Friday, July 10, 2009

Papal encyclical calls us to global awareness

By Verne Schweiger
Director of the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns

This week marked the publication of the first papal social encyclical of the 21st century; Pope Benedict XVI’s long awaited Caritas in Veritate. And I am moved to ask, with reverence and with all seriousness, “Why should this matter?”

I here offer two responses for consideration. First, this matters precisely because it is a letter from the Pope; and it is addressed to us. It is addressed to all of us, we who live and work, buy, invest, sell, debate, organize, vote, worship; and in doing so, we make decisions. Second, because those decisions matter. Decisions about family and career, business and finance, policy and law, decisions that affect the young, the old, the poor, the displaced, the environment matter. They matter to the life of each individual, and to the good of the life we share in common. Such decisions need to be based upon something other than the shifting sands of preference and opinion. The Holy Father writes to help us reflect upon developing our lives upon the solid foundation of “charity,” which he defines as “love received and given.” And love, he writes, can “be authentically lived” only in “truth.”

Perhaps a third response is also in order. Not only did Caritas in Veritate arrive as a letter to us this week. Along with it arrived a “teachable moment.” “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine,” writes the Holy Father in the Introduction, and this social doctrine “illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging.” In the midst of our current global economic crisis, we have received the gift of this illuminating reflection, in which, as one commentator summarized, “Benedict makes essential connections between charity and truth, between the protection of life and the pursuit of justice, between rich and poor, between business and ethics, between care for the earth and care for the “least of these.”
The entire encyclical is available at I am also informed that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to equip diocesan, parish, and other ministry leaders with resources to help us explore and promote the message of the Holy Father. By next week an individual reflection guide, a small group study guide and other educational materials should be available at


  1. You are entirely correct Vern, this letter comes at a time when people are in a bind, so to speak, financially. Yet, it seems that when the chips are down, is when people respond to the needs of those who have less. I am always touched by the selflessness of those I come in contact with who are willing to share from their necessities, not their excesses. Keep up the good work!

  2. Although I have, by no means, finished reading the encyclical, I was deeply moved by the clear message in the initial pages from our Pope ..."to defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction..." More than ever, we need faithful Catholics with hearts on fire ready to stand up for the Truth even if that means going against the 'current' and standing up for issues that are uncomfortable and 'controversial' albeit with love and humility.
    Vern- are you planning to host a symposium where you can help us go deeper into the relevance of this letter for our lives?
    I hope so.


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