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Encyclical calls for deeper understanding of love


In his first encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI called for a deeper understanding of love as a gift from God to be shared in a self-sacrificial way, both at a personal and social level.

Catholic News Service reports that the Holy Father said love between couples, often reduced today to selfish sexual pleasure, needs to be purified to include "concern and care for the other."

Love is also charity, he said, and the church has an obligation to help the needy wherever they are found -- but its primary motives must always be spiritual, never political or ideological.

The nearly 16,000-word encyclical, titled "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), was issued on Wednesday in seven languages. Addressed to all Catholics, it was divided into two sections, one on the meaning of love in salvation history, the other on the practice of love by the church.

The pope said his aim was to "speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in return must share with others." The two aspects, personal love and the practice of charity, are profoundly interconnected, he said.

The encyclical begins with a phrase from the First Letter of John: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." The pope said the line expresses the heart of the Christian faith, which understands the creator as a loving God and which sees Christ's death as the ultimate sign of God's love for man.

In today's world, however, the term "love" is frequently used and misused, he said. Most commonly, it is understood as representing "eros," the erotic love between a man and a woman. The church, from its earliest days, proposed a new vision of self-sacrificial love expressed in the word "agape," he said.

At times, the pope said, the church, with all its commandments and prohibitions, has been accused of poisoning eros or of being ready to "blow the whistle" just when the joy of erotic love presented itself.

But in modern society, he said, it has become clear that eros itself has been exalted and the human body debased.

"Eros, reduced to pure 'sex,' has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will," he said.

Properly understood, he said, eros leads a man and woman to marriage, a bond that is exclusive, and therefore monogamous, as well as permanent.

The pope said there was a connection between the commitment to justice and the ministry of charity, but also important distinctions. Building a just social and civil order is an essential political task to which the church contributes through its social doctrine, but it "cannot be the church's immediate responsibility," he said.

"A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the church," he added.

"The church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the state," the pope said.

The pope said that those working for Catholic charitable organisations need to be witnesses of the faith as well as professionally competent in humanitarian affairs.

The church's charitable activities, he said, should not be seen as opportunities for proselytism, in the sense of imposing the church's faith on others.

SOURCE
In first encyclical, pope calls for deeper understanding of love (Catholic News Service 25/1/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to the bishops priests and deacons men and women religious and all the lay faithful on christian love (25/1/06)

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27 Jan 2006