Pope Benedict XVI - Essays and Reflections on His Papacy

Kathy A. Saile

Kathy A. Saile

“In his call to turn upside-down one’s responsibility to do works of charity and care for the poor, Pope Benedict XVI challenges us not just to address problems, but to get to the root of them.”

—from the essay “First Justice, Then Charity” by Kathy Saile

A Talk with Kathy Saile, author of the essays “First Justice, Then Charity” from Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy

Q. What does that mean, “first justice, then charity”?

A. When we think of “charity” we usually think of donations, hands outs, serving a meal, etc. Pope Benedict insists charity begins with justice: “If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them.” (DCE, 6). In Caritas in Veritate, he reminds us what Pope Paul VI said in Popularum Progressio that “it was not just a matter of correcting dysfunctions through assistance. The poor are not to be considered a ‘burden,’ but a resource, even from the purely economic point of view.” (35)

Q. Why does the Pope say that almsgiving is not enough?

A. In Pope Benedict’s encyclicals, he teaches us that our relationships with each other are rooted in love. This means that we must recognize the dignity of each person and allow each person to use his or her gifts and talents for the common good. Almsgiving does not necessarily allow us to enter into relationship with the “other.” Justice with love leads to authentic human development.

Q. How has Pope Benedict conveyed that to practice justice is a central duty of the Christian faith?

A. The pope is very explicit that charity (which he references as social charity, i.e. justice, and works of charity) is one of three essential responsibilities of the Catholic faith. The other two are proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating the Sacraments. In the introduction of Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father says: “charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine…It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbor…” (2)

Kathy A. Saile, MSW, is director of the USCCB’s Office of Domestic Social Development.

 

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