Deus Caritas Est: Part Two

As we have had the past two weeks it is time to explore Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical. In case you forgot it focuses on Love. Last week I went through the Introduction, now we are going to get into Part One of the Encyclical, this section is titles The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History.

To begin it tackles the basic fact that we begin with a simple problem with the word “love” as it has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings. Benedict dives into it with the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, there is another storge (familiar love) but this is rarely used in ancient texts so it’s not talked about, pointing out that the Greek Old Testament used eros only twice while in the New Testament it is mostly found as agape, which Benedict points out is infrequently used in Greek, and John loved using philia.

This turns philosophical by quoting Nietzche “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice” Benedict goes and looks at how eros was seen in the pre-Christian world. He points to the Greeks who “considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication…process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness”, Virgil is know for his “Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori” (Love conquers all let us, too, yield to love), and there were many fertility cults along with “sacred prostitution” of sorts in temples. So eros was celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine, but it oddly lacked the human. This is what the Old Testament was arguing about you need body and soul to experience eros and not a degradation but a maturity of the body. Sure the Church in the past has been opposed to the body, just look at St. Paul’s writing and his body (sarx)/spirit (pneuma) debate, and it still sort of exists today. Benedict takes this here and goes into the commodification of love/ sex as that is what most people look at it now as a thing you can buy and sell, just look at the internet and see the extant of the porn that can be found, for sale and for free. We now considers our bodies and sexuality as the purely material part of ourselves, to be used and exploited at will.

Benedict changes course here and goes into the Old Testament looking at the Song of Songs/Solomon/Canticles. Sure we don’t hear from this book very often but it’s a book of love songs. Benedict notes that in Hebrew there are two words used for love dodim (love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching) and ahabà (I give/love) this was translated by the Greeks as agape. Love is now a concern for someone else. This gets a bit out there offering different ways to look at the words  eros, is used to indicate “worldly” love or “ascending” love or possessive love and agape, being used to indicate love grounded in and shaped by faith, or “descending” love or oblative love. The Pope gives a great thing here and says that these two types of love can never be completely separated, as anyone who wants to get love must want to give love. This can be seen in the story of Jacob’s ladder where love can be seen as an inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received. It is nicely summed up in this passage “Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”

We dive back into the Bible and The Shema. Looking at the Bible we can see God loves, and his love can be called eros, but at the same time it is also agape. This turns to Jesus eventually as he is the combination of eros and agape. The Eucharistic feast is a prime example “This is my Body”…”This is my blood” we have been given so much and in this feast we all become one.  Let us remember The Great Commandment to love one another for Love can be “commanded” because it has first been given.

As The Beatles said “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”


Deus Caritas Est Part One

This week we begin going through Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical this begins a look at the theological virtue of Charity. The Encyclical is broken into two parts along with an introduction and conclusion.

It begins with an Introduction where we are given a nice overview of what to expect. Benedict start with quoting from the first letter of John 4:16 “So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Then Benedict suggests that the first part is sort of a summary of Christian Life. He then breaks it down and analyzes it even more pointing out that being Christian isn’t the result of an idea or choice but of an encounter. This idea, the centrality of Love, retains the core of the Jewish faith embodied in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 it’s know as the Shema (Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:) which Jesus names as one of the Greatest Commandments along with “Love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18.  Noting that since God loves us, it “is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”

Benedict says that this topic in important today since the name of God has been associated with vengeance, as well as hate and violence. Benedict wants to “speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others.” This is what the Encyclical is about. The first part with be more speculative focusing on the theological and philosophical dealing with the different meaning of the word love in Greek. While the second part will be concrete it’s the what can I do about it part. Benedict notes that this subject is vast and this one Encyclical isn’t  going to cover it all but this is the basics.

Deus Caritas Est

We’ve finally made it to Pope Benedict XVI. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding this Pope but there have been lots of documents that have come out over the years that are pretty unique as well.  This is the first of Encyclical from Benedict XVI as well as the first of three that focus on the theological virtues Deus caritas est (about love), Spe salvi (about hope), and Lumen fidei (about faith). Lumen Fidei was written by both Benedict and Francis. As one should know the title come from the first line of encyclical God is love. It comes from the first letter of John (4:16) “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” As we have learned about in John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris  suffering is linked to love.  So we looked at the suffering now it’s on to love. Sure most of the time during Lent we tend to focus on the negatives, like when we give something up but Lent is more than just this it is about trying to become a better person in general as well. Over the next couple of weeks I will be going through this Encyclical. It was written by Benedict with some direction from uncompleted writings left by John Paul II. This was signed on Christmas Day back in 2005 and came out in January of 2006. It will be an interesting look during this season of Lent

Part One
Part Two


Salvifici Doloris: Part 2

In the first part we looked at the first half of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris. In the first part things were defined and questions asked and answered. Here is the rest

As we pick up this Apostolic Letter as we ended the last section with a look at one of the Song of Suffering Servant from Isaiah. It’s the fourth one and it is a Messianic prophecy about Jesus John Paul II notes that it is through the Cross that Redemption is accomplished through suffering more over that human suffering is what has been redeemed For Christ, without any fault of his own took on himself “the total evil of sin”. He then looks into the New Testament and eloquently explains “If one becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened his suffering to man, because he himself in his redemptive suffering has become, in a certain sense, a sharer in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched with a new content and new meaning.” This continues with his Kingdom where we share in the suffering but it is redemption which can only be accomplished through satisfactory love. Which remains open to all love expressed in human suffering.

The sixth section looks at the Gospel of Suffering. This Gospel has been written by Mary and the Apostles through their experience of the Passion and Resurrection. Jesus was never shy that suffering would have to happen even saying that to follow you’d have to take up your cross and follow. This is the first chapter of the Gospel of Suffering and it is written on Jesus as when he is Resurrected he still bore the marks, which Thomas wanted to see. The Gospel is continually being written by those who suffer with Christ for it is in suffering where we are drawn closer to Christ, just look at anyone of the Saints and they all seem to have some suffering like Francis of Assisi who said “If we endure all things patiently and with gladness, thinking on the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, and bearing all for the love of Him: herein is perfect joy.”, or Ignatius of Loyola who said “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint” and others who point to suffering into making them better people. The suffering become a joy through the salvific mission of Jesus. This is why Paul can write “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake” as it is only through our suffering that we unite ourselves with Christ to complete his suffering.

Pope John Paul II notes that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is surely a part of the Gospel of Suffering. As is show us how to approach things not to pass by but to stop and help out those in need even. Everyone who stops beside a person in need is a Good Samaritan, once again this is as it is uniquely put to unleash love in the human person. With so much hate in the world it would be wonderful if more people took some time to care about the other. Sure we’ve been given so many guidelines that society is crafted around the general idea that we need to do with the works of mercy. As Jesus says “what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you have done for me.”   It’s all about compassion and our redemption is rooted to suffering. The letter is nicely concluded saying  “Together with Mary, who stood beneath the Cross,we pause beside all the crosses of contemporary man. We invoke all the Saints, who down the centuries in a special way shared in the suffering of Christ. We ask them to support us. And we ask all you who suffer to support us. We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious!”

Let us take this Lenten season to take to heart the words of Pope John Paul II about how Suffering is linked to love. I hope that we all take this message to heart and try to bring it into a world were we continually see discord.


Salvific Doloris: Part 1

Salvifici Doloris is an Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II which was written after the assassination attempt in 1981. It is about suffering and joy or as the title says in Latin saving passion. During Lent we will be working through this Apostolic Letter and hopefully some more.  Today is the first day of Lent for the Western Church (Roman rite) some eastern rite catholic church began the season on Monday and in the Orthodox Church Great Lent begin on Clean Monday (19 February). John Paul II writes this letter to the Bishops, Priest, Religious Families and the faithful of the Catholic Church on the Christian meaning of Human Suffering. This was issued during the Holy Year of Redemption 1983-84 so it continually refers back to this.

John Paul II starts with quoting from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:24) where the idea get put forth “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Suffering has been here for all of human history, just look at Paul before he became that nice guy we all like was one of the fiercest persecutors of the faith causing all kind of suffering. Now he is rejoicing in the suffering because of Jesus. Suffering is universal it is with us all at every point on earth: in a certain sense it co-exists with us in the world, and demands to be constantly reconsidered. yet we must remember that it is through the cross of Christ comes our redemption. This is all tied together for we are all of one body. His Holiness then quotes his encyclical Redemptor Hominis saying that “in Christ we all become that way for the Church” and add on “when suffering enters his life.”  Suffering is inseparable from our lives. Yet from this suffering come great things it evokes compassion, respect, and in its own way it intimidates. For in suffering is contained the greatness of a specific mystery.

In the second section the focus turns to the World of Human Suffering. There are two types of suffering physical suffering (the body hurts) and moral suffering (pain in the soul), While the Physical suffering (mental physical, emotional pain) can be eased with medication moral suffering can not. Turning to the Bible the Pope notes that it is a book filled with Suffering, looking in the Old Testament they link the moral suffering onto parts of the body, it isn’t until the Greek when suffering show up and is linked to evil. This now takes a turn in the For God made all things Good why is there evil? The Church looks at it as we suffer on account of evil which is a limitation or distortion of good. or “we suffer because of a good in which we don’t share, from which in a certain sense we are cut off, or of which we have deprived ourselves. We particularly suffers when we ought—in the normal order of things—to have a share in this good and does not have it.” We all suffer alone together (collective consciousness) in the same old anxiety ridden world that we live in and our suffering is compounded by the sins of our times, with mad men running the world.

The third section looks at the quest for an answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. The whys why do we suffer? why is there evil? Looking at the Book of Job we see this idea taken up (a couple of years ago I went through it during Lent) Job was a good just man and then lots of suffering happens to him one of his friends indicates that the suffering come from some sin. Yet, Job has done nothing wrong but God recognizes this but doesn’t do anything about it, since it was a competition between the Devil and God. Sure the Book of Job does a good job at asking the question it doesn’t answer it but points out that suffering affects all people those as punishment for sin and also the innocent. It can be seen as a test of righteousness. The Book of Job isn’t the last word on the subject of suffering but it acts as a foreshadowing of Passion of Christ. To find an answer we need to look to Divine Love.

In section four we turn to Jesus Christ: Suffering conquered by love. Jesus himself is salvific love John Paul II point to John 3:16. Now this is where it gets good breaking down the Bible. For God so loved the world that He gives, not directs or sends, but gives the world, His only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This is remarkable as it points that the opposite of eternal life is suffering for eternity we literally perish being away from God forever.  We are reminded here that we (humankind) are but dust and to dust we will return from way back in the Garden of Eden we are body and soul our Body will fade but our spirit will live forever but through Christ’s salvific mission to “blot out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace.” Perhaps that isn’t how it will end now. Turning to Jesus in the Gospel we see how he is deep in suffering he went deep into the weeds and starts pulling. He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, brought hearing to the deaf sight to the blind, free those from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities, three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. And at the same time he taught, and at the heart of his teaching there are the Beatitudes, which are addressed to people tried by various sufferings in their temporal life.”  But it is his Suffering and death on a cross that will conquer suffering.

This Lent as we enter into our churches let us raise our eyes toward the large cross with Jesus and recognize that this is a gift of love. As John 3:16 says For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life.  Let us keep this in mind during this upcoming season and remember the joy in suffering.

Continue reading in Part 2


Carrying the Cross

The fourth sorrowful mystery we focus on the carrying of the cross. It is mentioned in passing in all the Gospels and is the entirety of the Stations of the Cross. The fruit of this mystery is patience. Carrying the cross is a task that we are all called to do and it take patience. Jesus calls us all in the Gospel “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This is difficult for many of us to do denying ourselves and then taking up a cross to follow Jesus. So many of us struggle with both or either one, we need to be willing to risk everything. Pope John Paul II has a wonderful message on this for the 16th World Youth Day back in 2001 in which he reflects on this quote. John Paul breaks it down into easy pieces to deny oneself giving up one’s own plans that are trite while accepting God’s plan. He continues talking about taking up our crosses doesn’t have to mean a physical thing that leads to death but it is the ultimate sign of love that is the cross that we should bear. There is nothing else of more importance beside love and it is a lasting thing as well unlike the ephemeral nature of everything with instant gratification especially with all the social media where things don’t mean anything. As St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (13:4-8) “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” This is how we should be living our lives, I hope that we can all strive for this simple little thing.


The Visitation

The second Joyful Mystery is when Mary goes and visits her cousin Elizabeth. This story can be found in Luke’s Gospel 1: 39=56. In the Western churches the feast is celebrated on 31 May and the Eastern churches celebrates it on 30 March.  The fruit associated with this mystery is love of neighbor, since at the Annunciation Mary learned that Elizabeth was with child. When Mary arrived Elizabeth was about six months pregnant and Mary stayed for three months. Sure, Mary and Elizabeth were family but the general idea of love of neighbor, going out on a mission of charity, would be a wonderful thing if we could all do something like this. These are sort of outlined by the works of mercy, as how to love your neighbor. Let us all be able to stir the spirit within our neighbors like Mary did for Elizabeth when she her the voice of Mary the babe leapt in her womb. We need to bring love into the world all too often we are surrounded by hate in the world and that is never fun.


Catholic Epistles Part 3: Letters of John and Jude

This is the final group of general letters, the past weeks we looked at James and Peter.  John wrote three letters and Jude only wrote one. John’s third letter is the shortest book in the entire Bible followed by John’s second letter and Jude is the fifth shortest. So this will be a quick one.

The Letters of John might have been written by the Evangelist or at least one of his followers and it is widely believed that the second and third letters were written by a different hand than the first letter. The first letter begins with roughly the same language that we hear from the Gospel word, light in the darkness, new commandment, love, children of God and other. It’s like a distillation of the Gospel. The first letter seems to be the most general of the Johannine letters. As we turn to the other letters they are both directed to individuals John’s second letter is to a specific region and the third letter to some guy named Gaius. The second letter warns against false teachers and stresses truth and love. The third letter begins by praising Gaius for his actions in imitating good and John says that he will be coming soon. The community that John writes too is fractured as there are too many people saying what is truth. Just like that saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” as we have heard from other letters there are others preaching about Jesus and this has caused some fracturing in the community.

The Letter of Jude is a chapter long and Jude is the brother of James. Once again this stuff sounds sort of familiar as Peter’s second letter covers this same idea. Jude warns about false teachers who lead people to sin and mockers who dismiss the idea of Christ’s return. It gives the general idea that we are called to fight for our faith with love and mercy. This book is interesting as it references the Book of Enoch a book which is only used by the Orthodox Tewahedo community in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

If you have some spare time take some time and open the Bible to read. It doesn’t even have to be the upcoming readings for the week or anything like that. Pick whatever sound nice to you and read it.


Catholic Epistles Part 2: Letters of Peter

Last week we looked at the first General or catholic letter from James. Now we turn to Peter who wrote two letters. Well these most likely were not written by Peter directly either by a secretary or more likely a disciple of Peter writing in his name after Peter died. The whole authorship debate is pretty crazy and don’t really want to get into it. The first letter was most likely written after the letters of Paul were a thing, the second letter might have been the last book written for the Bible as it references other letters as scripture and it uses the Letter of Jude. A rough dating of the letters are between 70-90 for the first while the second ranges between 80-130 or so.

As for the content of the letters they vary widely between the two. In the first letter it is addressed to the exiles of the dispersion, and pin points the location of the people to Asia Minor. The letter begins by talking up the Christian people as they are “God’s own people” it goes on to echo the words of the Lord from Exodus “Be holy because I am Holy” and the idea of girding the loins of your mind, now this is like getting your mind from the gutter.  The general idea is that the Christians are special people but Peter tells them to behave themselves amongst the gentiles (pagans). This simply is be both a good Christian and a good citizen. The topic changes and Peter talks about the harassment of the Christians by their pagan neighbors, sure but Peter reminds them that it is only through suffering that glory can come, and he was there at the death of Jesus. Sure more suffering could come but then the glory will be better. One interesting point in this letter is that it talks about Christ after he died proclaimed to spirits in prison, some early theologian see this are a reference to the descent into the dead/Hell where Jesus preached the Gospel to those in Limbo.

The second letter is addressed to “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with our in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It begins by saying that followers should “become partakers in the divine nature” and that there are things that can supplement our faith with virtues and virtues with knowledge and knowledge with self control and self control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection and brotherly affection with love. It goes on to condemn false teachers and that the second coming isn’t going to be coming tomorrow for to the eyes of the Lord a thousand year are but a day. This waiting also is a time for repentance  therefore all Christians “Peter” suggests should look to scripture and his last letter. Christians need to live in holiness and gird the loins of ones mind.

It is interesting to read these early writings of the Church as see that some topics are still what we are struggling with. The whole be a good Christian but also be a good citizen is where many people face problems today as they are more concerned with being a good citizen no matter how it makes them look as a “Christian” just look at what’s been going on in Washington do we consider any one there is acting “Christianly” to one another the Democrats and Republican have been at each other for years slowly becoming more entrenched in their own ideologies and refusing anything else.

Next week we will be looking at the three letters of John as well as Jude’s letter.


Catholic epistles Part One: Epistle of James

Over the next couple of week, since we finished up Esther last week, the focus will shift to the catholic epistles. Now, these are the lesser letter and the term catholic means universal since these letter are not directed to a specific audience. They consist of the Letter of James, two Letters of Peter, three Letters of John and the Letter of Jude. This week will be James, next will be Peter’s letters and the following one will be the rest.

The letter of James is New Testament Wisdom Literature. It may have been written by James, the brother of Jesus or perhaps James the less who lead the Church in Jerusalem, but it could have just been attributed to him however whoever this James was it seems like Jude might have been his brother as well. It gets a bit confusing figuring out authorship of these letters. On to the book itself. James begins with a rather short greeting like the other letters and goes right into the message sure there are going to be trials in life but keep steadfast in your faith, that you live in. It seems rooted in love first and foremost echoing the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. James gives an example of a richly dressed man and a poorly dressed man entering into the assembly and caring more about the one that looks better. James continues with interesting metaphors and musings about how to live life. The letter end with the idea of the sacrament of anointing of the sick. In the letter we hear that it is works and faith that justify mankind. This is at odds with the Protestant belief of Sola Fide where you just have to believe that salvation is attained by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone for the Glory of God alone as told in Scripture alone.

Reading through this letter it seems like it would be something that I would write today so perhaps we need to hear from this book more often, as the message is one that seems to be continually in need of.