclical stresses that “before all else” a “formation of the heart” involving encounter with God in Christ must accompany and penetrate this social work–because and insofar as human reason and nature in their concrete history always stand in need of purification and (re-)formation. A prevalent “ideology” in our time, unspoken and largely unconscious, would reduce the sense of this formation to an intention that (otherwise) leaves the methods and content of social assistance untouched–such that secular and Christian charitable activities and organizations are then conceived to be more or less identical insofar as they are engaged in feeding the hungry, caring for AIDS patients, providing loving homes for children and the like. In such a framework, the specificity of Christian love is conceived largely (albeit often unconsciously) “moralistically,” as a matter of a good will that simply takes over the logic of conventional professional-secular training and methods and puts the latter to a good use–by situating that logic within a new intentional horizon. This new intentional horizon is necessary, of course, but it is not yet sufficient.

DCE ‘s position, then, is rather more substantial than this. It is the very activity of social work itself that becomes different upon being assumed by Christians–different, that is, in its inner form and not merely by virtue of an intention that is “superadded.” This is seen above all in the “saints” of social work like Mother Teresa in our own age. Somehow the very “how and “what” of social work, the very meaning of “competence,” in these persons takes on a transformed quality, a different sense of time and space and presence. Such saints make clear above all that the whole and every aspect–including all technical aspects–of social work have to do intrinsically with meaning –ultimately, the meaning of man before God that alone can–finally-profoundly–breathe enduring joy into suffering and hope into forsakenness. Only in this way does Christian faith/love become a “vision-comprehension that transforms” (BGTL, 2), as distinct from merely a new-good intention that continues to presume a conventional technical-secular logic.

This does not at all mean that Christian social charity cannot and should not also take on institutional forms that are not unlike other–secular–social agencies, which would require a distinct sort of “planning, foresight, and cooperation with [these] other . . .institutions” (n. 31). The point is that, even in these cases, the formation of the heart demanded of Christians will make a claim affecting not only their intention but the inner order or “rationality” of how they participate in and govern such institutions. Christian workers in these institutions will realize that, to be “workers of . . justice, [they] must be [themselves] workers who arebeing made just by contact with him who is just: Jesus of Nazareth”; that “the place of this encounter is the Church, nowhere more powerfully present than in her sacraments and liturgy” (Ratzinger, “Homily”). Christian workers will realize that their institutions must be concerned for justice when issues and problems arise that the broader culture “no longer sees as bound up with human dignity, like protecting the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death, or when the Church confesses that justice also includes our responsibilities to God himself” (Ratzinger, “Homily”). For example, Catholic charities seeking to find loving homes for abandoned or abused or orphaned children will understand that social justice, rightly understood, requires placing such children inside monogamous marriages between a man and a woman. Catholic social agencies will understand that their commitment to feeding the poor or assisting AIDS patients must be integrated into the whole of the Church’s teaching–and must entail the freedom, for example, to witness to that teaching in the “benefits” the agencies provide to workers (such as distinct support for married couples, exclusion of contraceptive devices from insurance packages, etc.). Catholic hospitals will understand that their care cannot include abortions and the “morning-after” pill. And so on.

What Deus Caritas Est makes clear is that these distinct practices demanded of Catholic social institutions are not at all, rightly understood, a matter of a failure to recognize the dignity of all human beings or indeed to be sensitive to the suffering (for example) of homosexuals or of women seeking abortions. On the contrary, it is a matter–and it can be justified finally only as a matter–of protecting what Christians believe is the deepest eros ofevery human being , including especially those who suffer the most, who are the weakest and most vulnerable and most rejected by society: of protecting the eros whose deepest search is for a happiness liberated into the generosity of agape , an agape that in Jesus takes the form of sacrificing himself–suffering with all of us and for all of us–unto death. It is a matter of seeing that eros and all of its passion can be realized in the end only by being somehow integrated in and through what is naturally –hence “objectively”–given by God as the way to share in the truth of his love and life.

At any rate, professional-social skills and conventional-managerial social service methods combined with generous intentions do not suffice to account for the love that “is the light . . . that can always illumine a world grown dim . . .” (n. 39). Man is created in the image of God who is Logos and Love, and Christian charity workers are called to form every phase and aspect of their activities in the image of this God. “To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world–this is the invitation [that Benedict] extend[s] with the present encyclical” (n. 39).

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, May-June 2006.