Several years ago, a small collection of the writings and speeches of the late Bishop Patelesio Finau of Tonga was published under the title: ‘He Spoke the Truth in Love’, a reference to the phrase from the letter to the Ephesians (4:15).
This was one of the extraordinary gifts of Bishop Finau: he could ‘speak the truth’ of the most difficult social justice questions of his day, yet do it in a way that love shone through the conversation, calling to conversion and reconciliation.
It is not easy to find that balance of truth and love: this is the invitation Pope Benedict offers to us in his latest encyclical: Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth.This is an encyclical letter addressed not only to Catholics but to ‘all people of goodwill’, and speaks of ‘charity in truth’ as the ‘principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity’ (#1). It is also ‘an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace … a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth’ (#1).
It is a social encyclical that continues in the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, reminding us that ‘Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine’ (#2). Following Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the Development of Peoples ( Populorum Progressio 1967), Pope Benedict frames his thinking on integral human development around two key principles: justice and the common good (#6-9). These are the foundations on which a humane society is built.
The church has a ‘mission of truth’ to society in recalling human dignity in all circumstances of life.
Pope Benedict addresses the current economic crisis as ‘an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future’ (21), and he does this with confidence and hope that reflect his earlier encyclicals.
A key insight of Spe Salvi (2007) on Christian hope, is that ‘God is the foundation of hope, the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety’ (#31). It is this that leads him to conclude that ‘all serious and upright human conduct is hope in action’ (#35).
Those who courageously and generously commit themselves to social justice know that they are sustained with a strength beyond their human capacity. They are a visible expression of the startling conviction of Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love, 2006): ‘A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of life is intrinsically fragmented’ (#14).
How are we to live this message of Pope Benedict, in New Zealand, in the Archdiocese of Wellington? The context is the recession which is hitting the vulnerable the hardest. Catholic Social Teaching maintains that ‘rights presuppose duties’ … and that individual rights may be claimed only within the framework of duties which set a limit on them (#43). The Christian Council for Social Services (NZCCSS) recently published its June ‘Vulnerablity Report’ on the effects of the recession in New Zealand households, in terms of rises in the cost of living, unemployment, evictions due to unpaid rent and numbers of children and their families living in hardship, often resulting in increased incidence of domestic violence.
While we all like to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, eg, with adequate heating through these winter months, we also have a duty in Christian charity and solidarity to ensure that all enjoy these same benefits. There are many ways we can do this, by supporting various social services or through direct assistance to families and children in need.
But Pope Benedict does not stop at this immediate work of charity. He critiques business ethics which have lost sight of the two pillars of human society: ‘the inviolable dignity of the human person and the transcendent value of natural moral norms’.
‘The economy needs … an ethics which is people-centred’ (#45), he argues, then further explores the relationship between business and ethics (#46).
In New Zealand, too, we need to continue our watch on Government policies addressing the recession to ensure that the most vulnerable are not further disadvantaged.
This month, we celebrate the Assumption of Mary. This is the patronal feast of the church of New Zealand, an opportunity for us ‘to speak the truth in love’ and to look to the future with hope. Pope Benedict’s encyclical reflects a phrase from John Paul II: ‘Mary’s Assumption generates in us an ever new capacity to await God’s future’.