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There was great anticipation for the first encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI. A Holy Father’s first encyclical usually marks the direction of his pontificate. Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis” certainly included his vision for a pontificate in which “man” was to be “the way of the Church.” He faithfully followed that path, consistently stressing that nothing that affects the human experience is alien to the solicitude of the Church.
Pope Benedict’s deceptively simple theme “God is Love” may cause some to think that the encyclical merely restates the obvious, much like a lesson from the first year of catechism class.
Instead, this very accessible document urges us to progress from a rational understanding of the love of God to the existential certainty of that love. Experiencing the love of God inexorably translates into a moral change of mind and in the compelling need to share that love with others.
If it seems that love for the other — expressed through charitable works or in the quest of a better society founded on the principles of natural law — is lacking today it is because in order to love the other it is first necessary to feel loved by God.
That is the profound message of this encyclical. Before we continue trying to patch the walls of a building that is to some extent crumbling, we must turn our attention to the foundations. In order to grow in love we must better understand and experience the personal love of God for us, in our weaknesses and in spite of our sins.
We feel it is so important that Catholics hear first hand the call of the pope to experience that God is love that we have included the full text of the encyclical as a supplement to this week’s edition of The Pilot.
If that pristine, fundamental message prompts Catholics to renew their faith, to search for a deeper understanding of the consequences of that love in their lives, then the Church as a whole will be uplifted. We will no longer have to worry about patching the current structures, but can begin to construct new ones to respond to the challenges of a secularized world in the 21st century.