Pope Benedict has chosen to write his first universal letter on love. It has met with a refreshing reception even among those who have nothing to do with the Catholic Church. There, sitting uncomfortably on the pages of the world’s papers, which deal so much with violence, hatred, fraud and revenge, is an article about a world leader who writes on love.
No one can object to his choice because everyone knows that the most fundamental thing about our existence is our desire to love and be loved. The pope is quite daring, at least in Catholic eyes used to traditional reticence on the subject, in speaking about eros as the first wellspring of love. This Greek word, source of our common word erotic, only appears twice in the scriptures, he tells us, and both times in the Old Testament.
But Benedict is determined to trace love from its origins to its goal. Eros, he says, represents an indeterminate “searching” love, whilst agape – another Greek word – is the typical expression of the biblical notion of love ‘which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier’ (with eros). So love, that most powerful force that ‘makes the world go round,’ has to move from eros to agape, from self-centredness to concern for another person or for other people. It is purified through life’s difficulties and often considerable suffering.
Pope Benedict moves on to the implications of love for our human society. Love is meaningless unless it is expressed in action for justice. The traditional Marxist analysis used to see charity as a pernicious way of delaying revolutionary change. It salved the conscience of the rich to give something from their excessive wealth to the poor. In so doing the rich blunted the anger of the poor and oppressed.
There is some truth in this. But what kind of love would it be to let the hungry starve so that the revolution comes sooner? We have to respond to suffering now but we also have to work for justice now. Truly, says Benedict, creating a just society is the work of politics and the church cannot do it. But the Church has to proclaim the demand for justice. He quotes Augustine of Hippo (
Benedict goes on: 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. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to awaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something that concerns the Church deeply. (No. 28)
There was a recent article in the Herald trying to isolate Archbishop Pius Ncube from his fellow bishops. What the writer fails to understand is that the archbishop is expressing the mind of the Church and his whole life is an act of selfless love.Post published in: Opinions