The encyclical, that is. Whew! It always amazes me how much information a Pope can pack into an encyclical, and this one is no exception. In the 27 (internet-accessed, printed) pages I read, we managed to cover what love is, how God is love for us, how the Eucharist is the fulfillment of this love, love of others, love of God even though we can't see him, charity, charitiable works in society, the proper place of the Church in society (it is not the same as the state), premarital sex, and other things. Whew! Are you surprised it took me awhile to read? That's basically a summary of the high points B XVI hits, but here are my favorite parts...
1. mentions terrorism several times, including that, too often, God's name is linked with "vengenance or duty of hatred and violence", which I took as a reference to jihad and Muslim extremism, but there are, as we know, other kinds of religious extremism as well that this would cover. But I thought jihad was probably the most relevant reference in today's world.
2. That love between a man and a woman is the "very epitome of love", so I guess that rules out anything else. :) Like we needed to be told that.
3. Takes on the argument (first verbalized with Nietzsche, I think) that "the Church, with all Her rules and commandments, turn [s] the most precious thing in life bitter?" Doesn't the church just stop our happiness? B XVI's answer? No. The Church isn't against "eros" as such, but is against a "warped and estructive form of it" because it strips love of its dignity and leads to its dehumanization. This is also where he touches on premarital relations and says that these lead to the dehumanization and degredation of man. Love must be "disciplines and purified" if it is to provide the "beauty that God intended" it to have, which leads to purification and growth. He also says that the body and spirit must be unified in love or you also lose the dignity and greatness of humanity.
Today, B XVI says, love has been reduced to "pure sex" (it's so funny to hear a pope write or say "sex"...I'm sorry) and has become "a commodity" which leads to humanity (my emphasis) becoming a commodity. Is that what we want? No. At least, I don't think so. This reminds me of Thomas Howard's great parallel in On Being Catholic where he describes discipline in terms of the discipline of dancers and musicians. One must deny the body certain things in order to achieve the freedom of perfection and ability to perfectly express oneself.
4. Onto homosexual "marriage"--only "monogamous marriage can become the icon of the relationship between God and His people" and vice versa. This is why the Church is against pre-marital sex, adultury, co-habitation, homosexual "marriage". God has given us the standard and expectation of love that we must imitate and follow. It's not up to us to change the rules. God has given us the greatest example...and we don't want to follow that? Do we really want less than we were created for?
5. B XVI had already written quite a bit on the Eucharist (i.e., God is Near Us , etc.) before ascending to the Papacy, so I wasn't too surprised to see him write about the Eucharistic ties of live. The Eucharistic Communion, he writes, "includes relatity of being both loved and of loving others". We need a "correct understanding" of the Eucharist in order to understand Jesus' teachings on love. God is not fully invisible to us, because we can see Him in the Eucharist. We also see God through our love of neighbor--the whole thing about loving God and loving your neighbor because they are the same thing.
6. The majority of the end of the encyclical deals with charity and how we are to do it. We are responsible for making sure that everyone has "what is needed for a dignified life." We must, however, also treat people with love, since that if often more needed than corporeal gifts. Catholics know this concept as the "corporal and spiritual works of mercy." The book of James says this...we can't just wish people a good life, we have to provide it. And in the same way, St. Paul says to the Corinthians that without love all is worthless "if I speak with the tounges of men and of angels...." etc. it is part of the Church's 3 fold responsibility--to proclaim the word; to celebrate the sacraments, and to exercise ministries of charity. However, B XVI then goes on to say that Justice and Charity are two different things, and condemns marxism several times (yeah!), also saying that the role of Justice is to be provided by the State, not the Church, and that Church and State operate in functionally different realms. This does not, however, stop Christians from brining Christian tenents into their personal lives and state functions (ARE YOU READING THIS, DEMS???) "politics and faith meet" in certain spheres, but not all. "Citizens of the state," he writes, "are called to trake part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquist their participation in the many dicfferent economic, social, legislative, adminsitrative and cultural areas which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good ." In the words of The Incredibles , B XVI "needs us to engage!" He also mentions tax relief as a good thing!!
The end of the encylical brings up the ideas of volunteering, the dignity of humanity, a long section on Mary and love, and a section I found intriguing, the idea that Christians, while providing charity, must not try to force those they are helping to accept Christ. The Christian, he writes (I'm paraphrasing here), knows the time and the place for a sermon, and the time and the place for a loaf of bread and some water. The key is not to link charity to acceptance of God. We are to serve all people, not just those who share our faith.
Overall, it's a great encyclical, written in a style that I like. JP II, as much as I loved him, could be, shall we say, "flowery" at times which made for a harder analysis of his arguments. B XVI is much more linear, with everything building on everything else. He writes like the professor he was for 20, 30 odd years. There are lots of "in conclusion" and "in summary" and stuff like that. So if you get lost, just look for those. :)