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.

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)

Deus Caritas Est: Powerful text on core of Christian faith (Vatican Information Service 25/1/06)
God is Love: first encyclical of Benedict XVI (Vatican Information Service 25/1/06)
A different world through work of Christ and his people (Vatican Information Service 25/1/06)
Tirelessly implore the gift of unity and peace (Vatican Information Service 26/1/06)
Ecumenism in Europe: facing challenges together (Vatican Information Service 26/1/06)
Amy Welborn: Food for Thought (Open Book 26/1/06)
Pope says refs need spiritual help (ANSA.it 25/1/06)
Rocco Palmo: The Surprising Message Behind 'God Is Love' (Beliefnet)
Fr Thomas Williams: Pope on love? Not the topic of alleged hardliner (MSNBC 25/1/06)
John L Allen: First encyclical is on love, 'that beatitude for which our whole being yearns' (National Catholic Reporter 25/1/06)
Pope defends marriage while eschewing politics (Financial Times 26/1/06)
Love and charity at heart of Pope's first encyclical (The Independent 27/1/06)
Alexander Smoltczyk: The Pope's Labor of Love (Spiegel Online 25/1/06)
Chris McGillion: Persuasion rather than stern reminders in papal reflections on love (Sydney Morning Herald 27/1/06)
Archbishop hits at moral decline (The Scotsman 26/1/06)
Andrew Sullivan: Benedict and Love (The Daily Dish/Time 26/1/06)
Dissenter urges Pope to write liberal encyclical (Reuters 25/1/06)
Pope sends message of love in first encyclical (Reuters 25/1/06)
Rocco Palmo: Dio amore (Whispers in the Loggia 26/1/06)
Pope: "Deus caritas est", all love comes from God and leads to him (AsiaNews.it 26/1/06)
"Deus caritas est": God's eros and agape, medicine for the world (AsiaNews.it 26/1/06)
Vatican officials say Catholic aid not just response to material need (Catholic News Service 25/1/06)
Cardinal says new encyclical helps explain God's love, human love (Catholic News Service 24/1/06)
Humanity can end hatred by following God's law with love, pope says (Catholic News Service 26/1/06)
New Papal Encyclical puts theological flesh to Church's charitable work, hits at nucleus of Christian faith, say prelates (Catholic News Agency 26/1/06)
Christian unity necessary for successful spread of Christ's light to world, says Pope (Catholic News Agency 26/1/06)
Pope Benedict: Courage, prayer required for rebuilding Christian unity in Europe (Catholic News Agency 26/1/06)
"Deus Caritas Est": The Encyclical As Explained by its Author (L'Espresso 26/1/06)
Sandro Magister: Castelgandolfo Revisited: The Jesuits Come to the Pope's Defence (L'Espresso 26/1/06)
In first encyclical, pope calls for deeper understanding of love (catholicireland.net 26/1/06)
Pope: Word 'love' often misused (Reuters/CNN 25/1/06)
Papal encyclical explores divine, human love (Catholic World News 25/1/06)
Ten Commandments are blueprint for just society, Pope says (Catholic World News 25/1/06)
God's love is source of Christian unity, Pope tells ecumenical service (Catholic World News 25/1/06)
Facts, myths about papal encyclical (Catholic World News 25/1/06)
Church unity needed to evangelize Europe, Pope says (Catholic World News 26/1/06)
Polish president meets Pope, renews invitation (Catholic World News 26/1/06)
Mgr Massimo Camisasca: God himself comes to fill our eros with his agap (Fides 25/1/06)
Nicola Bux: Benedict XVI's first encyclical (Fides 25/1/06)
Pope surprises Catholics with warm words on power of love (The Guardian 26/1/06)
Stephen Bates: Pope surprises Catholics with warm words on power of love (The Guardian 26/1/06)
Pope: Church Duty Is to Influence Leaders (The Guardian/Associated Press 26/1/06)
Pope sets tone of his papacy with an encyclical on love (Irish Times 26/1/06)
Benedict's First Encyclical Shuns Strictures of Orthodoxy (New York Times 26/1/06)
Pope: Church must influence political leaders (Chicago Sun-Times 26/1/06)
Pope dedicates message to meaning of true love (The Age 27/1/06)
Paul Collins: Benedict gets back to basics (The Australian 27/1/06)
Pope Benedict puts body and soul into declaration of love (London Times 26/1/06)
Ruth Gledhill: Passionate prose is a real revelation (London Times 26/1/06)
Richard Owen: Analysis: encyclical is work of two Popes (London Times 25/1/06)
USCCB President Hails Pope's First Encyclical (US Conference of Catholic Bishops 25/1/06)
Benedict XVI General Audience - text (25/1/06)
The Pope's letter of love (SBS 26/1/06)
Media Can Undervalue Religious Belief, Says Pope (Zenit 24/1/06)
Pope Recalls "Civic Virtues" of Kosovo President (Zenit 24/1/06)
Benedict XVI Blesses Pair of Lambs (Zenit 24/1/06)
Papal Message for World Communications Day (Zenit 24/1/06)
Benedict XVI's First Encyclical: Christianity Elevates Love (Zenit 25/1/06)
Document to Renew Charitable Commitment of Church (Zenit 25/1/06)
U.S. Prelate Hails Pope's First Encyclical (Zenit 25/1/06)
Benedict XVI's Surprising Encyclical (Zenit 25/1/06)

27 Jan 2006