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9/11

November 4, 2009

TY 255 – Catholic Social Teaching

In Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter titled, Spe Salvi, “On Christian Hope”, he explains that the Christian hope is ultimately not of this world; our Christian hope is a transcendent hope in something past this life.  Hope in a life besides this one, in a life beyond this one, makes this life more bearable and worthwhile (1).  Benedict begins by making this point and continues by pointing out the frequency of the word hope in the Bible.  He states that the word ‘hope’ is used “so much so that in several passages the words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ seem interchangeable” (2).  Without faith, there is no hope.  Without the faith that there is something transcending this life, there is no hope in this life.

Because of our freedom and fallen nature, a perfect earthly utopia cannot exist.  “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world” (28).  There is a constant battle between good and evil and those on earth are more vulnerable in this battle.  We must continuously choose to do good over evil in this world.  We sin, we mess up sometimes.  If the world was structured in such a way that guaranteed that it would be good all the time, man would no longer be free.  With the freedom to choose the good in any situation, there comes the ability to choose to participate in an evil action.  If man’s freedom is taken away, he does not choose the good, rather, he is forced to do the good.  Freedom and the ability to reason are what make humans distinct from every other creature.  To take away our free will is to make us less than human.  Therefore, a utopia in this world is not good.

Benedict suggests that the possibility of an earthly utopia does not exist.  Our hope lies not in this world, but in a world that transcends this life.  Even if the world appeared on the outside to be good, such as in a utopia, it may not be so.  The goodness of the world is not based on the outer works, but the inner disposition of the human person.  Benedict states, “Man can never be redeemed simply from the outside” (28).  The outer ‘goodness’ of the world is beneficial, but it is not enough.

It is made apparent that the fulfillment of man is not found in things of this world.  When one desire is fulfilled, another is sought, and another after that, creating a constant longing for something more.  The ultimate desire is only fulfilled through that which is beyond this world.  Our hope is found in this fulfillment of our strongest desire.  Benedict states, “It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for [man], something that will always be more than he can ever attain”; man needs this in this world (32).  If all our hope is fulfilled in this life, we have nothing left for which to hope.  Hope is what motivates us.  The hope for a better tomorrow is a motivation for today.  The hope for a life beyond this one is a motivation for this life.  God has given us this hope and he will fulfill this hope in the life that transcends this one.

Although a perfect earthly utopia is not promising, one’s actions in this life should reflect his hope for the next life.  Our hope for the next life is made evident through our actions.  God gave us the command to love, because it is what we are created from and what we are created for.  God gave us the commandments, so we know how we can better ourselves.  They are a guide as to how we can love more fully, and become more fully ourselves.  We are to live in the present toward the future; we are to live in this life toward the life beyond this one.

“[S]uffering is a part of our human existence.  Suffering stems partly from our finitude, and partly from the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today.…  Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power” (39).  We are called to share in other’s suffering and to try to the best of our ability to relieve that suffering within means, but ultimately, it is beyond our ability to eliminate all evil and suffering in the world.

Social justice plays a huge part in the living out of our calling to help to relieve the suffering of others.  We are called not only to be informed, but also to put this information into action.  “[T]he Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing” (3).  We can put our knowledge into action through social justice.

“By our own efforts” we are only able to build the “kingdom of man”, which doesn’t even compare to the “Kingdom of God” (38).  The Kingdom of God is not something that we can build by ourselves.  “The Kingdom of God is a gift” (38).  It is not something we earn through our works.  Such a Kingdom is not something we are able to receive of our own merit.

The greatest Christian hope is not found in this world; it is found in the Kingdom of God.  God is love; he created us out of love for the purpose of love.  Because we are created out of love, we are both able and called to love.  Our faith and hope are rooted in this love.  A perfect earthly utopia would diminish our freedom and, therefore our humanity.  We are called to live this life for the next.  Our actions on earth should make apparent our hope of the next life, our faith in the Kingdom of God.

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