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1. The importance of man
Have we perhaps neglected the greatness and glory of man, his potential and his extraordinary destiny? The greatness of God and the greatness of man are united in the incarnation, Jesus Christ: God and Man.
Why is man the main concern of God and what importance should man have in the social, economic and political life of a nation?
The gospel of John:
a) "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (Jn. 3: 16)
b) "I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life' " (25)
2. The 'whole man'
The encyclical is about the development of the whole of man and of all men. What does "the whole man mean"? Can authentic development be limited to material wellbeing? Can holiness be considered true self-fulfilment?
a) “May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may your spirit, life and body be kept blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Tess. 5:23)
b) "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28)
c) "Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32)" (1).
3. The encyclical and secular Humanism
Is the encyclical, in part, a reaction to liberal secular Humanism? In the light of the following what are the fundamental incompatibilities between Christian Humanism and secular Humanism?
A Humanist Manifesto I (American Humanist Association):
a) "Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created". (I affirmation)
b) "Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process." (II affirmation)
c) “Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man's life and seeks its development and fulfilment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist's social passion." (VIII affirmation)
d) " Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement." (concluding comments)
e) “Man is not a lost atom in a random universe: he is God's creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved. If man were merely the fruit of either chance or necessity, or if he had to lower his aspirations to the limited horizon of the world in which he lives, if all reality were merely history and culture, and man did not possess a nature destined to transcend itself in a supernatural life, then one could speak of growth, or evolution, but not development.” (29)
f) " Nor is it [development] merely at the mercy of our caprice, since we all know that we are a gift, not something self-generated." (68)
g) "Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society." (34)
h) "Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth." (1)
i) "Man does not develop through his own powers, nor can development simply be handed to him." (11)
j) "A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism. Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life … without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment." (78)
In the encyclical is "charity" simply natural human love or does it incorporate and perfect it?
a) "Charity is love received and given. It is “grace” (cháris). Its source is the wellspring of the Father's love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit." (5)
Is love sufficient? Is it sufficient to say "I love and that is all that is needed"?
a) "Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content" (3)
b) "A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations." (4)
c) " Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present." (5)
d) "God is Love" (I Jn 4:8). Would it be the same to invert the order and say: "love is God"?
Is Truth a principle, an abstraction, a system of thought or something else?
e) "In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of his plan. Indeed, he himself is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6)." (1)
f) "Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn. 14:6)
What determines the essential criteria for authentic human and social development and the kind of society we build? Where are we heading?
g) "Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space." (11)
h) “If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man's pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it. “ (16)
i) "Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4);
j) "When animated by charity, commitment to the common good has greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have. ... Man's earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family." (7)
k) "Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20)." (48)
6. Jesus - the model for man's social action
In what way do the following verses reveal how we should go about our work in the social sphere?
a) "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work." (Jn. 5:17) Did Jesus work instead of the Father?
b) “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn. 14:10)
c) "The Father who dwells in me is doing his works." (Jn. 14:10) Did they both work independently?
d) “The Father and I are one”. (Jn. 10:30) Was this the secret of Jesus' success in his social work?
In the light of the following verses in what way is our situation as Christians similar to that of Jesus? Should the way we work in the social sphere reflect the way Jesus worked? What distinguishes the social work of the Christian as opposed to that of secular individuals, groups and institutions? Is it more or is it less "human"?
e) “Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn. 14:23)
f) " Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit" (Jn. 15:5)
g) “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (Jn.14:17)
h) “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn. 14:12)
After reading theses verses do we understand better the driving force that is in and around us?
These questions and thoughts on the encyclical are meant to be read in conjunction with the text for further reflection.
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