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Cardinal Martino on 'Deus Caritas Est'

God's Love: the Foundation of Our Living Together

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of an essay by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on Benedict XVI's encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est." The essay, adapted here, was first published in L'Osservatore Romano.

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The Universal Dimension of Social Charity
By Cardinal Renato Martino

Truth draws men together because it frees them from individual opinions. Love draws men together because it makes them overcome individual egoisms. The announcement of Christianity is that Truth is Love. Therefore Christianity is the religion of the communion and the unity of human kind.

This, substantially, seems to me to be the central aspect of the message [that] "Deus Caritas Est" sends us, men of the third millennium, about our social unity. In fact, Benedict XVI writes: "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation -- the Logos, primordial reason -- is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love" (No. 10).

The metaphysical Principle looked upon man and loved him. God is truth, thus our world and our life have meaning. Christian truth, however, does not just give life an architectonic, abstract meaning. Christian truth, also and foremost, gives life an existential meaning, a vital experience of meaning. God is truth that comes toward us, that speaks to us, that meets us. He is truth as an event of love. Otherwise life would reflect an abstract, and therefore insipid, truth and love would be blind and reduced to mere passion.

This pivotal message of "Deus Caritas Est" -- God is love -- is the foundation of our living together. In fact, it "constitutes us," it "calls us to a commitment" and extends the bonds of love to the utmost borders of the earth. Here -- in the love of God -- is where the bonds that unite people beyond their many differences find their foundation and an open perspective to embrace and follow.

Feeling called upon by truth and discovering to be loved are experiences that lead to the consolidation of the consciousness of a person's own dignity and, consequently, lead to conquer the capability to break out of one's self. He who is loved actually experiences that he "is" and he "matters" and, therefore, that he is a resource and is capable of giving.

He who feels loved receives, therefore learns to give. He who feels loved experiences the faithfulness of others and learns, in turn, to be faithful to others. The love of God shows man his own immense dignity and at the same time it shows man the same dignity inside other men, and thus invites him to open himself to the love for the others in a chain of reciprocal rewards of high social and communitarian value.

It is the love of God that "constitutes us," as it makes us understand that we are and what we are. It is the love of God that "calls us" together to take upon ourselves the task of looking at one another with the same glance of love that has constituted us. Human society is not born out of the "mutual struggle for recognition," but from the experience of being loved, which enables us to love others.

Loving the world and man, God entrusts the world and man to humanity itself, not as a collection of "things" but as a gift and a duty, as a task to accomplish together. When he puts us in our own hands as a duty to ourselves, God asks us to help him in the fulfillment of creation and salvation at every level: spiritual and eternal, human and historical.

In "Deus Caritas Est," the communitarian value -- I would say communicating, that is constitutive and constructive of the community -- of God's love is largely present. This encyclical is not directly a social encyclical, but when it grounds the human community and solidarity in the love of God, it repositions in their right Christian context all the aspects of social life, the same constitution of society and the active solidarity between men.

In order to identify, in the encyclical, some of the main instances of this "communicating" function of the love of God, we may start by focusing on creation. God's act of creation is presented in the encyclical as an act of unselfish love and in biblical faith the creation from the Word is the consequence of the fact that "God loves man" (No. 9).

The natural plan is therefore already pervaded by charity. A design of communitarian love unfolds over it. In finding himself "created" -- and not a product of chance or of natural mechanisms -- man feels loved. In Jesus, then, the creative Logos becomes flesh and reveals in greater detail its design of love for man. The Logos becomes "this" man, Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior. Here, the connection between creation and salvation becomes explicit to faith. Salvation is possible through a "historical body" of Christ, through a community to which creation was already destined.

Another instance that is very present in the encyclical is the unifying encounter between God and Israel, between Christ and the Church, between man and woman. It is betrothal, marriage, fidelity. Love that is experienced -- it was said -- makes us capable to love in the sense of total self-giving, that is in an exclusive way and for eternity.

The absolute fidelity of God to Israel enables Israel in turn to pronounce a final "yes." Self-giving, if authentic, is also exclusive and total. We can only love "unconditionally," with our whole selves. Charity, thus, creates durable bonds because they are founded on gratuitousness, on gift and on forgiveness.

In Jesus, the incarnated God unites with each man and "we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving" (No. 13). The incarnation of God in Jesus is not just "giving," but "self-giving." Christ draws us to him by giving himself. Since then the only way to unite is through self-giving. The marriage between God and Israel, as the marriage between Christ and the Church and the marriage between man and woman, has a strong social dimension. We can truly say that society is built on love.

A third instance is the commandment of love for neighbor, the program of the Good Samaritan. The glance of Christian love extends beyond Israel, beyond the Church, beyond man and wife. It embraces the entire humanity, the one that has already been redeemed and the historical one, it reaches each and every single person and, at the same time, the entire humanity.

"Love of God and love of neighbor," says the Holy Father, are connected: "If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties,' then my relationship with God will also grow arid" (No. 18).

These three instances of charity that are illustrated by the encyclical -- creation as an act of love, marriage and fidelity as a social fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor bound by an unbreakable bond -- are the theological foundation of the prodigious unifying force of the Christian faith and of its tension to break all the barriers that separate men from one another. In this sense charity founds the community and urges the realization of justice.

What is the first and main contribution given by the Church to the human community? Charity, for which the Church herself lives at the service of the world. The unity of the family based on marriage, the respectful encounter between nations, the respect of the dignity of human beings, brotherhood instead of hate and war, the joint fight against poverty ... the first help that the Church offers for the maturation of these values and the pursue of these aims is the celebration and the testimony of charity that is carried out directly, through the charitable activities promoted by the Church, and indirectly, through the work of the lay people enlightened by the social doctrine of the Church.

The Church promotes the authentic development of man, wrote [John Paul II in] "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," when she announces Christ. The Church is beneficent to universal social unity when she announces the Gospel of charity, states "Deus Caritas Est."


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