Wordeling Charity in Truth (and some other musings on Caritas in Veritate)

Very recently Pope Benedict released his 3rd encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” which translates as Charity in Truth. I usually recommend that everyone takes the time to read papal encyclicals. I very much enjoyed the Pope’s first two encyclicals God is Love and On Christan Hope. I found them almost like spiritual devotionals Reading these encyclicals were prayer experiences for me. Imagine my mounting excitement for his 3rd! Well, if you have read Charity and Truth, I think you’ll agree that reading it is anything but a prayerful experience. I think I have had deeper spiritual experiences reading a car manual.

As I struggled through this encyclical, though, I couldn’t help thinking that what the Pope was trying to communicate was very, very important. Even if I couldn’t quite figure out what is was! As with many church documents, it may take years for us to truly flesh out the content of this encyclical and to witness its implications for the Church and for society. The message was obviously important enough for the Pope to take a very high-minded approach to this subject. I think the Pope was avoiding any label of superficiality or theological vagueness. The result, though, is a dense and sprawling document that’s hard to cram into your head.

Have your ever heard of Wordle? According to the website

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently.

What I great way to get my head around all of these words! Here is a great Wordle word cloud from Catholic News Services


This helped me grasp some important points in this document:

1. By far the most used words are “Human” and ‘Development.” In a post-Enlightenment Age the modernized world has seen itself as constantly developing toward perfection. The Enlightenment philosophy was that through human reason and intellect we could solve all of our problems. This encyclical does not disagree with the progress and development of society. All development, though, should consider one thing above all else – the human person. As any society develops – its political policies, its economy, its culture – it must take the life and dignity of the human person into account before all else.

2. In the word cloud you notice a lot of secular words such as social, economic, and cultural floating around some very religious words such as truth, charity, love, and justice. Can the secular and the religious really work together in developing a society which respects human life and dignity. The message of this encyclical is, I think: They can and they must.

3. Try googeling this document and read the many commentaries floating around the internet. It seems that a great debate is ensuing. Is this a liberal encyclical? (The Pope speaks of a world governing system with more teeth for instance). Is it a conservative encyclical? (The Pope reaffirms the Church teaching that life at all stages must be protected before all else).

I read one blogger comment that trying to label a papal encyclical as liberal or conservative in the American sense is about as senseless as having the French or British try to label it as as one of their political viewpoints. One of the things I love about the Church is that it is universal. This encyclical is a universal (i.e. Catholic) encyclical. It comes from a distinctly Catholic worldview. It will not fit within our (or anyone else’s) political worldview. For me this is very refreshing. It is also very challenging. It forces me to step out of the world-view I am comfortable with and see things from a new perspective. While this is a hard exercises for me to do, I force myself to do it for one reason – I trust the Church and the Holy Spirit I believe guides her.

Whenever I read something that comes from the Church that rubs me the wrong way, I stop and ask myself “What is God trying to tell me here that I am resisting so much.” Charity in Truth is definitely a challenging encyclical, both to read and understand, but also to allow it to change the way we see the world. I hope you will join me in allowing the words of this document to continue to challenge my worldview. Your comments are welcome!


Not-so-ordinary time

The Easter season has been over for a few weeks now. Have you noticed the changes in church? The pretty flowers are put away, the sprinkling rite has been phased out, the great sense of joyfulness seems to have been tempered. We are now full swing in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time, isn’t that just another word for boring time? Isn’t that just our default season in the liturgical year as we wait for Advent and Christmas to roll around?

Each of the other liturgical seasons have a decidedly marked atmosphere to them, don’t they? They are either times of intense preparation and penance, or times of intense joy and celebration. All of the other seasons celebrate the highlights of the Gospel story; we prepare for and celebrate Christs’ birth during Advent and Christmas; we prepare for and celebrate the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ – during Lent and Eatser. What’s left to celebrate after all of this? Everything in between of course! Ordinary Time celebrates nothing less than the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. There is nothing ordinary about that! Ordinary Time is a time, to take the time, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We listen to his parables, we wonder at his miracles, and we are challenged by his teachings. In short, we become like the first disciples, taking the time to learn to be like our Master.

We all know that the liturgical color for ordinary time is green. Nothing about Catholic liturgy is happenstance. The color we choose to decorate our liturgical space is no exception. Green is a color of abundance. Green is the most popular decorating color. Green is the most prevalent color found in nature. Green occupies more space in the spectrum visible to the human eye. Green is everywhere – especially this time of year. Phycologists tells us that the color green elicits soothing and relaxing feelings for both the mind and body. The color green can help calm anxiety and nervousness; even depression. The color green conveys renewal, self-control, and harmony.
What can we learn about the correlation between the color green and its liturgical use during Ordinary Time?As one of my favorite theologians Stanley Hauerwas puts it – to be a follower of Jesus is to begin to follow the “grain of the universe.” In other words, there is nothing so natural as to align your life with the Creator of life. As we begin to listen to, reflect upon, and change our lives according to the Gospel stories which portray the everyday life of Jesus Christ (which is exactly what we do doing Ordinary Time)  we can be sure that His promise of hope and peace will be ours.

To “go against the grain” may be cool when it comes to culture, but when your dealing with God it is better to follow His plan. The color green reminds us that as followers of Christ we to be hopeful, grateful, joyful, and peaceful. I think the prayer the priest prays as the Assembly finishes the Lord’s Prayer during Mass sums up perfectly what Ordinary Time is all about. “Lord, deliver us from evil and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, for the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory are His, now and forever. Amen!