Pope Benedict XVI signs a copy of his encyclical, Caritas In Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), on July 6, 2009. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Benedict called us to love in truth

  • February 2, 2023

The human person “is not a lost atom in a random universe.” Rather, each of us is “God’s creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom He has always loved.” 

These words of Pope Benedict XVI from his 2009 encyclical, Caritas In Veritate, still strike me almost 14 years after it was published.  I found them in my notes for a retreat I led on the encyclical back in October 2010 for the members of Peterborough Diocesan Council of Development & Peace – Caritas Canada. When Pope Benedict died, I found myself digging through my pile of black notebooks to find those pages in order to relive that special experience. 

Caritas In Veritate had the biggest impact in forming my views on who Pope Benedict was and what he had to teach us.  I wrote, “The goal of this retreat is to ‘mobilize our hearts.’ What does that mean? How? For what? Today it is my hope that we will look both within and among ourselves to find a precious gift. What is that gift? The truth of God’s Love. Once we find this gift, we cannot help but put it at the service of the human family.” 

Much ink has been spilled, indeed whole books, since the passing of Benedict. Too much of it, in my view, has been spent by those who seek to make popes mere icons of their particular political or spiritual ideologies. Pope Benedict’s death should not be an occasion to dwell on the divisions within the Church. 

Pope Benedict had intended to publish Caritas In Veritate on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Populorum Progressio, which in 1967 inspired the creation of our organization and even provided us with our name, “Development & Peace.” For several reasons, publication was delayed  to June 2009. I have clear memories from when it was released of being told by certain people, “Populorum Progressio is the past now. Caritas In Veritate is the present. You have to bring yourselves out of the ‘60s and become a Caritas In Veritate organization.” 

The view, of course, was erroneous. It would be like saying today, “Caritas In Veritate is in the past, you have to become a Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti organization.” Catholic Social Teaching, the Compendium teaches, is “characterized by continuity and renewal.” Identifying oneself with only one encyclical is a contradiction of this principle. The papal encyclicals always take great pains to express this continuity and renewal, including Caritas In Veritate

The opening line of Caritas In Veritate gave me the language I needed to transcend the sentimentality associated with “charity” in our current culture. This is something I needed especially as someone working for a “charitable” organization. 

By rooting the word in truth, Pope Benedict posits caritas as a force. It is, he said, “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.”

When we understand the nature of caritas as a force in this way, it liberates us from the old debate of “charity versus justice.” To cite a famous example, charity gives food to the hungry without asking why the hungry have no food. Justice works to ensure no one goes hungry in the first place. At worst, the two concepts are set opposed to each other. At best, charity and justice are said to be “two sides of the same coin” that must go hand in hand if things in the world are to change.

The teaching of Pope Benedict on the force of caritas shows us another way. First, he acknowledges that, “without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” Then he discusses the relation of caritas to two important concepts: justice and the common good. 

For Benedict, caritas cannot be understood apart from justice. He says, “I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them.”

The word caritas — that incredible force — is now part of our name, Development & Peace – Caritas Canada. The name joins us to the global Caritas confederation that is active in virtually every part of the world. I believe this confederation is still awakening to the horizons that Pope Benedict pointed us towards, transcending the debate between charity and justice and calling us to Love in Truth.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)


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