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More reax

Two quite different types of reaction to the encyclical are bubbling to the surface today.

First, the one that suggests, either happily or not, that since this is all about Luv, and the specifics weren’t mentioned, it’s a sellout of sorts. Or at least a signal that the Panzer Papacy isn’t what we thought and really doesn’t care about all of that stuff as much as we thought.

Well, no.

Ours is a culture, it seems, so accustomed to position papers and talking points and legislation that we don’t know what to do when we’re presented with what amounts to foundational work, to a reminder of what is at the core of all of the "issues." Even Andrew Sulllivan who kindly links to this joint, but then says:

"I also, obviously, share Benedict’s wonder at conjugal love. I see no conflict between the love of two homosexual men or women for each other and the mystery of heterosexual love. One day, it would be wonderful to see this doctrine of love extend to all God’s creatures. … And yes, this does surprise me somewhat. It is not as extreme or as repressive as Benedict’s well-earned reputation. It is a sign, one hopes, of a papcy that can change and grow and concentrate on the central truths, not peripheral obsessions. For that, a great sigh of relief. And, even, yes, hope …"

What is odd is that there is no "growth" in that sense here. Benedict’s appealing to 3000 year old texts to weave his case: that eros is a dimension of divine love, evidenced by the paradigmatic Original Couple, created for each other for companionship and procreation, as well as in the revelation, through various insights of the prophets and Wisdom literature, that something about God’s love can be learned from the passionate seeking of the beloved, as well as the forgiveness of the same when betrayed. This is not new. This is ancient.

And the "well-earned" reputation for repression is getting so old. Sing that to the institutions of higher learning in the Jesuit tradition that have flourished, repression-free, for the past thirty years. Better yet, read some of this pope’s theology. As I mentioned, anyone familiar with Ratzinger will find no surprises in Benedict.

This encyclical is intriguing and important, for, even as I have joked, it takes the mantra of 60’s and 70’s Catholicism and turns it on its head. You’re right, it says. God IS love. But what does that mean? Does it mean create your own definition of love and live by that? Does it mean simply being kind to others?

No. It’s grounded in God’s intentional act of creation, it’s grounded in the self-giving that is dramatically, climactically and powerfully enfleshed in Jesus.

So no, love is not an ocassion for self-absorbed, self-centered pursuits of happiness. It means to love as Jesus did.

The second reaction, personified by Scott Appleby, a scholar from Notre Dame, in this Newsday article:

"This seems to be a return to a theology of church in which the church is primarily given the responsibility to form consciences and to provide charity – something no Catholic would disagree with – but which is not further responsible for prophecy or for actual social reform towards justice," said R. Scott Appleby, a professor of Catholic history at the University of Notre Dame. "That’s not how my generation of Catholics understood Vatican II."

…"This seems to be a return to a pre-Vatican II notion that separates the church from the world," Appleby said.

I think the Pope lays out the issue clearly. Immersion in the suffering of others is not separating from the world.  Benedict calls for the Church to be a strong moral voice, a "clarifying" voice. But in the end, I’m guessing we’re talking about liberation theology, eh?

Contra David Gibson in the same article, I don’t think this should be greeted with a shrug, either. Is there nothing new? Well, I guess not, but why is that bad? The function of documents like this – in fact the teaching role of the Church at any given time or moment, is to give us living in the world today a better sense of how we are to live our faith, our relationship with Christ, in the present day. What seems to be going on here, if you read closely, is a very strong statement about the Church’s purpose in the world, and how that must be grounded in the love of Christ – something that, for examples, many branches of Catholic Charities in this country have forgotten, not to speak of Catholic hospitals that toe a fine line in their purported "non-profit" status.

I think the greater point here is focus. We can talk about structures all day, but are we doing so from our office near the Hill or our well-to do suburban church which supports a school that charges 10,000 tuition?  And moving back to the Gospels – what does Jesus call us to? As I said in my previous post, feeding the poor and tending to the imprisoned might well involve some of what we traditionally call "justice" action, and it must. But the temptation for all of us is to get wrapped up in our programs and our own power to change the world, while we, in the process, ignore the need of the person down the street, which is, before anything else, the need that Jesus commands us attend to. It’s not instead. It’s before, it’s priority, it’s as we do everything else – meeting our brothers and sisters directly in the midst of their suffering.

Do we already know this? Probably. Do we know it? I’m not so sure.

Comments read comments(39)
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W. G. Ward

posted January 26, 2006 at 5:48 pm

Excellent post. I am particularly reminded in the second to last paragraph of these stanzas from Chesterton’s poem The World State:
Oh, how I love Humanity,
With love so pure and pringlish,
And how I hate the horrid French,
Who never will be English!
This compromise has long been known,
This scheme of partial pardons,
In ethical societies
And small suburban gardens—
The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow-man
And hate my next-door neighbour.
Appleby’s point is simply silly. He seems to have missed the entire section on the social teachings of the Church and necessity for lay people to engage the world animated by those teachings. Or maybe Appleby is operating with that old neo-scholastic ecclesiology in which the lay people aren’t actually really part of the Church, so when lay people act it is not the Church acting. It’s the hierarchy, the priests, and maybe the nuns. But I have to confess that’s not the Church I grew up in, born as I was in 1962. Or maybe he just rejects the notion that the social teachings of the church are grounded in the natural law, and principles of justice are not the exclusive province of the Church. Benedict seems to have affirmed that old tradition in the Church that says that all men and women of good will can know and work toward justice, and lay people in the Church can work with them. Bad Benedict. Bad.
The focus on Caritas is, it seems to me, among other things designed to talk about what it is about Christians acting in the world that is distinctively Christian, that there acts must be informed by the love of God which is Caritas. Deus Caritas est.

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W. G. Ward

posted January 26, 2006 at 5:51 pm

Fast typing. “Their” for “there.”

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Ann L.

posted January 26, 2006 at 7:03 pm

I am very suspect of Sullivan and his dissent, though I pray for him

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Richard the Adequate

posted January 26, 2006 at 7:24 pm

“I am very suspect of Sullivan and his dissent, though I pray for him”
How quaint.
Andrew sends his regards…

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T. (Croatian)

posted January 26, 2006 at 7:43 pm

Very good post!

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Tom Haessler

posted January 26, 2006 at 8:25 pm

Excellent post, Amy!
Anyone noticed how close Benedict is to advocating Catholic Worker approaches to the poor (personal involvement on a one to one basis instead of government beaurocracies)? This includes a polemic against vulgar proselytism and sees “silence” as a form of evangelization of the very poor and broken. Awesome stuff.

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Jesus in Hell

posted January 26, 2006 at 8:55 pm

Tom, I just came from a Catholic Worker dinner (after having brought some food out downtown), and I agree with you completely. Benedict stresses that our charity must come from the heart, not from some ideological drive to save the world.
Amy, you ask “Do we already know this? Probably. Do we *know* it? I’m not so sure.”
Personalism, reaching out to one another in a personal concrete love, is the way to this knowledge.
I saw a homeless man I hadn’t seen in months today, named Derrick. The food I gave him may have made him warmer, but it was my remembering his name, his person, his life… that truly made him smile. And made me smile too!
I was more than just a guy bringing food to hungry people. He was more than a guy getting food. We were two men who saw into one another’s hearts, and realized that we’d both left an impression there. We realized that we were both loved, and left with God on our tongues and minds. This is the formation of heart that allows us to truly understand and *know* love – person to person charity that finds its source within the God who *is* Love.
Great post! :)

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Maclin Horton

posted January 26, 2006 at 9:21 pm

Great post, indeed. Bravo, Amy.
I haven’t yet had time to read the encyclical but some of the reactions have been either amusing or bang-head-on-desk-provoking in their obtuseness. That NYT headline quoted earlier was the funniest.

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posted January 26, 2006 at 9:49 pm

I wish I had the education to understand these things–the encyclical and the commentary here. I think that what it says is that we have to love god with everything we got, mind body and soul because that’s how we are loved.
And loving like that we could see that other people are loved by the Lord as we are, and be moved to love them back–directly, not through some organization. I guess we should still write checks and stuff, but should help out at the shelter or the afterschool daycare,or maybe check in on the half crazy geezer on a pension down the street.
But I probably have it wrong.

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posted January 26, 2006 at 10:26 pm

Re: “the person down the street”. That’s necessary. But is it sufficient? We are fortunate to live in the wealthiest country in the world, and many of us live in wealthy parts of it. It is a very economically segregated country–we saw that with Katrina. Most of the people in the most dire need of love and charity do not live down the street from us. It may only be feasible to learn about their suffering through the news media, and to help them by writing a check, or by supporting a government program. I mean, yes, it would be better to travel to those countries and help ourselves. But we aren’t all Mother Teresa, and our responsibilities to our own families prevent that.
I don’t think I’m necessarily disagreeing with Benedict here, only with a gloss that one might put on Benedict’s work. His critique of Marxism is very well taken, and with the increasing rise of leftism in LAtin America, maybe as not dated in all parts of the world as it sounds here.

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posted January 26, 2006 at 11:21 pm

re the Panzer Papacy comment – those who defamed or at least critised Joseph Ratzinger for being a diligent head of the C for D of the C, did such a good (bad) job that now there are those (on both “sides”) who bought the whole panzer cardinal idea and who are now sort of saying “who is this guy? some sort of luvvy-duvvy Christian after all?”
I haven’t read the encyclical yet, but I LOVE the title.

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Peter Nixon

posted January 26, 2006 at 11:37 pm

I think Appleby’s comments do highlight some of the ambiguities in the document. On the one hand, Benedict writes that it is the state, rather than the Church, that must institute justice. On the other hand, he notes that the vocation of the lay faithful includes participation in the political structures that help bring about that justice. So what is meant by the word “church” here? One could read it as meaning those ordained to Holy Orders and religious. I don’t think that is really Benedict’s intent, but there is some ambiguity there. If the lay faithful are participating in political structures, they are (hopefully) involved in the struggle for justice, which really is a struggle because all human institutions labor under the shadow of sin.
I agree with Amy that these parts of the encyclical are almost certainly influenced by Benedict’s long-running debate with liberation theology and Marxism. I don’t think they can be read as a blanket criticism of the participation of Christians in movements for social reform or an apologia for libertarian economics. There are other parts of the encyclical that clearly argue against such an interpretation.
In the end I read these elements of the encyclical this way: before we speak of movements, structures, and the responsibilities of political authorities, Christians must first and foremost be a people willing to kiss lepers.

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Spirit of Vatican II

posted January 27, 2006 at 12:21 am

Why so quarrelsome about an Encyclical that is all about love and about not making the church an ideological battlefield. Andrew Sullivan draws on exactly the same values as the Pope does — the values at the heart of Christianity, the real orthodox values. This puts their disagreement on the possibility of a development of Catholic doctrine that would duly recognize the witness of gay couples in perspective. It is not an articulus cadentis seu scindentis ecclesiae.
The Pope was also very nice to his German compatriot Nietzsche and made a good effort to overcome the dualisms signaled by Feuerbach: “Christendom — to be well distinguished from the teaching of Christ — associated to the inevitable evils other evils that in themselves are superfluous, to the necessary and immanent battles other transcendent and soul-destroying battles, to bodily pains _spiritual_ pains, to natural contraries _unnatural_ contraries — the cleavage of God and world, heaven and earth, grace and nature, faith and reason”. He is showing that Christian love, properly understood, is a form of being true to the earth, nature and reason, as well as a gift of heaven, grace and faith.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 2:22 am

re: Cathrine:
I don’t really think that intitutional charity, even though necessary can express love like a personal involvement. It can express concern, and does. But a personal prescence, our being there, expresses love in a way an institution or government can’t.
If we are to be a light, to be Christs prescence, we have to be there.
If you eat in a resaurant, I garantee the dish washer is poor. If there is a gas station in your town some one works in it. If your town has busses, who do you think rides them.
Pan handlers are everywhere–they’re pretty low on the totem pole.
The only way to be so economically segregated that you can’t find someone who needs your love, and through you Christs love is to work at it.
To be honest, as a member of the prolitariat your post is a bit offensive–must the Popes teaching be directed primarily at the upper classes, the elites? Are we working class catholics not allowed to participate in the mission of the Church?
Please don’t take this personnaly, because I don’t know you,and would probably like you, but sometimes the Church (and that’s the aggregate of all baptised) in America is so classist and elitist that poor catholic without a strong ethnic affiliation feel like condescended to pets. Or chopped liver.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 4:43 am

For those from Milwaukee, WI…
Sorry, a shameless plug…
To gain some more information about Pope Benedict XVI, and support one of the few worthy efforts of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, plan on attending a lecture hosted by Archbishop Timothy Dolan and given by His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George. The Cardinal will speak about the new Holy Father and, I am sure, the new encyclical.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2006
Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center
3501 S. Lake Drive
St. Francis, WI 53235
Vespers at 6:30pm
Greeting by Archbishop Dolan at 7:00pm
followed by lecture, Q & A, and a reception.
It looks to be fascinating. For more info see:
Check out my blog:

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Jesus in Hell

posted January 27, 2006 at 6:41 am

I, too, was confused by the Pope’s stance on separation of Church and State. The Church hierarchy isn’t to work through justice by taking over the duties of the State, yet the Church laity are? It is a strange position to take, though I think I may misunderstand it.
It’s like the Church hierarchy saying that they know the proper politics to follow, but aren’t saying. “We’ll just teach you right from wrong, and you go out there and see if you can’t apply it.”
But how can you divide ethics and action?

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posted January 27, 2006 at 9:18 am

“But how can you divide ethics and action?”
Well, maybe it comes down to this: the state through laws and their enforcement can make sure that justice is applied to all on a societal level. The state cannot, however, evangelize.
The Church, through her works of charity CAN evangelize by concretizing the love of God in acts that give evidence that Jesus came to heal the whole person which his disciples do in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, etc. wherever they may be in the name of Christ, pouring herself out in sacrificial love in imitation of her Master. The Church must go beyond all of that, however, in clearly proclaiming the Good News that the Kingdom is here already — but not yet fully — and flows from this earthly existence into the eternal life of God.
This is something that the state also cannot do.

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W. G. Ward

posted January 27, 2006 at 9:40 am

Which duties of the state would we want the Church to take over in instituting justice? The need to protect the citizens from the internal threat of crime with a police force? The need to protect the community from external threat with an army? The need to distribute the wealth of the community through compulsory taxation and distribution? This too, if it is to be compulsory, requires, well, compulsion. Or should the Church institute tariffs to avoid the compulsion of taxation upon its own citizens? But then of course it will have to have the power to compel the tariff on others. Assuring adherence to clean water standards, or toxic dumping? Regulating the drug industry? Going after bid tobacco? Building roads to assure the adequate transportation of goods, including the products of agriculture? Justly compelling the surrender of property for projects that genuinely promote the common good and not private interests?
When we think of all the actual concrete features of instituting justice that are required of the state, almost all of them take place against the background of positive law requiring the authority to compel obedience. Unless we claim that the Church has that authority by right, to claim that the Church as such is to be the agent of instituting justice is simply false.
We may dream of a world in which there are no states, or more broadly political communities, and no need of them. But dream on. The Church just ain’t the state, and shouldn’t be.
On the other hand, the fact that the Church participates in the state, or political community, through the participation of its members as citizens suggests that the role of the Church as such is to teach and proclaim justice to its members, but also, insofar as principles of justice are elements of the natural law, all men and women. Given the proportion of lay people to religious, it is de facto the case that it is primarily the role of lay people to enact those teachings in the political arena. To object to that claim is a kind of clericalism that both the letter and the spirit of Vatican II were supposed to move us away from.
It is the responsibility of those men and women to seek to prudentially apply those teachings of justice to the concrete situations of political involvement in order that justice may be instituted. It is not their role to “take over the state,” but to participate in it in a prudential and just fashion. In a democracy it is, among other things, to seek to persuade one’s fellow citizens who can know about justice even if they are not members of the Church.
But Christians are to understand that when they do so engage in instituting justice by their political participation they are to do so informed by Caritas, a Caritas that is of broader extent than the purview of the state in instituting justice, a Caritas that extends to all persons and acts in ways that the state could and should never attempt to accomplish.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 10:39 am

The following song from Hair came to mind. A young girl (I think I’m remembering this correctly) has found out she is pregnant. Meanwhile all her friends are marching against the war and complaining about “the man” – they are too busy doing big, important things to help the one person in their midst for whom their help could really make a difference.
I wonder if B16 saw the play?
Song: Easy to Be Hard – from “Hair”
How can people be so heartless
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold
How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no
And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend
How can people be so heartless
You know I’m hung up on you
Easy to give in
Easy to help out
And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who say they care about social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend
How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

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W. G. Ward

posted January 27, 2006 at 10:48 am

Now that’s an image I like to entertain. Benedict rocking along to:
Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy
Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair
Seriously, the lyric you mention is one of the best to come out of Rock and Roll, and it captures the point exactly–love humanity and hate my next door neighbor.

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Fr. Shane Tharp

posted January 27, 2006 at 11:17 am

super post. I had many of the same thoughts as I read this encyclical. The powerful statement on love — this goes for all encyclicals — isn’t so much a matter of new content and hearing it said to you anew. I was taken especially by the comments about how man is a creature born of love, made to love and made to receive love as well if he were to be a whole person.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 11:31 am

Loving People (the Idea) is much easier than loving people. Especially loving people who vex us because they are or are not [insert vexing characteristic, be it physical, emotional, and/or spiritual].
The thing to remember is that Christ died for that vexing person. If that vexing person were the only sinner in the entirety of history, past-present-and-future, Christ died for her. Pause before you do less.

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Jenn E

posted January 27, 2006 at 11:45 am

Hi everyone,
bear with me as I try to dialogue (I am a newbee at this)
I have a comment on the understanding of the problem of justice being a function of the State and Charity being a function of the church.
To get to the root of this is in understanding freedom and the need for the respect of this freedom for man’s response to God’s love. That’s why the Church should not get involved with the actions of the State. It can hurt the free response of man to God. Yet we have been given the responsibility to care for this world. Genesis – Adam was commanded to care for and subdue the earth. As members of the church we are called to this Love (Agape) which educates us in order to live in the world as true Christians capable of performing our duties in a manner that respects the freedom and dignity of the other person before us yet at the same time transmits that attraction to God. This is what Justin the Apostate recognized (but unfortunately was trying to enter the Kingdom through another way – not the narrow gate). Yet to live in the present moment without succumbing to ideologies of “if only we work on this we can change the world” is to recognize that the salvation of the world belongs to God alone. Our right ordered response to get there is through the greatest two commandments which is what this encyclical’s first part elucidates.
We are educated by the church (Mother) and sent out into the world. So to me it is clear the separation yet the absolute necessity of the Church in the salvation of man.
I don’t know if my thoughts came out as I wanted them but I pray I didn’t totally waste your time.
Thank you
Jenn E.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 1:58 pm

I think Benedict means that the church as an institution should not be trying to run the government. But lay people are citizens as well as members of the church and that’s a different situation. You all remember Fr Drinan who was told by the Vatican to resign from the US Senate and the priest who was part of the govt in Nicaragua who JPII reprimanded.
Also, I would hope Benedict means that the official church should not be making policy recommendations as a general matter – such as the papers continually coming out of the USCCB that track the Democratic agenda. Many policy issues have a prudential quality to them and the church shouldn’t be choosing sides most of the time.
Having lived through the 60s as a college student, it seems that this social justice focus came not so much from VII documents but from the experience of anti-war and anti-poverty and anti-discrimination activities of the secular world that happened to occur alongside the VII era. [Remember too, that 1968 was a year of student unrest in Europe as well and had nothing to do with the church or Vatican II.]
The Church started getting involved when the Mexican bishops decided to switch to an option for the poor after many, many years of coziness with the wealthy powers that be. Then the Jesuits changed their focus and adopted this option for the poor angle. A Jesuit cousin of mine had taught at a boys’ high school in Belize for many years – that was the old Jesuit way – influence those who would become the country’s leaders. I think maybe Benedict wants to re-capture that original aspect of influencing social change.
Anyway, soon you had the Berrigan brothers demonstrating and chaining themselves to fences outside nuclear plants, pouring blood on draft cards, etc. Then came the fascination with Liberation Theology which is not dead – its undertones are all over the peace and justice movements to this day.
At bottom, as Benedict says, we kid ourselves if we think we can perfect life here on eath. It isn’t going to happen, and movements that promise to fix all poverty and injustice, etc. are leading people astray. It is only in heaven that we will get perfect justice. When the official Church gets caught up in them, it is losing sight of its proper focus. Part of that is seen when the peace and justice folks countenance Catholic politicians who share their peace and justice concerns but ignore abortion and other moral issues that deal with individuals. Individual-level right and wrong (virtue and sin) get shunted aside in favor of macro concerns with good and bad groups and social policies.

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Tony Leeson

posted January 27, 2006 at 2:31 pm

Richard the Adequate, you must never ridicule prayer

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posted January 27, 2006 at 6:44 pm

“you must never ridicule prayer”
Hey, that’s in the encyclical too! “Prayer is never a waste of time”, or words to that effect.
You know, I thought a lot about Gerard, our St. Blog’s member who went before us, when I was reading the encyclical. How he would have loved putting all those “heart” quotes in red!

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Tom Harmon

posted January 27, 2006 at 8:01 pm

“No. It’s grounded in God’s intentional act of creation, it’s grounded in the self-giving that is dramatically, climactically and powerfully enfleshed in Jesus.”
Of course, there is little agreement among warring factions about what God’s intentional act of creation and self-giving mean and entail.
Deus Caritas Est seems to be a really wonderful beginning, and I look forward to our brilliant Holy Father expanding on his teaching throughout his papacy. He’s a great gift to the Church.

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