It’s powerful, it’s wise, it’s challenging, it’s ancient and yet modern: It’s Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical letter "Charity in Truth" (Caritas in Veritate).
Building on more than 100 years of Catholic social teaching with a special concentration on Pope Paul VI’s encyclical "The Development of Peoples" (Populorum Progressio), Pope Benedict takes his predecessor’s groundbreaking teaching on international development — with its emphasis on economic justice for all as the basis for peace — and applies it to the economic crisis currently facing the whole world.
Among the contemporary issues the pope focuses on are globalization, microfinancing, intellectual property rights, embryonic research, technology and the environment. And among the old critical issues he concentrates on are poverty, hunger, abortion and violence.
To both new and old areas of concern, the Holy Father applies the always relevant, ancient teaching of the church: that "love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope."
Love (or charity) guided by truth teaches us to care for the needs of our human family, especially the vulnerable and poor.
In the truth of God’s loving plan, human beings must always come before everything else, including profit. Profit is useful if it is a means toward a good end. However, "once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty," the pope wrote.
And that is primarily what caused our current economic crisis. Wealth was destroyed, and most of all, poverty was created as a result of a lust for profit that put the accumulation of money and other assets above the good of all.
As a result of this greed, well over 100 million additional people are now hungry.
According to a recent U.N. report, for the first time in history more than 1 billion fellow human beings are now starving or undernourished!
This unjust distribution of wealth is totally unacceptable to the Holy Father — and should be totally unacceptable to us as well.
Like Pope Paul, Pope Benedict calls for the need to create "a model of market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off." He also continues Pope John Paul II’s teaching of promoting a culture of life that recognizes and respects the interconnectedness of all human life from conception to natural death, including all of creation.
The Holy Father urges us to look at our planet as a living being. And he warns that if we continue destroying our environment, we will end up destroying our own life source.
The pope is calling us to better understand and act on the whole of Catholic social teaching.
It is not enough to only work for the protection of the unborn, or to promote nonviolence and peace, or to strive to end poverty and hunger, or to respect the integrity of creation.
Faithful Catholics are called to do all of the above to the best of our ability!
This encyclical letter is packed with information on spirituality, theology, economics, politics, ecology and more. It is impossible to cover it adequately in one sitting or one column.
Hopefully it will be the ongoing subject of college courses, clergy in-service days, numerous homilies, social-justice committee gatherings, corporate board meetings, congressional debates and family conversations.
To do justice to this outstanding encyclical we need to study, pray with and consider how best to act on the teachings of "Charity in Truth."
Tony Magliano is a columnist for Catholic News Service.