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The Love Behind the Rules | Mary Beth Bonacci on Benedict XVI and His First
I got a call a few weeks ago from a newspaper in New York, wanting to interview
me about the Popes new encyclical. The phrase "the Popes
new encyclical" actually sounded rather strange to me, almost as if
Id forgotten that any Pope after JPII would actually be writing encyclicals.
Of course, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was a brilliant theologian and a prolific
writer. It only makes sense then that, as Pope Benedict XVI, he would continue
And, in Deus Caritas Est, he has.
The reporter I spoke with, along with many others in the press and elsewhere,
was surprised that the Holy Father would choose for his first official Church
document a simple topic like love. After all, he could have chosen any one
of the current, contemporary, controversial topics with which the Church
is grappling homosexuality, euthanasia, stem-cell research. Why love?
The answer seemed crystal clear to me. This is a man who spent over twenty
years as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His
role at the CDF was essentially "doctrinal watchdog." He had to
look at the myriad applications of Church teaching to contemporary circumstances.
He had to say, "You can do this, but you cant do that."
He had to be the enforcer. He had to be all about the rules.
It was my theory that this wonderful, loving, pastoral man is saying "Finally!"
Finally he has the opportunity to go beyond the "rules," to explore
the heart of the Christian message, which is the Heart of God love.
"Deus Caritas Est" is Latin for "God is Love." That
simple truth the subject of all of those collages we made in CCD
back in the 70s is the guiding principle behind all of
those rules. And without understanding the love behind the rules we are,
as St. Paul said, no more than "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."
Benedict XVI seemed ready to talk about the love behind the rules.
Turns out that I was right about the Holy Father's motivation. In fact, he
recently gave an interview to the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana
in which he explained the central premise of the encyclical. He said that
he wrote the encyclical to answer two fundamental questions. They are: "Is
it possible to love God?" and "Can we really love our neighbor when he is
strange or even disagreeable?"
It doesnt take much of a scripture scholar to recognize these two
questions as restatements of Christs "greatest commandment":
"You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, all your mind and
all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself."
You cant get much more basic than that.
He said he wanted to respond to the first question by saying that "Yes,
we can love God, given that he has not remained at an unreachable distance
but has entered and enters into our lives. Not only has he offered us
love, above all he lived it first and knocks on the door of our hearts
in many ways to elicit our response of love."
In a world infested by "New Age" philosophies, the message of
a personal God who knows us and loves us is so, so important.
In response to the second question, about loving our disagreeable neighbors,
"Yes, we can, if we are God's friends, if we are Christ's friends and,
in this way, it becomes ever clearer that He has loved and loves us, though
we often turn our gaze from Him and live according to other criteria," In
other words, the ability to truly love comes only through relationship
with Christ, and allowing Christs love to shine through us.
It did my heart good to see how Benedict XVI explored the abuses of "love"
so prevalent in our world. He wrote at length about the beauty and meaning
of Gods gift of sexuality, and how that meaning can only be fully
expressed within the bonds of marriage.
My favorite quote of the entire document is found in the introduction,
"Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer
a mere command, it is the response to the gift of love with
which God draws near to us." (This, amusingly, turned out to be the
one part of the newspaper interview where I was misquoted as saying not
"love is not a mere command", but instead "love
is not a command." Kinda puts the wrong spin on it!)
This message is so important to us as Catholics. Whether or not we conform
to the "rules", we tend to get caught up in them. Dissenters
use their isolated understanding of isolated rules as an excuse to dismiss
the entire teaching authority of the Catholic faith. The more conscientious
of us are prone to evaluating our own righteousness and that of
others solely by our performance in "following the rules."
Both groups tend to forget about the love the beautiful, overwhelming,
inscrutable love of God that enlightens and enlivens those "rules."
Yes, God is love. And apparently, our Holy Father recognizes that the
world desperately needs to be reminded of that fact.
This article originally appeared on RealLove.net
on February 8, 2006.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Is Agape | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
on Benedict XVI's First Encyclical | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Some Comments on Deus Caritas Est | Mark Brumley
Did I Read the Same Encyclical as the NYTimes? | Carl
Other IgnatiusInsight.com Articles by Mary Beth
The Horrible "H"
Teens, Sex, and
Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci
There's More to Prayer
Than "Saying Our Prayers"
Was Pope John
Paul II Anti-Woman?
JPII, Why Did We
A Hero Goes
to His Reward
are Worse than Others
Love the Chastity Girl
Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks
and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken
to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at
World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and
television programs, including several appearances on MTV.
Mary Beth has written two books, We're
on a Mission from God and Real
Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications.
She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series,
also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex
and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award
for Best Youth Curriculum.
Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from
the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage
and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was
also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan
University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women
of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real
Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's
teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.
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