I’ve just finished reading a most extraordinary novel, one that sheds considerable light on the spiritual predicaments of our own time.
The odd thing is that it was written just over a hundred years ago.
It’s called The Lord of the World
, and it was authored by Robert Hugh Benson.
Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to the shock and chagrin of much of British society, he left the Anglican church and became a Catholic priest.
Benson died young at 41, just after finishing this book.
I’ve just finished a first reading of Pope Benedict’s new encyclical Caritas in Veritate
It is a dense and complex text, deeply in continuity with the mainstream of the Catholic social teaching tradition but also fresh, filled with new ideas and proposals.
Let me highlight just a few of the major themes.
Very much in line with his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict insists on the tight connection between love and truth.
In a telling phrase, the Pope says that love without truth devolves into sentimentality and truth without love becomes cold and calculating.
The coming together of the two, which is the structuring logic of the church’s social teaching, is grounded in the God who is, simultaneously, Agape
(love) and Logos
All individuals and institutions are, to some degree, marked by inconsistency. Not all of our ducks—conceptual and behavioral—are ever quite in a row. But sometimes, an inconsistency is so sharp, so jarring, that it crosses the line into hypocrisy. A case in point is the recent decision of the Public Broadcasting System to exclude any religious programming from its future schedules. The usual reasons are trotted out: religion is divisive; it would be impossible to give equal time to all denominations; the public forum should not be the place for partisan speech but rather for objective exploration of issues, etc. etc.
I first became acquainted with the barbarism of certain aspects of Shari’a law through an article published a few years ago in the New Yorker magazine. The author detailed how, in many middle eastern countries, Muslim men use the prescriptions in the traditional Islamic legal code to terrorize, brutalize, and in extreme cases, kill women who, they claim, have committed sexual offenses. He specified that some of the victims are put to death by their own brothers and fathers!
A few weeks ago, in the wake of the Fr. Alberto Cutie scandal, an editor at CNN.com asked me to write a short piece (800 words) on the meaning of celibacy from a Catholic standpoint. So I composed what I thought was a harmless little essay, laying out as simply and straightforwardly as I could why the Church reverences celibacy as a spiritual path.