In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Marian archives
By David Came (Jul 30, 2009)
With the ongoing challenge of globalization and the severe worldwide recession as a backdrop, Pope Benedict XVI issued his third encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) on July 7.
Interestingly, "mercy" serves as bookends to the Pope's new encyclical. But, before we discuss mercy's pride of place, let me describe the encyclical itself in broad strokes.
Understanding the Encyclical
In this wide-ranging social encyclical, the Holy Father stresses the need for "integral human development in charity and truth" — looking at human beings and their development in a holistic way from the fundamental perspective of charity and truth in the context of current global challenges. Issues he addresses include: striving for the common good, the fundamental right to life, protecting workers' rights, outsourcing labor, our link to the environment, opportunities in the current recession, and the need for reform of global institutions such as the United Nations.
In facing such global challenges, the Pope doesn't propose specific solutions. Rather, he provides a moral and ethical framework for addressing the world's problems in a spirit of solidarity and generosity with a focus on the intrinsic value of the human person. For instance, consider his thoughtful guidance on approaching our link to the environment:
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its lifestyle, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles "in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments. Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society (emphasis in original) (51).
In masterful language, Benedict is saying that we can't isolate our human development from the environment in which we live. Indeed, we do so at our own peril in the case of the consumer lifestyle in the West that tends to be destructive of the environment. So we need a "shift in mentality" that leads to the "adoption of new lifestyles." A good example of this needed shift in mentality is the way many communities in recent years have offered businesses and residents the opportunity to recycle paper and plastic products.
If such an opportunity exists in our community, are we willing to make the effort to recycle, as a step toward a new lifestyle in a spirit of solidarity with the human family in caring for the environment?
Bookends of Mercy
Getting back to mercy, this quote on the environment already gives you an inkling of how the spirit of generosity and solidarity that the Holy Father proposes in addressing global problems points us to our fundamental need for mercy.
So it comes as no surprise that the Holy Father — in laying a spiritual foundation for his social encyclical — says early on:
The earthly city is promoted not merely by rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy, and communion. Charity always manifests God's love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world (emphasis in original) ( 6).
For the Holy Father, promoting rights and duties in pursuing human development is not enough. We must also be grounded in a more fundamental orientation "by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy, and communion." Such an orientation will give "salvific value" to our efforts to promote justice in the world.
But how does this apply to our lives? An example that comes to mind here are the second collections for human development and overseas relief efforts that are taken up in Catholic parishes. As we reach for the checkbook or for our wallet, are we motivated by a spirit of generosity, solidarity, and mercy in helping our brothers and sisters in need? Do we recognize and respect them as part of our global human family? Do we see how we are in it together? It is not "us" versus "them."
In considering this call for global solidarity that should flow from the heart, reflect on these words that come as part of Benedict's conclusion to his encyclical:
Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance on God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace. All this is essential if "hearts of stone" are to be transformed into "hearts of flesh" (Ezek 36:26), rendering life on earth "divine" and thus more worthy of humanity (79).
So, may our hearts be transformed from "hearts of stone" to "hearts of flesh" as we respond to our brothers and sisters in need, recognizing that we are all part of the family of God. Inspired by Pope Benedict, our Mercy Pope, let's remember that all of us united together are the true face of "integral human development" on this planet we call home.
David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. His new book is Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.