Pope Francis released the fantastic new encyclical letter “Lumen Fidei” (“Light of Faith”) on Friday, which Pope Benedict started before his resignation this past winter. Encyclicals are the most important form of papal teaching, and comprise much of the vast body of our Catholic social tradition.
Here is a collection of some of the quotes from the encyclical, by paragraph, which demonstrate how loving care for human life and commitment to social justice are essential parts of our faith as Christians. A brief reflection follows each quote.
No. 17: Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises…Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
God is here and now at work among us as much as God has ever been anywhere. How easily even we believers can forget that. It’s our job to let God’s always-available love inspire us to make that love visible in the world through our lives.
No. 22: Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others.
Our faith must be lived out in community.We are social creatures made to be in relationship with God and others. Commitment to the communal life leads us to notice and care about the needs of others.
No. 46: The Decalogue [Ten Commandments] is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others.
We don’t have commandments and doctrines and dogmas as Christians because we really like rules. We have them because to believe in God comes with responsibilities and real-world implications. Faith cannot just be words or beliefs without action, but must reach out to others, especially to those in need.
No. 51: Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace.
Christian love, rooted in faith, is not just found in affections of the heart, but also in an action of hands.
No. 52: The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family…Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11).
A pre-born child is not a choice or a burden, but a miracle that a family and community are called to embrace.
No. 54: The boundless love of our Father also comes to us, in Jesus, through our brothers and sisters. Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.
This reminds me of a great Dorothy Day quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
No. 54: Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity…At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique.
Our faith that each human is a unique, beautiful creation of God is the bedrock of Catholic social teaching. We don’t work to protect life and promote justice because of some vague philanthropic concern. We do it because in each person, we find the face of God.
No. 55: Faith, on the other hand, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.
There are two important points in this passage. First, the Earth is a gift from God to us, and it’s our job to take care of it by conserving natural resources and taking meaningful action to combat climate change, for instance. Second, faith calls us to build societies and economies that serve the common good. We do not judge our success based on how the wealthy are doing, but how the most poor and vulnerable are treated.
No. 57: Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world…Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.
Our God is compassion, and calls us to be compassionate: literally, to “suffer with” those who are hurting. It’s so difficult to see another suffering and to go toward that pain. It’s much easier to put blinders on and to turn away. But faith demands movement toward those who are lonely and forgotten.
Thank you, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, for this wonderful gift that enlivens our faith and sends us out to bring God’s love to others.
As mentioned here on Friday, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent and CNN’s Vatican correspondent John Allen was the keynote speaker at the Diocese of Camden’s Justice for All Dinner last week. John is one of the most respected Church observers, and he provided invaluable coverage throughout Pope Benedict’s resignation and all that followed.
At the end of his talk here, John said he hoped the evening would just be the start of a conversation. I took him up on the offer, and emailed him some Life & Justice questions connected to his areas of expertise: the papacy and the ongoing transformation of the Catholic Church. He kindly replied despite his incredibly full schedule.
MJL: You mentioned at the Justice for All Dinner Pope Francis’ line that he wants a church that is “poor and for the poor.” How have you seen this commitment lived out already early in his papacy? How do you think it might develop in the future?
JA: There’s the obvious: shunning the papal limo as much as possible, living in the Casa Santa Marta rather than the papal apartment, and so on. I visited his sister’s home in Buenos Aires, and it gives new meaning to the term “simple”! More deeply, it’s clear based on the trajectory of this pope’s life that the poor are at the heart of his pastoral vision. My suspicion is that Francis will nudge Catholicism towards a simpler, more evangelical style of life, and towards greater solidarity with the poor at all levels.
MJL: The vision of Life & Justice Ministries in Camden is to promote a consistent ethic of life, from conception until natural death and every moment in between. Pope Francis seems to embrace this both/and philosophy, resisting the barriers that sometimes divide “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” Do you see this “both/and” vision in Francis’ thinking?
JA: Very much so, but I saw it in Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well. We Catholics are often creatures of our culture, and the political culture in the States does a terrific job pitting these two dimensions of Catholic social teaching against one another. If we’re going to overcome that, it will require a deeply counter-cultural commitment from us, not just once-and-for-all but every day. Papal vision can help, but ultimately it’s up to us.
MJL: As the Catholic Church’s population center continues shifting toward the Global South, what can we in the United States do to stand in solidarity with our Catholic sisters and brothers who are not from the West?
JA: Most deeply, we can accept the premise that American Catholics are just six percent of the global Catholic population, so membership in this global family of faith means that we can’t always have things our own way and that the welfare and perspectives of Catholics in other parts of the world matters too. Everything else flows from that.
What was one of the most powerful things your saw or learned during your recent visit to Cardinal Bergoglio’s hometown of Buenos Aires?
I visited one of the villas miserias, the slums in Buenos Aires, where then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent enormous amounts of time and where his pastoral vision of a “poor church for the poor” came alive. Talking to the often abandoned people who live there, it was clear that politics and the media may have forgotten about them, but the Church under Bergoglio had not.
JA: First an earthquake, then a hurricane.
Dr. Chris Bellitto is coming to the Diocese of Camden for a once-in-our-lifetimes event. Listen to a great interview with him by clicking the NPR logo, and then read about his visit below.
“I remember exactly where I was when it happened.”
Certain important moments are burned into our brains for life.
My father, who wasn’t yet 10 when JFK was assassinated, recalls every detail from that day.
At my childhood home, I could show you just where I was standing in 1994 when my parents told me I was going to be a big brother again.
Those instants when our world or our lives are changed forever grab hold of our memory like nothing else.
Last month, my wife Genevieve and I attended a conference in Washington called the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which brings together about 400 Catholics from around the country who are involved in various life & justice ministries.
A text message woke her up early on the Monday morning of the conference, and she jostled me awake.
“I just found out about a big story before you did,” she said, poking fun at my near-addiction to reading the news on Twitter.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Pope Benedict is resigning.”
“What?!” I bolted up.
Where were you when you found out about Pope Benedict’s resignation?
We turned on CNN. Like us, the reporters had lots of questions. Why did Pope Benedict make this decision? How long had he been thinking about it? What will he do when he retires? What will we call him? Has this ever happened before? How can we as church best respond? Who will be the next Pope?
What was your initial reaction?
I grabbed my phone, and started pecking out an email to Christopher Bellitto, PhD.
Just two days before, I had attended a fantastic lecture by Dr. Bellitto at the conference. A medieval historian from Kean University specializing in church and papal history, he had talked about lessons that we as the church today could learn from our two millennia of successes and failures. His dynamic style made church history engaging, relevant, and fun – I was hooked.
Who better to give a special presentation here in South Jersey on the resignation, upcoming conclave, and the future of the Church? As we wonder how this unprecedented transition will affect our faith community, there’s no better time to gather, reflect, and learn.
Dr. Bellitto said he’d be willing to come, but there was one problem. He had just returned home from Washington when his schedule filled up quickly. He became one of the media’s primary experts on the resignation, featured by the New York Times, NPR, CNN, the Atlantic Magazine, and many others. As the conclave to pick a new Pope convenes over the next couple of weeks, more and more interviews are sure to follow.
He was graciously open to squeezing us in, and we found a date that worked: Wednesday, March 27 – one night before our newly elected Pope will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass in Rome.
Please join us for this special Holy Week event, entitled “Picking Popes: Resignation, Enclave, and the Future.” It’s sure to be a fascinating and informative evening. You don’t want to miss it. Come with an open mind and plenty of questions!
Dr. Christopher Bellitto presents “Picking Popes: Resignation, Enclave, and the Future.”
Wednesday, March 27, 7:30-9:00 pm.
St. Mary’s Parish Hall
2001 Springdale Road
Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
The staggering news from Monday remains on our hearts and minds as Lent begins today. So today’s round-up consists of five beautiful life & justice quotes from Pope Benedict XVI good for our journey toward Easter, from this USCCB compilation and elsewhere.
BXVI has truly been a life & justice, both/and Pope. His deep commitment to social justice has not been featured in the secular press’ biased stories on his legacy. But even a cursory review of his statements and writings shows his passionate solidarity with those most in need.
1) “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbour or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God.” Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), #16
2) “Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9).”, World Day of Peace message, 2012, #5
3) “As Isaiah proclaimed, ‘For thus says he who is high and exalted, living eternally, whose name is the Holy One: On high I dwell, and in holiness, and with the crushed and dejected in spirit, to revive the spirits of the dejected, to revive the hearts of the crushed’ (Isaiah 57:15). God chooses, therefore, to be with the weak, with victims, with the last: This is made known to all kings, so that they will know what their options should be in the governance of nations. Of course, he does not just say it to kings and to all governments, but to all of us, as we also must know which option we must choose: to be on the side of the humble, the last, the poor and the weak.” Commentary on Psalm 137(138): God “Cares for the Lowly,” Dec. 7, 2005
4) “To make a concrete response to the appeal of our brothers and sisters in humanity, we must come to grips with the first of these challenges: solidarity among generations, solidarity between countries and entire continents, so that all human beings may share more equitably in the riches of our planet.This is one of the essential services that people of good will must render to humanity. The earth, in fact, can produce enough to nourish all its inhabitants, on the condition that the rich countries do not keep for themselves what belongs to all.” Audience to seven new ambassadors to the Holy See, June 16, 2005
5) “It is necessary not only to relieve the gravest needs but to go to their roots, proposing measures that will give social, political and economic structuresa more equitable and solidaristic configuration.” Message to Mexican Bishops, Sept. 29, 2005